It’s Time To Play the Section 8 Waiting List Game
Once you file your application, your local PHA will begin to collect information on your family, income, and assets. The PHA will check this information with banks, your employer, and local government agencies. During this process, it’s important to understand the typical time for response to avoid disappointment. The bottom line is that you must be ready for a long wait. In some cases, depending on your location, there could be 100,000 applicants for a limited number of spots. In these high-density areas, it can take 3 to 8 years to be enrolled in Section 8 while on the waiting list.
If you are in an emergency situation, inform your PHA, which can prioritize and give preference to families that are homeless or living in substandard homes. If you pay more than 70% of your family’s total income to rent or have been displaced through no fault of your own, you could also receive waiting list prioritization. It’s important to speak to your local PHA if you are in one of these conditions and see how that might affect your place on the waiting list. Your PHA may also be able to help you find other assistance while you wait for a voucher to become available.
PHAs do sometimes close waiting lists and stop accepting new applications. You can still look for Section 8 housing in another county or even another state that is accepting applications. Do some research and find new areas you might want to live. A great place to start is the Best Section 8 Homes and Rentals Guide.
Most important, don’t lose hope. In most cases, you will not receive this benefit overnight. It takes patience and diligence and staying on top of your local PHA in the hope of acquiring more insight and information.
I’ve Been Approved… Now What?
First off, congratulations! You now have the assistance you need to help you and your family live a healthy and productive lifestyle. There are, however, some requirements that you must follow to keep your Section 8 assistance. These deserve the same amount of attention and upkeep you exhibited during the application process. Don’t risk losing the help you worked so hard to acquire.
If you’re in the tenant-based program, you will need to find an appropriate residence and negotiate a deal with the landlord within the time allocated by the PHA, or your voucher will expire and be given to someone else. This can be quite challenging in some neighborhoods, so be ready.
You must ensure that your dwelling meets government standards. You’ll need the proper thermal controls, sanitation systems, and running water, and there must not be any structural or hazardous damage. Be sure you understand and follow the rules!
If you and your family are renting a living space, you will be required to sign a one-year lease. The property owner is obligated to provide “safe housing” and a “reasonable rent.” If the property owner doesn’t fulfill this obligation, you should make a formal complaint with your local PHA.
You must make all rental payments on time, keep the dwelling up to standard and comply with all terms of your lease contract. Failure to make timely payments or non-payment could very well end up losing your Section 8 assistance. You would then have to reapply and go through the approval and waiting periods again.
Be Aware Of Discrimination
A landlord CAN and WILL refuse occupancy due to failure to pass background and credit checks but CANNOT reject you and your family occupancy purely based on your voucher enrollment. Similarly, a landlord cannot charge you more than a non-voucher tenant. If you believe that a landlord is refusing to accommodate you just because you are enrolled in the program, contact your local PHA.
Don’t Commit Any Fraudulent Acts
Fraud is one of the main reasons for termination of Section 8 benefit assistance. Voucher recipients who commit fraud may have to repay the funds they have received and can face probation, or even a prison sentence. The bottom line is, if you’re fortunate enough to receive assistance, don’t risk losing it by trying to take advantage of the system. You will more often than not get caught. Make sure you are well aware of what constitutes fraud:
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.
Inaccurate reporting of 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.
You must avoid these actions and any other breaches of the rules, as the penalties are severe and the chances are that you will eventually be caught.
The Bottom Line
Housing Choice Vouchers are not an instant magic solution to high housing costs. The criteria are strict, the application process can be difficult, and the waiting lists are long. You should not give up on these programs just because they are difficult, though. This program has provided vital assistance to millions of American families, and yours could be one of them. If you believe that you could be eligible, do the work and find out more. You could find yourself receiving the help you need to provide a better life for you and your family!
Find your local Public Housing Authority here.