Your Guide to Section 8 Qualifications

A lot of people find it hard to deal with housing expenses. Housing expenses are an issue that families face more often than most people imagine. For instance, a typical housing unit that’s one bedroom costs $1,770 a month. The average rent is even more than that for a two bedroom at $2,106 a month. Low-income people can have a super hard time affording this amount. If someone earns $12.75 per hour and works 40 hours per week, they will only be earning $2,040 per month before taxes.

The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) set a definition of affordable housing. Their definition is that a family’s housing costs should not surpass 30% of their gross income per month. Working with our example above, if a family earns $2,040 per month as their gross income, then their housing costs should be at most $612 to be considered affordable housing. That amount is much lower than the average apartment cost of a one bedroom apartment at $1,770 per month!

There are programs out there that can help you. One specific option you should consider is the Housing Choice Voucher Program. This program is also referred to as Section 8.

What You Should Know About Section 8 Assistance

Whether it is called the Housing Choice Voucher Program or Section 8, it does the same thing. Section 8 is a support program from the HUD that has been assisting many eligible low-income families since 1974! Despite that this is a federal program that the HUD funds, local public housing agencies administer the program on the local level.

Section 8 helps people who have housing struggles with housing choice vouchers. Recipients can move into a home that allows these vouchers as a type of payment. Once the household moves in, the local PHA will pay the landlord directly on behalf of the family to cover a part of the rent. Any remaining difference is the family’s responsibility. Keep in mind that some properties cannot be an option. While they need to accept housing vouchers as a type of payment, they also need to meet housing quality standards (HQS). 

Is Section 8 Actually Helpful for Families and Individuals?

The simple answer is yes. There is research that verifies just how beneficial this program is in decreasing homelessness and supporting recipients with other struggles. When families spend too much on housing, such as more than 30% of their gross monthly income, they can be considered cost-burdened. When families are cost-burdened, they could find it challenging to manage other needs such as food, medical care, transportation, and so on.

With the assistance of vouchers, recipients will typically not spend more than 30% of their wages. The housing unit that a family chooses needs to not have a rent that is more than 40% of the family’s adjusted income per month, in the case that the unit is more than the payment standard, by law.

How to Qualify for Section 8

It is important to note that specific eligibility conditions will differ based on the area. There are four main requirements that local PHAs will take into consideration when they outline eligibility. These four requirements include:

  • Level of Income
  • Citizenship Status
  • Household Status
  • Eviction Background

For candidates to be eligible, they need to meet all of the eligibility requirements. In some requirements, there could be exceptions. This differs based on the area. If a candidate receives approval for benefits, they are generally placed on a waitlist. 

Level of Income

Section 8 is established to support people who need it the most. This is why a person’s level of income plays an important role in determining their eligibility. Only low-income candidates can be eligible. Typically, candidates must make no more than 50% of the area’s median income (AMI). If you are interested in knowing more about the particular income restrictions of your current state, then you can reach out to your local PHA. Some different forms of income that you should present on your application include:

  • Insurance payments
  • Military pay
  • Overtime earnings
  • Alimony
  • Disability Income
  • Employment earnings
  • Social Security benefits
  • Bonuses and/or tips
  • Child support
  • Death benefits
  • Unemployment benefits

The specific documents that you will need to present as income proof will differ depending on your local PHA. Other than typically concentrating on low-income candidates, there will be a special preference for recipients that earn no more than 30% of the local AMI. By law, a minimum of 75% of HCV recipients need to fall within this income level. There might also be specific focuses on particular types of struggle. While the exact differences will vary based on the local PHA, there are some examples of prioritization that the Program focuses on which includes:

  • Families that spend over 50% of their earnings on rent
  • Individuals and households that are currently homeless
  • Families that have been displaced against their will
  • Families that are staying in inhabitable living conditions

Citizenship Status

There are some people that will not be eligible for this program, even if they meet the income requirements. It is a federal program, so this means that only people who have a qualifying citizenship status can be eligible. Candidates will be required to sign a certification form during the application process. This would include having family members sign a certification form, too! The certification form will declare the citizenship status of the recipient and their household members. Local PHAs might need even more documents such as:

  • Social Security cards
  • Passports from the U.S.
  • Resident alien cards
  • Registration cards

Fortunately, even if the entire household does not have eligible citizenship statuses, then that does not mean the entire household cannot benefit from the program. Rather, the amount of support will depend on the number of qualifying members only.

Household Status

A family needs to meet certain requirements to qualify for Section 8. Even though the HUD sets a definition for “family,” local PHAs have the authority to make their own definition. To better understand your local PHA’s definition of family, you should contact them directly. The following requirements are general outlines that households should meet:

  • Your household has or does not have kids.
  • There’s at least one individual that is older than 62 years old.
  • At least one member of your household has a disability
  • Your household was displaced against their will for qualifying causes.

You should know that families do not need to meet every single one of these requirements. As mentioned above, they are general outlines. If there are any changes to the size of your families, such as a death of a family member or the birth of a new baby, then you should immediately report this to your local PHA.

Eviction Background

The final requirement that could influence your eligibility to receive Section 8 is your eviction background. This is an important requirement because it allows the PHA to figure out whether you would make a good renter or not. Families will usually need to have a positive eviction background to qualify. As an example, candidates may automatically be ineligible if they have a background of eviction from home for taking part in a drug-related activity or other criminal activity.

The Final Verdict

If you need to reach affordable housing, then Section 8 might be a good option for you. This is a housing support program that offers eligible recipients housing choice vouchers that they can use for rental housing units that fit their budget in the private market. Typically, recipients should not spend more than 30% of their income while participating in the program. There are some properties that will not allow these vouchers as a type of payment. However, even the ones that do need to meet the conditions that the local PHA sets in order for voucher holders to move in. While the particular eligibility requirements for an applicant can differ, there are generally four requirements that are important. These four requirements are:

  • Level of Income
  • Citizenship Status
  • Household Size
  • Eviction Background

If you think that this program will be a good fit for you, then you should contact your local PHA. Your local PHA will be able to give you more information and help you with your application. 

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