How Does Section 8 Work?
The Housing Choice Voucher Program provides housing assistance, in the form of Section 8 vouchers, to low-income families. The Section 8 vouchers are used to help the family pay for housing. Local public housing agencies (PHA) administer vouchers based on household income and family size and recipients are free to choose any housing that meets program requirements.
To find your local PHA to apply, and to learn more about Section 8 voucher rules, visit the HUD website.[benefit_body_form]
In general, Section 8 housing program follows the below structure:
- The individual/household applies for the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program.
- The applicant is likely placed on a waiting list that may take more than 1-2 years.
- During this time, the applicant can also choose to accept project-based vouchers.
- Once the applicant is approved for a tenant-based voucher, they can begin to look for an apartment or home.
- The applicant can only use the voucher at properties that accept Section 8 vouchers and meet Section 8 requirements, including a physical inspection.
- Once the property is approved, PHAs will pay a portion of rent on their behalf.
- If the applicant is approved for project-based housing vouchers, a PHA can refer the applicant to a project-based assistance property owner with a vacant unit.
- If the applicant is screened and accepted by the property owner, the PHA will pay the portion of rent on their behalf.
Steps to Get Section 8 Housing or Section 8 Apartments
- Find your local Public Housing Agency (PHA). This is the first place to start. The Housing Choice Voucher program, although overseen by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), is administered by local PHAs. Click here to find your local Public Housing Agency. The website categorizes local PHAs by state, city and/or zip code and includes all available contact information.
- Determine if you are eligible. The PHA will help determine if you are eligible for Section 8 assistance. This is based on both the family size and the total annual gross income — in general, the income may not exceed 50 percent of the area’s median income. Section 8 is also limited to US citizens and certain categories of non-citizens with eligible immigration status.
- Obtain an application for the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program. Applications for the Housing Choice Voucher program are entirely free, and depending on the PHA, will available online, by mail or at the local housing authority’s office.
- Fill out and submit the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program application. Typically, the application will ask for the following from all household members: name, date of birth, Social Security Number and gross income of those applicable. Other requirements might include mailing addresses, email addresses, housing history, criminal history, phone numbers and more. Follow all instructions when submitting the application to ensure it will be processed correctly and efficiently.
- Find out Waiting List status. After the housing office processes the application, individuals and families will either be rejected or placed on a waiting list. Even if applicants are eligible, applications can be rejected because of high demand or because they weren’t chosen in a random lottery; the PHA must provide reasoning, however, and applicants can request an informal review.
- Confirm waiting list placement: Unfortunately, many waiting lists can be years long, given general lack of funding in relation to the increased demand for affordable housing. It can take up to a few months to process the application, but once it is processed, housing authorities will either confirm waiting list placement by mail or by logging into an online portal.
- Once you receive your voucher, find qualified housing. Under the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program, tenants will typically pay 30 percent of their monthly income toward rent. The voucher will cover the rest. Individuals must find housing that accepts Section 8 vouchers and meets program requirements, including a physical inspection. Once housing is secured, PHAs will pay the rent directly to the landlord.
- What about project-based vouchers? The above references tenant-based vouchers, which can move with the tenant from various housing options and even across state lines. However, PHA’s can use up to 20 percent of their housing choice vouchers for project-based vouchers, which are attached to specific properties. Any applicant on a PHA waiting list can choose to receive project-based vouchers.
Section 8 Eligibility
There are four factors that the Public Housing Authority (PHA) considers to determine Section 8 program eligibility. These include:
- Your family size.
- Income limits.
- Your citizenship status. The applicant must meet the documentation requirements of citizenship or eligible immigration status. Undocumented immigrants are not eligible for voucher assistance.
- Any previous evictions you've had. Anyone evicted from public housing or any Section 8 program for drug-related criminal activity are ineligible for assistance for at least 3 years from the date of the eviction.
Apply for Section 8 Housing Vouchers
To apply, the family provides information on family income, assets and family size/composition to their PHA. The agency uses this information to determine program eligibility and to calculate the housing assistance voucher amount.
How do I apply for the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program?
- Find your local public housing agency. This is the first step. Visit the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to find your local Public Housing Agency. The website categorizes the PHAs by state, city and/or zip code and includes all available contact information.
- Confirm that you meet Housing Choice Voucher program requirements. The PHA can help determine if an individual is eligible. In general, the applicant must be 18 years old and a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen with a household income of less than 50 percent of area median income. Eligibility is also based on family size.
- Determine if the local PHA has any restrictions or preferences. Sometimes, local PHAs will have preferences for applicants who can receive assistance before others — elderly, people with disabilities, those experiencing homelessness and local residents. If you fall under a PHA’s list of preference applicants, be sure to let them know. If not, your wait list time might be extended.
- Obtain an application for the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program. Applications for the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program are entirely free, and depending on the PHA, will available online, by mail or at the local housing authority’s office.
- Complete all required parts of the application. The length of the application might vary, but most will request the following information from applicants: name, date of birth, Social Security Number, gross income of those applicable, mailing addresses, email addresses, housing history, criminal history, phone numbers and more. To ensure that an application is processed completely and efficiently, be sure to follow all instructions given by the housing authority.
- Submit the application. Follow the PHA’s instructions to submit the full application and turn it in by the due date or risk application rejection.
- Wait for the PHA to process the application. It can take up to a few months to process the application, but once it is processed, housing authorities will either confirm waiting list placement or rejection by mail or by asking the applicant to log into an online portal.
Section 8 Waiting List
If your family is eligible, you will be placed on a wait list, or, in very rare cases, helped immediately. When a spot opens up, the PHA will contact you and issue a housing voucher.
How Does the Section 8 Waiting List Work? How to get on the Section 8 Waiting List.
The need for housing assistance is greater than the number of vouchers available; long waiting times are common. Some PHAs only accept Section 8 voucher applications during designated time periods. When a PHA has more applicants than it can assist in the near future, it may close its waiting list. If your local PHA has a long or closed waiting list, you can apply for vouchers through multiple PHAs. Your PHA can provide a list of locations where your voucher can be used.
If your family is eligible, you will be placed on a waiting list, or, in some rare cases, you will be assisted immediately. When your name is reached on the waiting list, your PHA will contact you about receiving a housing voucher.
Local criteria may be set by your PHA for choosing families from its waiting list. Some examples include families who are:
- Living in substandard housing
- Paying rent totaling over 50% of family income
- Involuntarily displaced
Families who qualify under local preferences move ahead of other families on the list. PHA’s have the authority to determine selection preferences that address community priorities and housing needs.
Generally, a family must pay 30% of its income or, at least, $50 for rent and utilities, whichever is higher. The voucher covers the remaining costs, up to a cap, known as a “payment standard,” set by your PHA.
Your PHA will calculate the maximum voucher amount. The maximum amount is usually the 30% of a family's monthly adjusted income minus the payment standard OR 30% of monthly adjusted income minus the rent payment, whichever is less. In 2014, the maximum monthly voucher value was $2200.
The payment standard represents the cost of renting a moderately-priced home in the area. Families can select a home with a rent below or above the calculated payment standard. The family is responsible for paying the difference if rent is more than the payment standard. The recipient is obligated to pay 30%, but cannot pay over 40%, of its monthly-adjusted gross income toward rent and utilities.
In general, Section 8 voucher recipients must contribute 30% of their household income or at least $50 for rent and utilities, whichever is higher. The voucher covers the rest of those costs, up to a limit (“payment standard”) set by the PHA.
Choosing Affordable Housing through the Section 8 Program
Families can choose any affordable housing, including their current home and any other single-family homes, townhouses and apartments that meets the requirements of the program. Your PHA can advise you of all housing requirements before you begin your housing search.
Using Section 8 Housing Vouchers
A payment for the Section 8 voucher amount will be made directly to your landlord each month by your PHA. You will then pay the difference between the actual rent charged by the landlord and the amount covered by the voucher.
Obligations Once You Are Chosen for Section 8
After choosing a home, the family signs a minimum one-year lease with the landlord. The tenant may be required to pay a security deposit before moving in. When the lease is up, the landlord may initiate a new lease or allow the family to remain in the home on a month-to-month basis.
After the family moves in, they are expected to follow the rules of the lease agreement, continue to meet all program requirements, pay rent on time, keep the housing unit in good condition, and notify the PHA of any changes in income or family composition. While receiving voucher assistance, no family members can engage in drug-related or violent criminal activity or commit fraud, bribery or any other or criminal act.
Housing Choice Voucher - Section 8 Voucher Program
Here's how to qualify for Section 8.
If you don’t make earn income to pay your rent or mortgage, you may qualify for the Housing Choice (Section 8) Voucher Program. The federal Housing Choice Voucher Program is the largest form of federal housing assistance in the U.S. The program is administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Low-income families use vouchers to help pay for private housing, including single-family homes, townhomes and apartments. The home does not need to be located in subsidized housing projects — recipients can choose any home that meets program requirements. This may even include the family's present residence.
The Housing Choice (Section 8) Voucher Program helps lift more than one million people out of poverty. Housing vouchers reduce homelessness and alleviate hardship by giving families an opportunity to move to safer, less poor neighborhoods. Effects of the program can improve children’s long-term well-being and reduce costs in other public programs by providing educational, developmental and health benefits.
Section 8 vouchers are distributed through a local public housing agency (PHA) based on a family’s total annual income and family size. You must also be a U.S. citizens or have eligible immigration status to qualify.
Section 8 Housing State by State
Section 8 programs differ by state. You will need to apply in your local area. We have compiled step-by-step instructional guides on how to navigate the Section 8 program in these states below.
Section 8 Family Definition
A family includes:
- A family with or without children. A child in foster care and temporarily out of the home is considered a member of the family.
- An elderly family, which is defined as a family whose household head or single member is at least 62 years old; or two or more people who are at least 62; or at least one person who is at least 62 living with at least one live-in aide.
- A disabled family, which means a family whose household head or single member is a person with disabilities; or two or more people in the household have disabilities; or at least one person with disabilities living with at least one live-in aide.
- A displaced family, which is a family in which all members have removed from their home through governmental action, extensive damage to the home or who’s home has been destroyed by a disaster (must be recognized by federal disaster relief laws).
- A remaining member of a tenant family is a family member of a family currently receiving voucher assistance who remains in the home when other members have moved out.
- A single person who does not fit in a category above.
Your PHA can provide additional information specific to your area regarding the definition of family.
2017 Section 8 Family Income Limits
Federal rules are designed to make sure vouchers go to families who need them most. In general, a family's income cannot equal more than 50% of the area’s median income for where the family chooses to live. By law, a PHA must provide 75% of its vouchers to recipients from extremely low-income households (household income below 30% of the local median or poverty line, whichever is higher). HUD publishes median income levels, which vary by location. To find the income limits for your area visit the website below or contact your local PHA.
Families with Varied Citizenship Statuses
Families that include members with citizenship or eligible immigration status as well as members who don’t (or do not to state that they do) are eligible for prorated voucher assistance. Voucher amount is based on the number of family members with citizenship or eligible immigration status.
To apply for a voucher, contact your PHA.
You'll need these documents to apply for a voucher:
- Birth certificates for all family members
- Social security cards for all family members
- Driver's license
- State or alternate government issued photo ID.
- Passport (if you are not a U.S. citizens)
- Immigration papers (registered immigrants and aliens)
- Signed verification of immigrant status
Income information you need to provide:
- Social Security Verification Letter and Proof of Benefits
- Proof of income (pay stubs, W2, tax returns)
- Bank statements
- Documentation of public assistance benefits
- Information on any assets you own
When you apply, your PHA will gather information on total family income, assets and family size/composition. This information will be verified through other local agencies, your employer and your bank and used to determine eligibility and your voucher payment amount.
Choosing Affordable Housing Programs
Families can choose any housing, including single-family homes, townhomes and apartments, that meets program requirements. This may include the family's present residence. Requirements include meeting Housing Quality Standards (HQS) and reasonable unit size and rent. Housing is not limited to homes within subsidized housing projects.
The 13 key aspects covered under the HQS are:
- Overall cleanliness
- Sanitary bathrooms
- Working kitchen and area to dispose trash
- Space and security
- Temperature control
- Light and electricity
- Structure and materials
- Inside air quality
- Water availability
- Free of lead-based paint
- Area and neighborhood
- Smoke detectors
Your PHA will advise you of all housing requirements before you look for a home.
A family has at least 60 days to use a voucher after it’s received. A voucher can be used to help pay rent in a family’s current home or a new one. In both cases, the landlord must agree to accept Housing Choice (Section 8) Vouchers and your local PHA must confirm that the home meets HQS and that the rent is reasonable in comparison to similar homes in the area. Your PHA will tell you the eligible unit size based on family size and composition.
The PHA pays the voucher value to the landlord directly. The family is responsible for paying the difference between the total rent and the portion covered by the voucher to the landlord directly.
Your Responsibilities for Section 8 Housing as a Tenant
After a PHA approves a family’s home, the family and landlord sign a one-year lease. During this time, the PHA and landlord sign a housing assistance payments contract valid for the same time period. All parties involved, including the recipient (tenant), landlord, PHA and HUD have responsibilities under the Housing Choice (Section 8) Voucher Program. It’s important to understand these roles when applying for assistance and participating in the program.
Tenant's Obligations: When a family selects an approved housing unit, they sign a one-year lease with the landlord. The landlord may ask the tenant to pay a security deposit, which cannot exceed one-month’s rent. After the first year the landlord may initiate a new year-long lease or allow the family to continue renting on a month-to-month basis.
After the family moves in, they are expected to follow the lease agreement and program requirements, make rent payments on time, keep the home in good condition and notify the PHA of any changes in income or family composition.
While receiving voucher assistance, no family members can engage in drug-related criminal or violent criminal activity or commit fraud, bribery or any other corrupt or criminal act.
Landlord's Obligations: The landlord provides clean, safe and decent housing to a family at a reasonable rent. The housing unit must be up to housing quality standards (HQS) and reaming so while the landlord receives voucher payments. They are also expected to follow the lease agreement and and the housing assistance payments contract signed with the PHA.
Housing Authority's Obligations: The PHA administers the housing voucher assistance to the family. The PHA also enters into a housing assistance payments contract with the landlord, which makes them responsible for providing voucher payments to the landlord. he PHA has the right to stop assistance payments if the landlord does not meet the requirements of the lease or housing assistance payments contract. In addition, the PHA executes annual reviews of the family's income and composition and inspects each home at least annually to ensure that it continues to meet minimum HQS.
HUD's Role: HUD administers funds to the local PHAs so they can make housing assistance payments. HUD also pays the PHA a fee for the costs of administering the program. HUD invites PHAs to apply for funds for additional housing vouchers when funds become available. HUD then reviews the applications and awards funds on a competitive basis. HUD also oversees PHA administration of the program to ensure program rules are being followed.
Continuing Section 8 Benefits After a Move
The Housing Choice (Section 8) Voucher Program allows families to move without a lapse in their voucher assistance. However, the family must notify the PHA ahead of time. The family is also responsible for ending its existing lease within the terms of the lease agreement and finding housing that meets HQS wherever they move.
New voucher recipients can pick housing anywhere in the U.S. as long as the family lived within the service area of the PHA who issued the voucher when they first applied for vouchers. If a family did not live within the service area of the PHA they applied with at the time of application, they must lease a home in that service area for at least one-year while receiving voucher assistance. If you want to move, contact your local PHA to confirm procedures before moving. This will ensure you do not lose or have a lapse in benefits.
Some PHAs participate in the Homeownership Voucher Program, which allows families receiving Home Choice (Section 8) Vouchers to use their benefits towards mortgage payments on a new home. All rules of the Housing Choice (Section 8) Voucher program apply and the benefit calculation is the same. You must be a recipient of Housing Choice (Section 8) Vouchers to participate. Additionally, families must meet these criteria to be eligible:
- First-time homeowner.
- No family member has owned or partially owned their home for a minimum of three years.
- No primary member of the family owns or partially owns residential property.
- Minimum income requirement:
- Qualified annual income of the homeowners must be greater than 2,000 times the hourly federal minimum wage
- For disabled families, the annual income of the homeowners must be greater than 12 times the monthly Federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payment for an individual living alone.
- Welfare assistance is not counted when determining family income, except for elderly or disabled families.
- Your PHA may establish a higher minimum income requirement for one or all family types.
- At least one homeowner is currently employed full-time and has been for at minimum of 1 year, except for elderly or disabled families.
- Family meets any additional eligibility requirements set by their local PHA.
- Family completes the PHA's pre-assistance homeownership and housing counseling program.
Contact the Section 8 Customer Service Center
The Office of Public and Indian Housing’s Customer Service Center is a central source of information for all housing programs, including the (Section 8) Voucher Program.
Hours: 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. EST; Monday - Friday (closed for Federal Holidays)
Phone: Toll-free 1-800-955-2232
Have the following information ready when calling Customer Service:
- Email address
- Phone number
- Clear description of question or issue