The Truth About Section 8
Updated: Mar 8, 2022
I never knew exactly what Section 8 was until I was in my mid to late twenties. All I knew growing up was that a lot of single moms were on Section 8, but that was the gist of it. However, now that I'm older I understand that it's a housing program to help those in need and I don't want the stigma of it only being for single moms to continue. So, I figured if I was misinformed of exactly what it is then there may be other people I could help educate on exactly what Section 8 provides.
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I. Housing Choice Vouchers
Section 8 is actually apart of the housing choice voucher program. So, what is a housing choice voucher? The housing choice voucher program is the federal government's major program for assisting very low-income families, the elderly, and disabled to afford decent, safe, and sanitary housing in the private market. This program allows the family, individual, or participants to find their own housing which includes single-family homes, townhouses, and/or apartments. The housing does have to meet the requirements of the program but is not limited to subsidized housing projects. These vouchers are administered by PHAS better known as public housing agencies. The funds PHAS receive come from HUD better known as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development which administers the housing program.
If a family or individual qualifies for the program and receives a voucher, the family or participant is responsible for finding suitable housing where the owner/landlord agrees to rent under the voucher program. In some cases, the current resident of the applicant may participate in the program. Any housing choice must meet the minimum standards of health and safety as determined by the PHA. A certain amount of the rent will be paid to the owner/landlord directly by the PHA on behalf of the family or individual. If there is a difference in the amount then the family is responsible for the difference. In some cases, the voucher can even be used to purchase a home - a modest one.
II. How Do Housing Vouchers Work?
The actual housing choice is up to the family to decide. The local PHA will encourage the qualified participants to consider several housing choices to ensure they find the appropriate fit. Under federal guidelines, the housing unit selected by the family must meet health and safety standards before the unit can be approved. Once a unit is found and the family and landlord agree on leasing arrangements then the local PHA must inspect the dwelling and determine the size and rent amount is reasonable. The PHA has a formula that is used along with the set payment standards and calculates the amount of housing assistance a family will receive. However, despite what the PHA comes up with that does not mean the landlord is required to lower or adjust the rent amount or lease duration. Families can choose a unit that is below or above the PHA payment standard. Furthermore, the qualified family is required to pay 30% of its monthly adjusted gross income for rent and utilities. If the rent is greater than the payment standard, the family will have to pay the difference. However, if the family moves where the rent exceeds the payment standard, that family may not pay more than 40% of its adjusted monthly income towards rent.
III. Who Is Eligible?
The PHA determines eligibility based upon the total annual gross income and family size. US Citizens and specified immigrants who have eligible immigration status can qualify. The income of the family cannot exceed 50% of the median income for that county. According to PHA's federal guidelines, a PHA must provide 75% of its vouchers to applications whose income does not exceed 30% of the median income. Hud publishes median income level and is varied by location. PHA will collect family income, assets, and composition information during the application process. This information will be verified with the family's employer, local agencies, banks, and other sources to determine eligibility and the amount for assistance. If you are deemed eligible you will be placed on a waiting list unless they have immediate availability. If you are placed on the waiting list, once your name is reached a representative from the PHA will contact you and assist with your steps moving forward.
IV. Waiting List
Often the demand for housing assistance exceeds the limited resources available. Unfortunately, long waiting periods are common. If the PHA has more families on the waiting list than can be assisted within a certain period of time it is possible that they will close the waiting list until more families can be assisted. The local PHA can establish local preferences when selecting candidates from the waiting list. It is possible that a homeless family could be chosen first over a non-homeless family. If a family is involuntarily displaced or is paying more than a certain percentage of their income for rent they may supersede another candidate on the waitlist with less dire circumstances. If a family falls under these preferences than they would move ahead of a family who did not fall under any of these preferences. PHA has the discretion to establish these preferences based on the housing needs and priorities of its community.
"As a side note, the PHA also offers a public housing program. This is different than the housing voucher program. If there is a long waitlist for the housing voucher program, applicants for the housing voucher program can be asked to be placed on the waitlist for the public housing program."
V. Can I Move & Still Recieve Assistance?
The government is aware that family needs change over time. They know that family sizes increase and decrease and that employment can also change. Luckily, the program is designed to allow families to move without the loss of assistance. Families must notify the PHA ahead of time, terminate the existing lease within the lease provisions, and find another acceptable dwelling. According to the housing voucher assistance program, new voucher-holders may live anywhere in the United States that falls under the jurisdiction of that PHA. If the new voucher holder does not live in the jurisdiction of the PHA f at the time of applying than the family is required to lease a unit within that jurisdiction for the first 12 months of receiving assistance. If a family wants to move to another PHA's jurisdiction then they need to consult with that specific PHA before moving.
VI.What Role Does Each Party Play?
So, your family found housing and your local PHA approves- what happens next? At this point, it is time for you to sign the lease. t the same time that you're signing the lease the landlord and PHA will sign a housing assistance payment contract that runs for the duration of the lease. You as the tenant, your landlord, and the PHA now have obligations and responsibilities under the voucher program.
As the tenant, you may be required to pay a security deposit as most landlords/owners require same. When your lease expires the landlord/owner may renew the lease or move you to a month-to-month lease. While you are under the lease you are required to comply with the lease and voucher program requirements. Rent should be paid on time and the condition of the unit should be maintained. If anything changes with your income or family size you should notify your local PHA immediately.
Now that you have a landlord he/she is also required to provide and maintain certain things. The Landlord is required to provide a safe and sanitary living environment. The unit should pass the housing quality standards and these standards must be maintained as long as the owner/landlord is receiving the housing assistance payments. The landlord is also required to provide any services as agreed upon in the lease and/or contract with PHA.
You've moved in at this point - is there anything else that the PHA is required to or able to do? The PHA has the right to terminate assistance payments if the landlord/owner fails to meet obligations under the lease. The PHA is also required to reexamine your income and size annually. In addition, to a re-examination of your information, the PHA must inspect your dwelling at least once a year to ensure it meets the housing standards.
During the entire process, HUD is monitoring the PHA administration to ensure that the rules of the program are adhered to and no fraudulent activity or unlawful activities are occurring.
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VII. How Do You Apply?
Contact your local PHA and/or for further assistance contact the HUD Office nearest you. HUD has other subsidized programs and you can obtain a list of same from your local HUD office.