In general, the applicants who qualify for the Section 8 Housing program in the U.S. are families who spend over half of their total monthly income on rent and utilities. Even if families are paying more than they can afford on rent, having a low income makes it more likely that their homes will be substandard. They often face unsanitary and unsafe conditions inside the apartment and outside. A housing authority program can help these families find updated homes in better neighborhoods and give them monetary assistance for the rent.
Before applying for Section 8 housing assistance, is important to determine the likelihood that you will receive benefits. If you believe you have an extremely low income in comparison to the other people living in your town, you have a better chance of qualifying. Once you receive a notice that you and your family are eligible, your local public housing agency (PHA) will place you on a waitlist. Be prepared for the long waiting period after you receive eligibility. Section 8 benefits are in high demand, which may make it difficult for your PHA to accept new applicants. In fact, many PHA waiting lists in different states are closed indefinitely in order to provide the best assistance that they can to their current recipients. To find out more about the housing opportunities in your town, get in touch with your local PHA or housing authority by visiting the office, making a phone call or putting in an online request.
How long are the waiting times for Section 8 benefits?
Many Section 8 waiting lists have been closed for quite some time and it may take years for them to reopen. In New York state, for example, the waiting list for Section 8 has been closed since 2009. Rural areas and smaller counties across the country are more likely to have open waiting lists. In areas with open waiting lists, however, it may still take an applicant years before he or she receives benefits. It is important to understand that Housing Choice Voucher programs across the country have far more applicants than the number of people they can help. They are in extremely high demand, which means many applicants ought to consider applying for other programs in the meantime. Keep in mind that a PHA has the right to close its waiting list at any time so that its resources are not stretched too thin.
PHAs also have the authority to create a system that determines preference. For instance, applicants may be labeled as low income, very low income and extremely low income. If a family earns no more than 80 percent of the average annual income in its town, it is considered low income. Families that earn 50 percent of the average are very low income and families that earn 30 percent are extremely low income. In effect, a family that earns extremely low in income and has a more pressing situation may receive help before other applicants. Families may also receive preference if:
- More than half of their income goes toward rent.
- They live in subpar housing.
- They are involuntarily displaced.
- They are homeless.
- One or more members of the family are disabled.
- Some or all family members are minorities.
- One or more family members are elderly and can be claimed as dependents.
When dealing with several families who fall into one or more of these categories, the PHA must determine an order for which applicants will receive assistance. Extremely low-income families must receive vouchers that cover 75 percent of their rental payments, as established by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The agency will also take the needs of the community into consideration.
What happens when you reach the top of the waiting list for the Section 8 program?
If your PHA notifies you that you are next in line for benefits, you must undergo a second eligibility check. This is because your eligibility may have changed since you first applied for the program, especially if your yearly income has increased. If the agency determines that you still qualify, you will be required to complete an interview. A PHA worker may visit your home and request to see your supporting documents, such as proof of identity and proof of citizenship or legal presence. Upon completion of the interview, you will receive a housing voucher. You may then begin your search for a new home that meets the safety standards set by the PHA. However, the home you choose may not exceed a certain rental amount.
Circumstances in which a PHA May Open or Close its Section 8 Waiting List
In general, a housing authority will open or close a waiting list depending on the number of applications it receives per year and the number of existing beneficiaries it supports. Certain counties and rural areas have much shorter wait times on average than other, more densely populated areas. PHAs in these locations may be able to support new applicants in two to three months.
It is much less likely for a new applicant to receive assistance if he or she lives in an area where the waiting list is closed. Hawaii, Tennessee and Michigan are among several states that have recently closed their waiting lists. The only time that an applicant may receive benefits on a closed waiting list is if another family loses its eligibility for the program. This may occur when a family becomes financially independent. If a waitlist reopens, the PHA may only select new applications with a lottery drawing. Families selected through a lottery may still have to wait a certain number of months to receive benefits.
To find which housing authorities in the area have open waitlists for housing choice vouchers, applicants must visit the HUD website or the websites for their local PHAs. Indiana, for instance, has indefinitely opened its waiting list for the Housing and Community Development Authority program. The same is true for Lake County in California, Columbus, Ohio, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the state of Montana, Tulsa, Oklahoma and 400 other locations in the U.S. Unfortunately, some large cities in the country have waiting periods as long as 10 years. These cities may also require their beneficiaries to select homes that are in their current neighborhoods for at least one year.