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Section 8 Eligibility Guide

Section 8 Vouchers provide direct Government support to assist low-income families with rent or mortgage payments. Here's how to determine whether you are eligible.

Are You Eligible?
Millions of American families are struggling to make rent and mortgage payments. Many of them are spending half their take-home income or more on housing, leaving them without the resources they need to cover all of the other expenses they face. The Government has recognized this problem and programs are in place to assist those who need help to find or stay in safe, secure homes. Many Americans who are eligible for help do not even know that it is available. Knowing your options and being aware of the procedures you need to follow to make use of these programs can make a huge difference in your family's quality of life.

The Housing Choice Voucher, or Section 8, is a program funded and administered by the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). It relies on local public housing agencies to screen applicants, assess properties, close contracts with property owners, and release funds. You can apply for Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers at your local Public Housing Authority (PHA).

Section 8 vouchers provide funding to individuals living in private residences, not public housing projects. There are no established limits on building types or location within a jurisdiction. Recipients may choose a single-family home, apartment, or townhome with a price within the area's market value rate. Voucher coupons typically go toward payment of rent, but in some situations, the recipients can apply the vouchers to mortgage payments as well.

Determine Your Eligibility
Eligibility is based primarily on two factors: household size and family income.

Household: HUD defines "family" as a single person or group of persons and includes the following:

A household with or without children, including a child who is temporarily away from home due to placement in foster care.

One or two individuals who are at least 62 years old and living together, including live-in aides.

A disabled individual, two or more disabled individuals, or disabled individuals with live-in aides.

Households with more members can be eligible with more income than individuals and smaller families.

Income: HUD calculates family income (total annual gross income) based on an area’s median income. HUD classifies a family earning 30% of the median income or less as “extremely low-income,” while a family earning between 30% and 50% of the median would be classified as “very low-income.” The distinction between "extremely" and "very" low income is significant. Federal law dictates that 75% of Section 8 funds must go to those who are in the "extremely" low-income category, so individuals in this category have a much higher chance of approval.

For example, in Davidson County, Tennessee, the published median income is $66,900. A family of four with an income less than $20,070 is classified as extremely low income. An income of $33,450 would be considered very low income.

In San Francisco County in California, the published median income is $101,900. An income of $30,570 gives a designation of extremely low income. $50,950 is considered very low income.

Your PHA will know the income limit, or you can search a site such as Credio, which provides the median income for many counties in the US and illustrates the household income amounts to be eligible for applying.

Additional Requirements
Recipients must be U.S. citizens or non-citizens with eligible immigrant status. Recipients must have a clean criminal record. Sexual offenders are not accepted.

During the application process, the Local Public Housing Authority (PHA) will collect information on family income, assets, and family composition. They will verify this information with other local agencies, employers, and banks, and will use the information to determine whether the applicant is eligible for the program and how much housing assistance they will receive.

Eligibility for Mortgage Subsidy
In addition to other requirements, recipients of mortgage funds must earn a minimum income of $10,300 annually and must have at least one year of employment at their current job.

Consider "Local Preference" Standards
Each PHA is trusted to set local preference standards for its jurisdiction so that distribution of vouchers will match the needs of the community. By falling into one or more of the designated groups, individuals can move up on the waiting list making their wait time shorter or even potentially allowing them to receive funds immediately. Common local preference standards include:

Homeless families
Age 62 or older
Veteran/widow of veteran of US armed services
Working more than 42 hours/week
currently living in a shelter
Family separated due to housing issues
Paying over 50% of income toward housing
Displaced families

People in these categories will receive preferential access. Be sure you know about any factors that might help you get approved!

Find Eligible Housing
Not only must the recipient meet eligibility standards, but the dwelling must also qualify. The PHA will provide direction and guidelines, but it is the responsibility of the recipient to find eligible residences. HUD lists some considerations.

Lease Duration - The voucher recipient must negotiate the lease with the property owner. Originally, the lease must be for one year.

Lease Amount - The PHA calculates the maximum allowance for the voucher based on rental prices in the area. Voucher recipients are responsible for paying at least 30% but not more than 40% of their income in rent and utilities.

Unit Size - The PHA will determine the unit size allotment, which is the size of the unit the applicant can rent with Section 8 support. A family of six is not expected to live in a single bedroom unit. A family of two will not be permitted to rent a unit of four bedrooms. The PHA will determine the unit size allotment.

Landlord - Landlords decide whether to accept Section 8 vouchers. Most property owners are willing to accept Section 8 for good tenants with high credit scores, clean criminal records, and good rental histories. The property owner must agree to Section 8 terms.

Inspection - The PHA will inspect the property before releasing funds to ensure that it meets basic standards of health and safety.

The Housing Choice Program provides valuable subsidies for families. With financial support for safe and adequate housing, families can make a choice to move to a location where their children are safe to grow and play. Most recipients must endure months and sometimes years of waiting, but in the end, they can secure a better environment for the family.

Ready to learn about the application process? Click Here to View Our Application Guide.

For more information, consult the HUD Section 8 Fact Sheet.

To find your local Public Housing Authority (PHA), check this HUD listing.

If you want to know what is considered extremely low or very low income in your area, see Credio's listing of Section 8 Housing Income Eligibility.