Section 8 Housing Eligibility and How to Apply

In this article...
  • The Section 8 program provides affordable housing for low-income Americans. Keep reading to learn more about the eligibility rules and application requirements.

In the United States, the Department of Housing and Urban Development administers the housing choice voucher program, which is commonly known as Section 8 because it was established by Section 8 of the United States Housing Act of 1937.

This program helps seniors, disabled adults and low-income families find affordable housing in cities all over the country. For low-income seniors, Section 8 housing choice vouchers can make it easier to maintain a stable living environment.

Section 8 Housing Assistance Overview

Although the Section 8 program is administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), housing choice vouchers are distributed by public housing authorities throughout the United States.

Housing authorities are independent agencies that work with local, state and federal agencies to develop long-term housing strategies for their service areas. These authorities receive funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, but they receive no financial support from state or local governments.

Program Guidelines

Types of Vouchers

Two types of vouchers are available under the Section 8 program.

  • The first is a tenant-based voucher, which gives the voucher holder the freedom to find affordable private housing. Tenant-based vouchers stay with tenants, which means tenants who decide to move may use their vouchers to rent different properties, provided they continue to meet the eligibility requirements for Section 8 housing assistance.

  • The second type of voucher is the project-based voucher. Project-based vouchers stay with a specific housing development instead of with a specific tenant. Tenants who decide to move can't use project-based vouchers to live in different developments or move to new cities or states.

Finding Housing

Individuals and families who qualify for tenant-based vouchers don't have to live in subsidized housing units. They can use their vouchers to pay the rent on a private home or apartment, provided the unit meets all Section 8 requirements.

It's up to voucher recipients to search for their own housing; HUD doesn't locate available housing units nor do public housing agencies.

The public housing authority determines the most appropriate unit size based on the applicant's household size and family composition. For example, married seniors may qualify for a one-bedroom unit, while a senior who lives with a caregiver may qualify for a two-bedroom unit.

Once a voucher recipient identifies a suitable rental property, the tenant and the property owner complete the Section 8 lease-up process.

This process consists of the following steps:

  1. The landlord/property owner completes the Request for Tenancy Approval (RFTA).

  2. A representative from the public housing authority reviews the RFTA, determines if the rent is reasonable and schedules an inspection to ensure the rental property meets HUD safety guidelines.

  3. Provided the property passes the HUD inspection, the tenant and landlord sign a lease for the unit, and the landlord and public housing agency execute a housing assistance payment contract.

  4. The landlord enforces the lease and ensures the property continues to meet Section 8 standards.

Landlords who want to renew their Section 8 leases must notify the public housing authority of any planned rent increase at least 60 days before the original lease expires.

A representative from the public housing authority reviews the increased amount to make sure it meets the rent reasonableness standard. The unit may also need to be re-inspected before a lease can be renewed.

Waiting Lists

It's not unusual for Section 8 participants to wait for several years to receive their housing vouchers. This is because the demand for Section 8 vouchers often exceeds the resources available to public housing authorities.

Housing authorities are also allowed to set local preferences when determining the best way to allocate limited resources.

For example, some housing authorities give preference to people living in substandard housing or those who have been involuntarily displaced due to a fire, natural disaster or other circumstances. This means some families wait longer than others to receive housing assistance.

Eligibility Rules

Section 8 assistance is available to U.S. citizens and non-citizens who have obtained legal immigration status.

To qualify for the Section 8 program, family income may not exceed 50% of the median income for the selected county or metropolitan area; this means that communities with high costs of living have higher income limits.

Additionally, a public housing authority must grant at least 75% of its housing vouchers to applicants with incomes of no more than 30% of the median in the specified county or metropolitan area.

Registered sex offenders and individuals convicted of manufacturing methamphetamine in public housing aren't eligible for the Section 8 program.

A public housing authority also has the right to deny assistance to an applicant who was previously removed from the Section 8 program for destroying public housing or committing other prohibited offenses.

How to Apply for Section 8

To apply for Section 8, visit the local public housing authority in your area. Be prepared to provide documentation of your income, family composition and financial resources. You may also be asked to provide proof that you have obtained legal immigration status.

Representatives of the public housing authority will verify the information you provide by contacting your bank, your employer and other local agencies. If you're approved, your name will be added to the waiting list.