Section 8 Application Guide
Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers are a vital tool for low-income families struggling to afford safe, secure housing. Here's what you need to know and do to apply.
You Could Be Eligible For Housing Assistance
If you and your family are struggling with rent or having a hard time finding a safe, clean place to live, it's important to know that you have options. Don't lose hope. The U.S. government offers programs to assist those who need it most. Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers, in particular, have helped countless individuals and families to maintain or improve their quality of life. You could be eligible for housing assistance right now and not even know it!
Administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Section 8 grants offer housing aid and assistance to eligible low-income families across America. The program helps those in need by covering a percentage of their housing costs, ensuring that millions of low-income families, elderly and disabled Americans can find secure, healthy housing.
Section 8 is a valuable program that has changed many lives for the better, but it is not perfect. Many areas have waiting lists, and it may take years for a new participant to get into the program. The process of meeting eligibility requirements and finding a residence is complicated and may discourage some eligible families. Still, if you meet the qualifications, it is worth it to apply, even with a waiting period. This article explains what you will need to do and what documents you will have to present to apply for Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers. We hope this will make it easier to get through the process and bring deserving families closer to the help they need.
Section 8 has two standard Housing Choice Voucher programs: rent subsidy and mortgage subsidy. These programs support rental or purchase of private housing. You cannot use them in public housing projects. You may use vouchers at your existing residence or to move to a new home. In both programs the recipient secures the residence, the PHA pays the voucher directly to the property owner or mortgage holder, and the recipient pays the remaining 30-40% of the cost. The rent subsidy helps tenants to rent better properties than they could otherwise afford while the mortgage program allows recipients to purchase a home. The mortgage program requires an annual income of at least $10,300.
Income and family composition are the primary considerations in determining eligibility. Income cannot exceed 50% of the published median income for the area. By federal law, three out of four vouchers are for families at or below 30% of the median income. To learn more, please consult our Section 8 Eligibility Guide
- Contact your local Public Housing Authority
. Complete the necessary application and submit required documents.
Wait for acceptance
- Families often have to wait to apply because local PHAs are not currently accepting applications. (When the waiting period is likely to be 5-7 years, agencies stop accepting applications.) Families may be on a waiting list for 3-6 years after applying. Some programs have a portal available where you can check your status during the wait.
- When a voucher is available, the PHA will contact the recipient. The PHA may direct the recipient to several options. Approved Section 8 housing options may be limited and have lengthy wait times. Approved housing must meet safety requirements such as thermal controls, running water, sanitation, and structural integrity. The residence must be in the jurisdiction of the PHA that is issuing the voucher for at least the first year. After that, a recipient may be able to move to a different area while retaining the voucher.
- The PHA will conduct an inspection of the property to make sure that it meets health and safety standards.
Secure the lease
- For rental assistance vouchers, the voucher recipient negotiates directly with a property owner to agree to the terms of the lease, within PHA requirements. The PHA then contracts with the owner to provide direct payment.
Pay the deposit
- The recipient is responsible for paying the deposit amount set by the property owner.
Enjoy your affordable, safe home
Application Tips & Best Practices
Utilize local preference standards
- Every PHA sets preference standards to reflect the needs of the local community. Meeting one or more of the standards can help move you up on the waiting list. Find the standards for your area to see if you already qualify. In many areas, families who have lost a home due to a natural disaster or parents who are in a Welfare to Work program may be able to secure a first tier preference on the waiting list.
Maintain good credit
- Landlords are looking for tenants who pay rent on time. A bad credit history can make it difficult for you to find any place to rent either with or without a Section 8 voucher. If your credit score is low, you can review our guide
with tips on how to improve it.
Educate a landlord
- If you have found housing you would like to move into, or if you currently live in a home that is not available for Section 8, talk with the landlord. If you are a good tenant with proven credit and rental history, he may be willing to apply for Section 8 approval.
What Not To Do
As with any program, there are a few mandatory standards. If you break the rules, you could be excluded from the program.
Do not give false, incomplete, or inaccurate information
- Section 8 vouchers exist to provide help for the neediest qualifying members of society. Submitting a false statement on income, assets, personal information such as Social Security number, or the number of people in your household compromises the integrity of the entire program. Submitting an application with false information is a sure way to see your effort fail.
Do not commit fraud
- You cannot transfer assets to someone else. You cannot get additional assistance without notifying your PHA. You cannot rent out a part of your unit. You cannot charge rent to tenants living with you. The program will disqualify applicants and recipients who commit fraud.
Do not break the law
- This is a program for those with a clean criminal record. This restriction includes drug offenses, but a PHA may restore eligibility for applicants who have completed an abuse treatment program. Registered sex offenders are not eligible.
Do not violate lease or program requirements
- To keep the assistance, you must pay your share of the rent on time. You must maintain your unit. You must submit to annual inspections of your unit by the PHA.
The recertification process is very similar to the original application process, except that the vouchers can continue uninterrupted. You do not have to go back on a waiting list. In most jurisdictions, you will receive recertification forms from the PHA. Returning the annual recertification papers is a tenant’s obligation. You will verify current sources of income and family composition. You must sign the documents and return them to the designated location or by mail.
Upon receipt of the paperwork, a caseworker will review the status of the recipient. Eligible tenants and property owners will receive a Voucher Change Notice, which will indicate the new effective date and any changes in amount.
If a tenant fails to return the notice, PHA may send two to three additional reminders and warnings. If the tenant does not meet the deadline, the PHA will terminate the vouchers.
Section 8 is a popular program because it empowers low-income families to seek out competitive dwellings in the private sector. Select qualifying families can protect themselves from the hazards of compromised locations and contribute to flourishing neighborhoods.
For more on Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers, please see the HUD's information page