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Public Housing Programs

Public Housing Projects are a viable option for many groups who often struggle to afford housing, particularly low income families, seniors, and the disabled. Most Public Housing is clean, safe, and most of all affordable. Here's what you need to know.

Getting Started
Housing can be a huge cost, especially if your income is low, but there is help out there. Public housing is an affordable, clean and safe option for seniors, people with disabilities, and families on low incomes. In this guide we will cover some of the common eligibility and application requirements, how to potentially speed up the waiting list process, and information on the benefits themselves, as well as a shortlist of the pros and cons of public housing. For further investigation we recommend visiting the HUD site.

Am I Eligible for Public Housing?
Public housing programs are run by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and they have a few core criteria used to govern qualification.

Income - HUD sets different limits for income in different areas, depending on what average salaries are.

Your family, age, and disability status - To qualify for public housing, you must be either a senior or disabled, or have children.

Immigration status - In some areas it's OK to have undocumented family members with you in public housing, but the head of the household will always have to have legal immigration status.

Tenant history - HUD will ask for references from your former landlords, and may do a criminal record check. If you've had problems with those things but have a good reason, you should have a chance to explain it.

How Do I Apply for Public Housing?
You'll have to go through your local housing authority. If contacting the nearest housing authority proves difficult, you can also go to a HUD field office. The application process is a little different in every housing authority, but there are usually three main steps.

1) Submit an application - Housing authorities often want you to fill out a written application first. You can usually download the form from their website and then submit it by mail or in person.

2) Have an interview - There will usually be some sort of interview where you meet with a housing authority representative to complete your application. You'll have to bring some documents to the meeting, which usually include:

Proof of identity, like a driver's license and Social Security card.

Proof of immigration status, like a birth certificate or green card.

Proof of income and assets, like your W-2 from last year, recent pay stubs, documentation of any government assistance you've received, bank statements, medical receipts, and so on. If you aren't sure, bring it.

If you or someone in your family is disabled, proof of disability, like a doctor's letter, medical documents, and Social Security Disability information if you receive it.

3) Wait for a decision and choose a home. It usually takes a few weeks to find out if you qualify for public housing. After that, the wait to actually move in depends on what's available. You may say what kinds of housing you're interested in when you apply, or the housing authority may just choose some options for you.

Is There Any Way to Get It Faster?
Unfortunately, there isn't enough public housing available for everyone who wants it. You can spend a year or more on the waitlist in some places. But there are some things you can do to potentially speed up the process.

Apply as a "preference" group - Every housing authority has its own list of "preferences" who get priority, and they have to let you see it. Veterans, victims of domestic violence, adults going to college or in professional training, and people stuck in unsafe housing often get preferred, and you should look carefully through your housing authority's preferences to see if you qualify for one.

Apply to more than one agency or development - Different housing authorities have different rules about this, which you can read about on their websites. If there's more than one housing authority in a reasonable distance from you, you don't mind moving to a nearby town, or if you have an option to apply directly to certain developments, you may get an opening faster.

Keep your information up-to-date - If you move or change telephone numbers, be sure to let the housing authority know right away.

Have all the relevant documents - Applications often get turned down or delayed because the housing authority doesn't have enough information about you. Bring any financial or family documents you have to your appointment--there's no harm in having something you don't need.

Have a deposit ready - You'll usually need to pay a security deposit to move into your new home. You can ask your housing authority how much. Try to have that money on-hand as soon as the housing authority tells you there's a space open.

How Much Rent Will I Pay, and How Long Can I Stay?
HUD and the housing authority will set your rent based on your income. They have a few different ways of deciding what your rent should be, but it won't be more than 30% of your income. If you start making more money, you'll also usually get a grace period of around twelve months before your rent goes up.

You can stay in public housing as long as you still qualify for it. You could stop qualifying because your income goes up, because your children move out, or because you violate your lease. Be sure to read your lease carefully when you move in; public housing leases will often have more requirements than regular ones.

What Are the Cons of Public Housing?
Long wait lists - If you're in a situation where you need housing right now, public housing will probably be too slow to help.

You don't have a lot of control over what kind of housing you get - When openings are difficult to find, you may have to take what you can get, which could mean a bad neighborhood, an old building, or less space than you'd like.

Your landlord is the government - It's more complicated to do things like ask for a repair or complain about a neighbor, and you have to keep providing up-to-date information about your income and family.

Funding problems - Lots of public housing is just as modern and well-maintained as private housing, but there are sometimes problem areas. Some housing developments may have funding problems that lead to things like stalled elevators, broken lights, and dirty public areas.

What Are The Pros?
Save money - Public housing can save a serious, life-changing amount of money, enough to get on top of your debt, continue your education, or just get some savings in place.

More space and better quality housing - While some public housing has problems, the vast majority is actually nicer than other apartments you'd be looking at. Studies show that the majority of public housing provides more space and better services than low-cost apartments, and that most people living in public housing say they're happy with their homes.

Good communities - Again, problem areas exist, but those don't represent most public housing. Many recent studies have found that crime rates, health problems, and dropout rates in public housing are no higher than in similar neighborhoods, and that many people in public housing feel like part of a close and supportive community.

Whether you're elderly, disabled, or raising a family on a small income, public housing can be a great option to save money and get into a stable and healthy home. While wait lists can be long, the application process itself isn't difficult, and local housing authorities can give you a lot of help along the way. So take a look at what's available in your area and how to apply for it, and enjoy your new home.