Housing Choice Vouchers 101

What are housing choice vouchers?

Administered locally by public housing agencies (PHAs), the Housing Choice Voucher, previously known as Section 8, is a federal government’s major program to assist low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled to afford housing in the private market. The PHAs that manage the voucher program receive federal funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

What does it do?

What the Housing Choice Voucher does is pay the balance of a rent payment that exceeds 30% of a renter’s monthly income. Before it does that however, the local housing authority must first inspect and approve the rental unit and the rental amount should be at, or below the Fair Market Rent set by HUD.

How do I find out if I am eligible for the program?

The most basic requirement to qualify for the program is your income. Usually, if your salary is less than fifty percent (50%) of the Area Median Income (AMI) for where you live, you are almost there. The median income levels vary by location and are published by HUD. According to the law, the program is required to provide seventy-five percent (75%) of the assistance to families earning thirty percent (30%) or less of the AMI.

Other requirements are:

  • must be at least 18 years old.
  • owned assets.
  • a United States citizen, or a noncitizen who has eligible immigration status. Eligible immigration status includes a lawful permanent resident; registry immigrant; refugee or asylee; conditional entrant; victim or relative of a victim of trafficking; parolee; withholding grantee; person granted 1986 amnesty status; resident of Guam, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, or Palau.

How can I get one?

To apply for a Housing Choice Voucher, visit the local Public Housing Agencies. Each housing authority have different preferences and requirements. Most of these are based on their service area’s affordable housing needs.

These preferences may include the local residents, elderly, and/or persons with disabilities. Note that these preferences are not requirements, they are however given the assistance first, and the others who do not fall in those categories, may have to wait longer. Those with criminal record/s may not be allowed by some housing office, but may be approved by another. Each housing office operates differently. For more information regarding these, you may contact your local housing authority.

This is one of the most sought after programs for Americans. However, in recent years, due to Federal budget controls, the Housing Choice Voucher Program’s funding cannot meet the continuously increasing demands. Because of this, the waiting lists for the assistance program in most areas of the country are long. Some waiting lists might even take years to fulfill, while others may even be closed for new applicants.

Can you believe that some PHAs even use a lottery approach as to who gets a spot in the waiting list? The preferences may still apply, but it may boil down to luck for some applicants. Closed waiting lists may open for a very brief period, usually less than a week. But this might happen every seven years or so, to almost never happening.

So take the chance and apply for one now!