Eligibility for Housing Choice Vouchers

In many cases, it’s hard for low-income Americans to find affordable housing on their own. This is where the government comes in. One opportunity that’s available thanks to the government are housing choice vouchers. These vouchers are available through the Housing Choice Voucher Program. This program is also commonly referred to as Section 8. Not everyone can benefit from this program. That is why this article is going to describe what the program is, how it can help, and what are the eligibility guidelines in order to benefit!

Understanding the Housing Choice Voucher Program

In order to get a better understanding on what it means to benefit from this opportunity, you want to make sure you have a clear understanding of what this opportunity can provide. The Housing Choice Voucher Program is a federal program provided by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). However, it is administered at the local level through Public Housing Authorities (PHAs). PHAs are the ones to receive federal funds from HUD in order to run the program.

What to Know About the Housing Choice Voucher Program

The goal of this housing support program is to give qualifying families affordable, decent, sanitary, and safe housing. The best part about this housing is that it is in the private market which means that it’s not limited to only government properties. Some of the different types of properties that people can benefit from include apartments, townhouses, and single-family homes.

However, it’s important to note that not every property accepts these vouchers as a form of payment. They need to accept them in order to qualify. Besides accepting them , they will also need to pass requirements set by the local PHA which includes an inspection! Eligible families that are able to receive vouchers and find a qualifying property will then be able to move in. Their local PHA will pay the landlord directly on behalf of the participating family for the voucher amount. Any remaining difference leftover is the responsibility of the family to pay for.

It’s also important to note that every locality is different. That means that the specific guidelines, rules, etc. around the program will vary depending in the location. However, some local PHAs offer the chance for qualifying families to use the vouchers towards buying a modest home. This is a popular program so it’s not uncommon for approved applicants to be placed onto a waiting list before actually receiving assistance.

Housing Choice Voucher Eligibility

If you are having a hard time with housing expenses and want some relief then this program may be a great opportunity for you. Again, the specific requirements will vary by location. However, you can expect housing voucher eligibility to depend on 4 main factors. These 4 main factors include:

  • Income Level
  • Family Status
  • Citizenship Status
  • Eviction History

Income Level

There are income limits in place that HUD sets annually that people are subject to. The income limits are a calculation that takes a percentage of the area’s median income (AMI) for all over the country. That is why it will be different depending on the location! There are three different levels of low-income. The levels are:

  • Extremely Low Income: This level describes people that make 30% of the AMI
  • Very Low Income: This level describes people that make 50% of the AMI
  • Moderately Low Income: This level describes people that make 80% of the AMI

The income limit will take into consideration not only your location but the number of people in your household as well. That’s because a family of four making $25,000 a year is different from an individual making the same amount. If you want to see what it would look like for your locality then you can check out the online query tool that HUD offers. This tool can help people see what the income limits are for their area.

Family Status

Family status refers to applicants making sure they meet the HUD definition of a family. That means applicants will need to be an individuals or a group of people that meet any of the following conditions:

  • Have children
  • Have at least one family member that has a disability
  • Have at least one family member that’s at least 62 years old or older
  • Were displaced from their home for a qualifying reason
  • Lives alone after other family members that were receiving Section 8 moved out

It’s important to note that single people are still eligible for Section 8. They do not need to have children in order to qualify!

Citizenship Status

Only those that are American citizens or have a qualifying immigration status can qualify for this program. It’s important to be honest and truthful on your Section 8 application. Besides having to sign a certification form that confirms your citizenship status, you may also have to provide additional documentation. That additional documentation can include:

  • Resident Alien Cards
  • Registration Cards
  • Social Security Cards
  • United States Passport

Luckily, families that have qualifying citizenship status members and non-qualifying citizenship status members in their family can qualify. However, the amount of benefits that the program can provide will only be based on the number of qualifying family members of the household.

Eviction History

Last but not least on the list of important eligibility factors is eviction history. That’s because recipients will typically need to have positive rental histories. Those that don’t have good rental histories may be disqualified. This includes applicants that have a history of being evicted for a drug-related crime or other criminal activity. Besides eviction history, your background will be important as well. For example, applicants can be disqualified if they have a conviction of producing methamphetamines in a subsidized housing project.

How to Apply for Housing Choice Vouchers?

If you want to apply for this program it’s easier than you may think. The best place to start is by getting in touch with your local PHA. If you are having a hard time getting in touch with them then you can also reach out to a local HUD Field Office for further assistance. You want to keep in mind that the specific application process will vary depending on the area. That means the specific ways to apply, the documents you need to show, and more will be different for every location.

Once you submit your application you will wait for a response. If approved, you will likely be put onto a waiting list until it is your time to receive assistance. That’s because there is too much demand and not enough supply. However, there may be preferences set by local PHAs to focus on families in the most amount of need. We know we are going to sound like a broken record but each PHA has their own discretion when setting preferences of families. That’s because it depends on the needs of that specific community. Preferences could include families that:

  • Deal with homelessness
  • Deal with substandard housing
  • Pay more than 50% of their income towards rent
  • Are involuntarily displaced

How Much Can Families Get?

There is not a specific payment limit that individuals will face. Instead, the local PHA will create a payment standard. The payment standard is the amount typically needed to rent a moderately-priced housing unit in the local private housing market. This standard is used to calculate the amount of housing benefits a family will qualify for. It’s important to keep in mind that the payment standard will not limit or affect the amount of rent that a landlord charges or that the family pays.

That’s because a family has the discretion to choose a housing unit that has a rent above or below the payment standard that the local PHA established. However, by law, if a family chooses to move into a new unit that has a rent that is more than the payment standard then they must not pay more than 40% of its adjusted monthly income towards rent. Luckily, most pay 30% because that is what falls in line for the HUD definition of affordable housing.

To put it simply, the amount of the voucher depends on the local PHA’s calculation of the maximum amount of allowable housing assistance. That maximum amount is usually the lesser of the payment standard minus 30% of the family’s monthly adjusted income (or the gross rent for the unit minus 30% of monthly adjusted income).

What is the Role of Everyone Involved?

It is important to know the roles of everyone involved so you can have a clear idea of expectations if you want to benefit from this program. You can basically break it down into four different parties:

  • Tenant
  • Landlord
  • Local PHA
  • HUD

Each of these parties will have their own role when handling the program!

Tenant Obligations

Families will need to find a housing unit that they want to move into that also accepts housing vouchers as a form of payment. If the property qualifies then they will sign a lease with the landlord for a minimum of one year. Depending on the property, the tenant may also have to pay a security deposit!

Once a family moves in, it will be similar to a standard lease setup. That means families must be compliant with the lease. However, they will also have to comply with program requirements. This means making sure rent is paid when it is due, keeping the unit in good condition, and notifying the PHA of any changes to the household’s current situation (like income changes, family changes, etc.).

Landlord Obligations

Landlords have the responsibility of providing units that meet the requirements set by the local PHA. This ensures that the properties are in decent, safe, and sanitary condition. Besides that, they need to provide the units at a reasonable rent price. They also have to make sure they comply with the lease agreement that is signed!

Local PHA Obligations

The local PHA is the one that handles this program at the local level. Once a family picks a unit they want to move into, the local PHA will need to make sure it meets their standards. If the property is eligible then the local PHA will enter a contract with the landlord that discusses details of how the local PHA pays on behalf of the family with the housing voucher. The local PHA will also need to recertify the recipients every year as well as conduct an annual inspection of the unit to make sure the tenants and property still qualify with program guidelines.

HUD Obligations

In order for the local PHA to provide this program at the local level, HUD provides it with funds. The federal funds that local PHAs receive are used towards costs of the programs like providing housing assistance through vouchers on behalf of the families. HUD will also pay a fee to the local PHA for the costs of actually administering the program. They have the responsibility of monitoring local PHAs to make sure that program rules are followed properly.

What if You Move?

There are a number of reasons that a family may find that they need to move regardless of whether or not they are receiving government assistance. Luckily, the Housing Choice Voucher program took that into consideration. That’s because this program allows families to move without losing their housing benefits. Moves are allowed! However, families that plan on moving must give a notice to their local PHA ahead of time, terminate their existing lease within the lease guidelines, and find a suitable housing alternative for when they move.

Bottom Line

One popular housing assistance opportunity for people in need is the Housing Choice Voucher Program. This program provides housing choice vouchers to qualifying families. It’s important to keep in mind that not all families qualify. Besides that, the specific eligibility requirements will vary by area. However, there are typically four main factors that local PHAs will keep in consideration. These factors include:

  • Income Level
  • Family Status
  • Citizenship Status
  • Eviction History

If you have any questions, need more information, or want to begin the application process then you will want to get in touch with your local PHA. If you need any more assistance then you can also reach out to your closest HUD Field Office.

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