Housing is one of the most important ways to gain security for yourself and your family. Unfortunately, rent is getting more expensive, and many needy families struggle to keep a roof over their head. Housing Choice Vouchers, also known as Section 8 Vouchers, are one of the most popular public assistance programs in the country, with 1.2 million households using it in 2018 to offset the costs of rent and utilities.
This important program helps low income families, the elderly, and the disabled pay for housing costs, allowing millions of families to stay safe and secure in their own homes.
Here’s how it works:
- The Department of Housing and Urban Development determines the fair market rent for your area
- Your local Public Housing Authority modifies the federal fair market rent
- You (the tenant) pay a percentage of your monthly income, and the rest is covered by a voucher
- Your PHA may issue an allowance covering utilities
What does Housing Choice Vouchers provide?
Housing Choice Vouchers help people with limited income afford to live in a single-family home, townhouse, or apartment. Contrary to popular belief, HCV doesn’t require you to live in a subsidized government housing project.
Families can choose any house that meets the requirements of the program. Families that receive a housing voucher are responsible for finding a place to live, then a subsidy is paid directly to the landlord from your local Public Housing Authority. The family pays whatever the housing voucher doesn’t cover.
If you have severely limited income, a voucher could pay for all or most of your rent. However, most families will pay a portion of their rent in one of four ways:
- 30 percent of their adjusted monthly income
- 10 percent of their monthly gross income
- Their portion of welfare rent
- The minimum rent set by the PHA
Your local PHA will decide what portion you’ll pay based off your income and family size.
In some cases, local PHAs may allow voucher recipients to use their voucher to purchase a home. Check with your local PHA to see if it allows this.
Who’s eligible for Housing Choice Vouchers?
Like any public assistance program, you’ll have to meet several requirements to qualify. To start, eligibility is based on the total annual gross income and family size, and is only available to U.S. citizens and some non-citizen legal immigrants. To receive HCV benefits, the following must apply to a family:
- Family income can’t be more than 50 percent of the median income in the county or city where the family chooses to live. For example, if your city’s median family income is $84,000, your family has to make $42,000 or less to qualify. Click here to find your area’s median income.
- The program favors people with very limited resources. PHAs must give 75 percent of their vouchers to applicants who make 30 percent or less than the area’s median income.
- PHAs may give preference to families that:
- Are homeless or living in dangerous or unhealthy housing
- Use more than 50 percent of their income to pay for rent
- Are forced out of a living situation
Use this eligibility calculator to see if you are eligible.
Can I move and still have my voucher benefits?
Yes! Housing needs change all the time, and Housing Choice Vouchers is designed to help families move without losing their benefits. If you plan to move:
- You must tell your local PHA ahead of time
- You’ll need to end your lease per your lease agreement
- Your next home must be HCV eligible
- If you lived in the jurisdiction of the PHA where you first applied for assistance, you can move anywhere in the United States and keep your benefits
- If you’re a new voucher holder but don’t live in the jurisdiction where you first applied for assistance, you’ll have to rent in that PHA jurisdiction for the first year
- Contact your PHA about procedures for moving to another jurisdiction
How do I apply for Housing Choice Vouchers?
Most housing programs are handled by your local Public Housing Authority, so you’ll have to find a PHA near you. Next, your local PHA will ask for information on family income, assets, and family structure. The PHA will verify your information with other local authorities, your work, and your bank, then use the information to decide your eligibility and how much assistance you’ll get.
Because housing vouchers are so popular, it’s likely you’ll be placed on a waiting list if your approved. The PHA will contact you once a spot opens up.
Ready to begin? Click here to contact a PHA in the area you want to live. They’ll help walk you through their process and will tell you what information they need from you.
If you need more help, click here to find a HUD office near you that can provide assistance.
Can I lose my voucher?
Under some circumstances, families may lose their voucher eligibility. Disqualification includes the following:
- A family member is convicted of a drug-related crime committed in the home your voucher covers
- Family income exceeds the income limit set by a local PHA
- A family member fails to sign consent forms
You might be denied a voucher for the following reasons:
- You or a family member have been evicted from HCV/Section 8 housing in the past
- A family member has committed a drug-related or violent crime
- A family member has been convicted of fraud, bribery, or other criminal activities concerning public housing programs
Home sweet home is easier to achieve when it’s actually affordable. Housing Choice Vouchers help needy families save on housing so they can use their scarce resources to build a better life. If a voucher waiting list is very long in your area, don’t give up! It’s still a good idea apply, and you just might be bumped up on the list.