Section 8, or the Housing Choice Voucher Program
What are housing choice vouchers?
The housing choice voucher program, Section 8, is the federal government's major
program for assisting very low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled to
afford decent, safe, and sanitary housing in the private market. Since housing assistance
is provided on behalf of the family or individual, participants are able to find
their own housing, including single-family homes, townhouses and apartments. The
participant is free to choose any housing that meets the requirements of the program
and is not limited to units located in subsidized housing projects. AffordableSearch.com
can start you on your
section 8 apartment
search. Housing choice vouchers are administered locally by public housing agencies
(PHAs). The PHAs receive federal funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban
Development (HUD) to administer the voucher program. A family that is issued a housing
voucher is responsible for finding a suitable housing unit of the family's choice
where the owner agrees to rent under the program. This unit may include the family's
present residence. Rental units must meet minimum standards of health and safety,
as determined by the PHA. A housing subsidy is paid to the landlord directly by
the PHA on behalf of the participating family. The family then pays the difference
between the actual rent charged by the landlord and the amount subsidized by the
program. Under certain circumstances, if authorized by the PHA, a family may use
its voucher to purchase a modest home.
Am I eligible?
Eligibility for a housing voucher is determined by the PHA based on the total annual
gross income and family size and is limited to US citizens and specified categories
of non-citizens who have eligible immigration status. In general, the family's income
may not exceed 50% of the median income for the county or metropolitan area in which
the family chooses to live. By law, a PHA must provide 75 percent of its voucher
to applicants whose incomes do not exceed 30 percent of the area median income.
Median income levels are published by HUD and vary by location. The PHA serving
your community can provide you with the income limits for your area and family size.
During the application process, the PHA will collect information on family income,
assets, and family composition. The PHA will verify this information with other
local agencies, your employer and bank, and will use the information to determine
program eligibility and the amount of the housing assistance payment If the PHA
determines that your family is eligible, the PHA will put your name on a waiting
list, unless it is able to assist you immediately. Once your name is reached on
the waiting list, the PHA will contact you and issue to you a housing voucher.
How do I apply?
If you are interested in applying for a voucher, contact the local
. For further assistance, please contact the
Office nearest to you.
Local preferences and waiting list - what are they and how do they affect me?
Since the demand for affordable housing assistance often exceeds the limited resources
available to HUD and the local housing agencies, long waiting periods are common.
In fact, a PHA may close its waiting list when it has more families on the list
than can be assisted in the near future. PHAs may establish local preferences for
selecting applicants from its waiting list. For example, PHAs may give a preference
to a family who is (1) homeless or living in substandard housing, (2) paying more
than 50% of its income for rent, or (3) involuntarily displaced. Families who qualify
for any such local preferences move ahead of other families on the list who do not
qualify for any preference. Each PHA has the discretion to establish local preferences
to reflect the housing needs and priorities of its particular community.
Housing vouchers - how do they function?
The housing choice voucher program places the choice of housing in the hands of
the individual family. A very low-income family is selected by the PHA to participate
is encouraged to consider several housing choices to secure the best housing for
the family needs. A housing voucher holder is advised of the unit size for which
it is eligible based on family size and composition. The housing unit selected by
the family must meet an acceptable level of health and safety before the PHA can
approve the unit. When the voucher holder finds a unit that it wishes to occupy
and reaches an agreement with the landlord over the lease terms, the PHA must inspect
the dwelling and determine that the rent requested is reasonable. The PHA determines
a payment standard that is the amount generally needed to rent a moderately-priced
dwelling unit in the local housing market and that is used to calculate the amount
of housing assistance a family will receive. However the payment standard does not
limit and does not affect the amount of rent a landlord may charge or the family
may pay. A family which receives a housing voucher can select a unit with a rent
that is below or above the payment standard. The housing voucher family must pay
30% of its monthly adjusted gross income for rent and utilities, and if the unit
rent is greater than the payment standard the family is required to pay the additional
amount. By law, whenever a family moves to a new unit where the rent exceeds the
payment standard, the family may not pay more than 40 percent of its adjusted monthly
income for rent.
The rent subsidy
The PHA calculates the maximum amount of housing assistance allowable. The maximum
housing assistance is generally 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
Can I move and continue to receive housing choice voucher assistance?
A family's housing needs change over time with changes in family size, job locations,
and for other reasons. The housing choice voucher program is designed to allow families
to move without the loss of housing assistance. Moves are permissible as long as
the family notifies the PHA ahead of time, terminates its existing lease within
the lease provisions, and finds acceptable alternate housing. Under the voucher
program, new voucher-holders may choose a unit anywhere in the United States if
the family lived in the jurisdiction of the PHA issuing the voucher when the family
applied for assistance. Those new voucher-holders not living in the jurisdiction
of the PHA at the time the family applied for housing assistance must initially
lease a unit within that jurisdiction for the first twelve months of assistance.
A family that wishes to move to another PHA's jurisdiction must consult with the
PHA that currently administers its housing assistance to verify the procedures for
moving. Roles - the tenant, the landlord, the housing agency and HUD Once a PHA
approves an eligible family's housing unit, the family and the landlord sign a lease
and, at the same time, the landlord and the PHA sign a housing assistance payments
contract that runs for the same term as the lease. This means that everyone -- tenant,
landlord and PHA -- has obligations and responsibilities under the voucher program.
When a family selects a housing unit, and the PHA approves the unit and lease, the
family signs a lease with the landlord for at least one year. The tenant may be
required to pay a security deposit to the landlord. After the first year the landlord
may initiate a new lease or allow the family to remain in the unit on a month-to-month
lease. When the family is settled in a new home, the family is expected to comply
with the lease and the program requirements, pay its share of rent on time, maintain
the unit in good condition and notify the PHA of any changes in income or family
The role of the landlord in the voucher program is to provide decent, safe, and
sanitary housing to a tenant at a reasonable rent. The dwelling unit must pass the
program's housing quality standards and be maintained up to those standards as long
as the owner receives housing assistance payments. In addition, the landlord is
expected to provide the services agreed to as part of the lease signed with the
tenant and the contract signed with the PHA.
Housing Authority's Obligations:
The PHA administers the voucher program locally. The PHA provides a family with
the housing assistance that enables the family to seek out suitable housing and
the PHA enters into a contract with the landlord to provide housing assistance payments
on behalf of the family. If the landlord fails to meet the owner's obligations under
the lease, the PHA has the right to terminate assistance payments. The PHA must
reexamine the family's income and composition at least annually and must inspect
each unit at least annually to ensure that it meets minimum housing quality standards.