Rent payments can eat up a large portion of your monthly budget. If you're having trouble making ends meet, see if you qualify for Section 8 assistance to relieve some of the financial burden. Section 8, also known as the Housing Choice Voucher Program, sponsors subsidized housing for low-income families and individuals.
How Do I Qualify for Section 8?
To qualify for Section 8 housing assistance, applicants must meet several different criteria.
- Everyone in the family must be able to submit evidence of citizenship or eligible applicant status.
- No one in the family must have indebtedness to the local housing authority.
- No one in the family can be a registered sex offender.
- No one in the family has had a felonious violent criminal act or drug related act within the last four years.
- No one in the family has had a misdemeanor violent criminal act or drug related act within the last year.
Full-time college students generally cannot receive Section 8 assistance unless they are at least 24 years old, married, have a dependent child, or are a military veteran. If they do fall into one of these categories, they may still be required to provide extra documentation in regards to what financial aid they receive to attend school.
The family's income must meet program guidelines based on the federal poverty level, which was $23,050 for a family of four in 2012, according to Families USA. Current guidelines state that a family's income cannot be higher than 50% of the median income in the area where they live. You can find out the median income level in your county or metropolitan area by contacting your local HUD office.
More about Section 8
The main form of Section 8 assistance is a housing voucher that can be either project-based or tenant-based. Project-based vouchers require recipients to live in a specific area, while tenant-based vouchers allow the recipient to choose any qualifying unit in the private sector. Contrary to popular belief, the voucher does not provide free rent. Those receiving Section 8 vouchers must pay a portion of their income, although the program guarantees that no one will pay more than 30 percent of their monthly income for housing.
There is also a special Section 8 program called Veterans Administration Supported Housing (VASH) that distributes vouchers to homeless and otherwise vulnerable military veterans. While receiving the same rental assistance as other Section 8 recipients, the veterans also have access to case management services.
How to Apply
You can apply for Section 8 by visiting the housing authority. If you are not sure where your local housing authority is located, you can search for contact information on the HUD website.
Call and make an appointment. At your appointment, a representative will ask for information regarding your family's income and assets. The agency may contact your bank, your employer and other relevant organizations to verify this information. if you are found to be eligible, your family will be added to the waiting list, and you will receive assistance as soon as funds are available. In some cases, you may receive assistance immediately. In other cases, it could take several months or even years.
Unfortunately, not everyone who qualifies for Section 8 will receive assistance from the program. Funds are limited, so local governments prioritize applicants to see who will be able to receive assistance. Priority groups may include those receiving SSI disability payments or families that have been displaced from their housing due to factors beyond their control. Preference can also be given to those currently in unsafe housing conditions or paying over half of their income in rent.
Landlords are not required to participate in the Section 8 program. They are required to comply with federal fair housing laws, but Section 8 does not fall into this category.
Some of the reasons landlords may not want to accept Section 8 tenants include:
- A desire to charge a rent that is higher than the fair market rent as determined by HUD.
- Not wanting to meet requirements for participation in the program, such as agreeing to a full inspection of their premises for HUD's Housing Quality Standards.
- An unwillingness to initiate judicial action for eviction of a tenant, especially if state law will allow tenants to be evicted through other means.
- Fears that Section 8 tenants are more prone to crime, vandalism, drug use, and other problems that would impact quality of life within the neighborhood.
Getting accepted into Section 8 is normally a "hurry up and wait" scenario. Public housing is another option to explore while awaiting help from Section 8. If you have an urgent need for financial assistance, organizations like the Salvation Army operate emergency shelters. You can ask the representative at the housing authority to refer you to these organizations.