The Housing Choice (Section 8) Voucher program provides rent subsidy vouchers to low-income families who do not make enough money to afford suitable housing. Voucher recipients are free to choose any housing that meets Housing Quality Standards (HQS) set by their local Public Housing Agency (PHA). These standards are not extraordinary and are only in place to ensure that recipients are placed in safe, clean housing units.
One of the program’s strengths is the freedom given to voucher recipients to choose any home they’d like. Apartments, condos, townhomes and single-family homes are all covered under the program.
Possibly the most important step in choosing housing is knowing the reasonable rent payment calculated for your family. Local PHAs calculate reasonable rents in the area by comparing units of similar size and condition. Your PHA will advise you of the reasonable rent amount for your area and family size. You will be responsible for paying 30% of your income toward rent and utilities and the voucher will cover the remaining costs, up to the reasonable rent payment.
It is in your best interest to choose a home with a rent at or below this amount. You may choose a home with higher rent, but you will be responsible for paying the difference between the reasonable rent payment and the higher rent you’ve chosen. This is in addition to the 30% of household income you are already responsible for paying. Your PHA will not approve a home with a rent that requires the family to pay more than 40% of their income for rent.
When you are ready to search for your new home, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Local Renting Information webpage is a great place to start. There you’ll find state pages, most of which contain databases of available homes for rent.
Being enrolled into the Housing Choice (Section 8) Voucher program does not mean you will automatically be approved for a rental that meets program requirements. Landlords have their own screening processes and have the authority to deny potential tenants based on their own criteria.
That being said, there are laws in place to protect voucher recipients from discrimination based on their participation in the program. Landlords are not permitted to deny tenancy solely because of a family’s rent is being subsidized with Housing Choice (Section 8) vouchers.