How to Qualify for Housing Choice Vouchers

The Section 8 Housing program is funded by the federal government but run by local public housing agencies (PHAs). The goal of the program is to help low-income families and other qualifying applicants find rental homes that improve their standards of living. In general, many low-income families live in subpar housing situations and often deal with unsafe or unsanitary conditions. The Section 8 Housing program was established by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to help families in these circumstances. The program is meant to be temporary, so that applicants do not become dependent on the financial benefits they receive. For instance, some programs require families to complete certain financial training courses to help them become financially independent and pursue their career or education. 

The gross annual income of a family is the most important factor in determining eligibility, though many other factors are also taken into consideration. States are responsible for establishing the eligibility requirements in their areas, though they must adhere to federal guidelines. Furthermore, states have the right to close their Section 8 Housing waitlists if they are unable to provide enough funding to new applicants. Indeed, benefits from the program are in high demand and are sought after across the country. For more on housing benefits and housing choice vouchers, continue reading below.

Learn About Section 8 Housing Qualifications

First and foremost, you must meet the income requirements set forth by your state and local governments. Income requirements vary from location to location because the average annual income varies. The average income is used to determine the maximum income you may earn while still qualifying for benefits. If you are below the average income level in your town, you may be eligible for assistance. The PHA will also take the size of your family into account. As an example, you may qualify as an extremely low-income individual if you earn $15,000 per year and are the only person living in your house. Another family may also be labeled as extremely low-income if they make $30,000 per year but have eight family members living in the house. 

The other factors that will be taken into consideration include the number of children and dependents for which you are responsible, your personal history, your assets, whether you are a U.S. citizen or a legal resident and whether you have previously been evicted. Family members who are pregnant or disabled may affect your eligibility as well.

Keep in mind that some families will receive preference over others. If you are labeled as an extremely low-income family, you may be moved toward the top of the waitlist and will not have to wait as long to receive benefits. You may also receive preference if you and your family have been homeless, involuntarily displaced or have participated in other housing assistance programs. 

Your local PHA will estimate your eligibility based on the information you provide. The agency will use evidence from your banks, employers and other applicable agencies. Your credit card habits, lifestyle choices and even drug usage may factor into the agency’s eligibility decision as well. Even if you do qualify for the program, one negative factor may lower the amount of benefits your landlord receives in your name each month. 

An Explanation of Section 8 Income Requirements

To have a better understanding of the specific requirements for the Section 8 Housing program, you must research the limits established by your local PHA. It is also important to know which types of applicants are applying for Section 8 benefits. While elderly adults and people with disabilities also apply for the program, housing choice vouchers are a particularly popular option among low-income families. 

A family’s gross annual income must be lower than the average income in their town, county or state. Families are usually divided into three categories of eligibility: low income, very low income and extremely low income. Low income families generally earn 80 percent of what the average family earns in their town. Very low-income families earn about 50 percent below the average, while extremely low income families earn roughly 30 percent below the average. In general, a family is defined as one of the following:

  • Certain groups of individuals who live together, with or without children.
  • Elderly adults who are 62 years of age or older.
  • Single adults who have or do not have children. 
  • Displaced families, in which one or more family members have been displaced. The displacement may have occurred recently or a long time ago.

Depending on whether you are labeled as low, very low or extremely low income, you may receive additional monetary benefits. For instance, your state is required to cover at least 75 percent of your monthly rent if you are in an extremely low-income family. If your income level changes while you are receiving benefits, your benefits may be adjusted to reflect the change. You may lose eligibility altogether if you begin earning more than the average family in your town. Even though you may not want to lose your benefits, it is very important to report any changes to your income. You may face serious penalties for continuing to accept benefits even if you no longer qualify for the program. However, some types of income may be excluded when determining your gross annual income. 

To learn more about the average income levels in your area, visit the HUD website, where the median income per state and per town are listed. You may also contact your nearest PHA. Remember that your local PHA my go by a different name. For example, some states refer to their programs as Housing Authorities. Other local programs only aid involuntarily displaced families. Thus, it is very important to research your PHA in advance. 

What Are the Section 8 Housing Documentation Requirements?

You must be a U.S. citizen or a legal resident in order to receive benefits. You are a legal resident if you have a regulated status and have been recognized as a legal immigrant by the U.S. government. Regardless of your citizenship or immigrant status, you may be required to present certain documents to your local PHA. These may include a U.S. passport or passport card, Social Security card, resident alien card, registration card and certain other qualifying documents. 

There are a few exceptions to the citizen and legal resident rule. For instance, you may be a part of a family that is made up of some U.S. citizens and some immigrants without legal verification documents. In this case, your family is considered mixed and you may receive prorated assistance. The amount you receive in prorated assistance will be determined by the number of U.S. citizens in the family.