Section 8 Housing Can Be an Affordable Rental Option

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Any number of factors can make housing cost-prohibitive for individuals and families: job loss, age, disability, crushing debt, social disparities and the like.

The good news is that there are safety nets to rescue households from losing their housing. Renters can access other expenses through supplemental nutrition benefits, public assistance payments and subsidized medical care, to name a few benefits. Yet there is a federal program, run by the states, that actually cuts into the rental rates directly on behalf of the financially struggling. The Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program is a form of rental assistance received by over five-million people across the United States. The name refers to the activating section of the Housing and Community Development Act, passed by Congress in 1974.

How Does Section 8 Housing Work?

Money is appropriated for the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program by the U.S. Congress. It's run and directed by the HUD (Department of Housing and Urban Development). In turn, the federal government distributes the funds to regional and local public housing authorities that are located throughout different regions of the country. These agencies receive and evaluate applications by those seeking financial aid for housing. Eligibility is centered on the median income of the county or metro area overseen by the PHA. Those applicants whose total annual revenue is at or below 50 percent of the median are generally suitable candidates for vouchers. Assets, age and health are also considered when deciding on applications. At a minimum, the voucher awarded to successful applicants will pay 30 percent toward rent and utilities. The applicants are responsible for finding a dwelling unit, which must then be approved by the PHA.

Consideration for Potential Tenants

Patience is not only a virtue but -- in the case of Section 8 applicants -- it is a must. There is only a finite number of vouchers available at a given time, and a seemingly infinite number of people seeking them. A waitlist is, unfortunately, inevitable. Applicants can hasten things if they execute the following measures:

  • Obtain or maintain a reliable email address.
  • Sign up for any and all alerts regarding availability in the region of interest.
  • Avoid being strict in the desired housing. More waitlists will be available that way.
  • Have a safe and secure mailing address.
  • Reject Section 8 scams; there is no fee to apply for these vouchers.
  • If there is disability or chronic illness in the family, note that on the application. It can sometimes speed up the wait.

Upon receipt of the voucher, participants are advised to observe its parameters with regard to the housing they are allowed: how many bedrooms, the amount of the subsidy, i.e. 30 percent or more. Neither HUD nor the housing authority will cover the security deposit.

Considerations for Potential Landlords

Property owners are not mandated by the federal government to accept Section 8 vouchers from tenants. However, several states and municipalities do make it a rule so landlords should check the statutes and ordinances before refusing a Section 8 applicant. In addition, landlords should not use one screening process for Section 8 applicants and another for everyone else. This can easily open them up to Fair Housing law investigations. For those who are willing to accept such tenants, the property will undergo inspection by a housing official to determine if it meets PHA and HUD criteria.