Housing Choice Vouchers, formerly (and still widely) known as Section 8 Vouchers, are among America’s most popular and widely used assistance programs. The program gives low-income families direct help with paying the high cost of housing and has allowed millions of families to move into and keep better and more secure homes. Like all such programs, though, there are criteria for eligibility, and before you apply, you’ll want to get some idea of how likely you are to succeed. This guide should give you a good idea of what to expect.
Almost all housing programs are administered by your local Public Housing Authority (PHA), so locating your PHA is an essential step. It’s easy to do: there’s a link to a PHA search at the end of this article.
Eligibility for Housing Choice Vouchers begins with two key factors: how much money your family makes (total annual gross income) and how many members live in your household (family size). In general, a family’s income may not exceed 50% of the median income for the county or metro where the family currently, or would like, to reside. In addition to income requirements, you will also be required to provide the following:
Photo identification for all adult household members
Proof of legal residence in the United States for all household members
Social Security number verification for all household members
Verification of all household income and assets
During the application process, your PHA will collect information on family income, assets, and family composition. They will verify this information with other local agencies, your employer, and your bank, and will use the information to determine program eligibility and the amount of the housing assistance payment you will receive. They will also check the criminal record of all adult family members. Sexual offenders, in particular, are not eligible.
Additional Section 8 Eligibility Factors
Your PHA will consider a variety of other factors when considering a potential recipient. Your level of need weighs heavily on the decision as local housing authorities must give preference to the following:
Families earning less than 30% of the county or metro’s median income
Age 62 or older
Veteran of US armed services or their surviving spouses
Working more than 42 hours per week
Currently living in a shelter
75% of new Section 8 applicants admitted to the program each year must be extremely low-income households earning less than 30% of the county or metro’s median income, so if you are in this category, your chances of approval are much better.
Being Eligible May Not Be Enough
The Housing Choice Voucher program is not an entitlement benefit. Even if you qualify, you still may not be approved. In many areas, there are far more applicants than available slots. Even if you are approved, waiting lists are extremely long. In the most active areas, the waiting period can take up to 5 years. You shouldn’t be discouraged by this. Millions of families have received vouchers, and yours can be one of them if you qualify. You should be realistic, though, and understand the constraints of the program.
If you’re in an emergency situation, you should contact your PHA and make an appointment to discuss your problem. They may be able to give you a higher priority or connect you with other sources of help that can keep you going while you wait for a voucher.
Income Guidelines By Family Size
As discussed in Step 1 of this guide, the first step to finding out if you’re eligible for Section 8 is to review the Income Guidelines. These will vary according to the median income for your county. HUD has a handy online checker that allows you to select your state, then your county, and shows you what income will be 50% of median and what will be 30% of the median. Remember, most vouchers are reserved for families earning 30% of median income or less, so if you’re in that category, your chances of approval are much better.
Family size also counts, and the HUD Income Limits Documentation System mentioned above will give you an exact figure for your family size. There’s a link to the page at the end of this article!
Fraud – Don’t Do It!
We have only one simple thing to say about fraud: DON’T. Not only do you risk losing your voucher and putting you and your family in a terrible situation, but you also risk fines and even jail time. HUD’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) Office of Investigation is the law enforcement component of the Department. Their special agents have experience in conducting investigations in all programs of the Department to include tenant and public housing authority (PHA) fraud, waste, and abuse.
Unlike other law enforcement agencies, OIG is a part of the Department and has a vested interest in maintaining the integrity of Departmental programs. Many states have their internal investigative units and actively pursue those committing fraud. Keep in mind that your status to receive the Section 8 voucher is reviewed each year. If you lie during a review, you will be risking serious penalties for both you and your family.
What constitutes fraud? Here’s a list of the most common issues:
Knowingly omitting or under-reporting income or assets from household income
Transferring assets or income to achieve eligibility
Falsifying or using false Social Security documents
Falsifying the number of members in your household
Getting assistance on top of Section 8 without notifying the appropriate parties
Renting out or subletting all or part of the unit
Charging rent from any tenants who may be living with you
Other issues that can cause immediate loss of your voucher:
Sale or use of drugs
Involvement in prostitution
Violation of your lease
Destruction of property
Anyone could report you for fraud, including landlords, neighbors, ex-friends or ex-lovers. Don’t take the risk.
What If I Start Making More Money?
If you qualify for Section 8 and then your situation stabilizes, and your household’s income rises, don’t worry. That’s the goal of the program after all. The income limits for qualification only matter at the time you apply for Section 8 assistance. However, as your family earns more, your vouchers will be proportionately reduced. Once you’re earning over 80 percent of local median income, your assistance will fade out entirely.
The Bottom Line
The Housing Choice Voucher Program is designed to assist Americans who are under serious economic stress. It allows families to pay a reasonable amount of their income for housing, which in turn can allow them to manage their finances more effectively, improve their credit ratings, find better housing, and hopefully escape the cycle of poverty completely. It’s not meant to be permanent. It’s a helping hand to get you through a hard time and give you a chance to move on to something better. This article should leave you with an idea of whether you are likely to qualify for a voucher. If you are, it’s well worth the time it takes to apply and wait for approval and availability!