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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 intended to provide assistance to those who need it most. These voucher programs 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.

The process of meeting eligibility requirements and finding a residence is complicated, and may discourage some eligible families. The information in this article explains what you will need to do and what documents you will have to present. 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 common Housing Choice Voucher programs: rent subsidy and mortgage subsidy. These programs are intended to support rental or purchase of private housing and you cannot use them in housing projects. You may use vouchers for an existing residence or at a new location. In both programs the recipient secures the residence, the voucher is paid directly to the landlord/mortgage, and the recipient pays the remaining 30-40% of the cost. There are differences in the programs as well: the rent subsidy provides for tenants to rent affordably while the mortgage program allows for recipients to purchase a home. The mortgage program requires an annual income of at least $10,300.

Income and family composition are the main 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, you can go directly to the HUD website by clicking here or visit our eligibility guide by clicking here.

Application Process
Apply - Contact your local Public Housing Agency (PHA). Complete the necessary application and submit required documents.

Wait for acceptance - It is not unusual for families to have to wait to apply because local PHAs are not currently accepting applications. (When the wait is likely to be 5-7 years, agencies stop accepting applications.) Families may be placed 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.

Find housing - When a voucher is available, the recipient will be contacted by the PHA. 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 which is issuing the voucher for at least the first year. After that, a recipient may be able to move to a different area.

PHA inspection - The PHA will conduct an inspection of the property to make sure that it meets health and safety standards.

Secure the lease - The tenant is able to negotiate directly with a landlord to agree upon the terms of the lease, within PHA requirements. The PHA then contracts with the landlord to provide direct payment.

Pay the deposit - The recipient is responsible for paying the deposit amount set by the landlord.

Enjoy your affordable, safe home.

Application Tips & Best Practices
Utilize local preference standards - Every PHA sets its own 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 you already know your credit score and it's considered "bad" or "poor", 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 to, or if you currently live in a home which 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. You do not want to violate any of these standards or you could be excluded from the program.

Do not give false, incomplete, or inaccurate information - The program has been established 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. Such an action will not be overlooked.

Do not commit fraud - You cannot transfer assets to someone else. You cannot get additional assistance without notifying Section 8. 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 includes drug use. Eligibility may be considered for applicants who have successfully completed an abuse treatment program. Registered sex offenders are not eligible.

Do not violate lease or program requirements - In order 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.

Recertification Process
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 be sent paperwork from the PHA. Returning the annual recertification papers is a tenant obligation. You will be asked to verify current sources of income and family composition. You must sign the documents and return them either by hand delivery to the designated location or by mail.

Upon receipt of the paperwork a caseworker will review the current status of the recipient. Eligible tenants and landlords will receive a Voucher Change Notice which will indicate the new effective date and any changes in amount.

If tenants fail to return the notice, PHA may send two to three additional reminders and warnings. If the papers are not returned by the deadline, vouchers will be terminated.

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.