Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers, Project-based Section 8 program, and Public Housing are the largest and primary rental housing assistance programs for low-income families. These programs are administered by your local public housing agency (PHA). This article focuses on eligibility and applications for these programs, but there are additional federal and state housing assistance programs. Learn more.
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Eligibility for Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers, project-based Section 8, and Public Housing is generally based on income, specifically, how your income compares to other households in your area. Income limits vary from area to area, so you may be eligible at one PHA but not at another. The PHA serving your community can provide you with the income levels for your area and family size.
- “Area median income (AMI)” is the household income for the median (middle) household in a specific region. HUD publishes income limits information for every metropolitan region in the county for the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher, Project-based Section 8, and Public Housing programs.
- “Low-income" means earning 80% of the AMI.
- “Very low-income" means earning 50% of the AMI.
- “Extremely low-income" means earning at or below the greater of 30% of the AMI or the federal poverty guidelines.
- “Annual income” means the total anticipated income from all sources received by, or on behalf of, the family (including each household member).
- “Adjusted income” means the income of the family (including each household member) less any exclusions. Some exclusions are mandatory; some exclusions are permissive.
- Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers – Generally, very low-income families (50% or less of AMI) are eligible. However, low-income families (80% or less of AMI) may be eligible if the families meet other specific criteria (e.g., elderly, have disabilities). However, PHA must provide 75% of all available vouchers in a given year to extremely low-income families (30% or less of the AMI or the federal poverty guidelines).
- Section 8 Project-Based Vouchers – Families are eligible if they are low-income (80% or less of AMI). However, 40% of available units in a given year must be reserved for extremely low-income families (30% or less of the AMI or the federal poverty guidelines).
- Public Housing – Low-income families (80% of AMI) are eligible to live in public housing. However, 40% of public housing units that become available in a given year must be given to extremely low-income families.
Read the law: U.S. Code, Title 42 §1437n
In addition to meeting income eligibility requirements, applicants for these housing assistance programs must meet the PHA or owner’s definition of a “family.” The definition of family can include families with children as well as certain single persons. The PHA or owner can further define “family” so long as they are consistent with federal laws.
Read the law: U.S. Code, Title 42 §1437a
In addition to income, PHAs consider other factors such as a family’s assets, whether a family member qualifies as elderly or a person with a disability, and U.S. citizenship or eligible immigration status. There are other special considerations, such as whether an individual is a police officer. Be aware that eligibility requirements can vary. Contact your local PHA for more information.
Applications and Waiting Lists
For all three programs, you must complete an application. The PHA cannot charge an application fee. However, some landlords for Section 8 housing may be able to charge application fees or fees to perform a credit. There may be programs that can assist with these fees or help you avoid these fees. Contact your local PHA for more information.
Note that an application may be refused if there is a waiting list that requires a year or longer wait. If your name is placed on a waiting list, the owner may offer you a pre-application form that requests enough information to determine whether you would be eligible for the program.
Both the application and pre-application forms must contain enough information to determine family eligibility (e.g., family size, household makeup—such as elderly or disabled family members; household income and assets), unit size, and screening for suitability (e.g., credit checks, rental history). Note that any questions regarding disability at the pre-application stage are only relevant where a disability is an admission criteria or preference.
If you are eligible, the PHA will check your references to make sure you and your family will be good tenants. PHAs will deny admission to any applicant whose habits and practices may be expected to have a detrimental effect on other tenants or on the project's environment.
Contact your local PHA for more information about how to apply.
Demand for rental housing assistance is greater than available housing units. If you are eligible for a subsidized or assisted housing program but there is no appropriate size unit or Section 8 voucher available, the PHA must put your name on a waiting list, unless the list is already more than one year long.
If you are on a waiting list, keep in touch with the landlord or housing authority, including updating them promptly of any address changes, because a PHA may remove applicants from a waiting list if they fail to respond to letters of continuing interest. Also, PHAs can vary in the way that they handle waiting lists. Contact your local PHA for more information about waiting lists.
If you are not placed on the waiting list or are not admitted, the PHA must provide you with notice explaining why. This notice will set out the procedure and timeframe to contest their decision.
Read the law: U.S. Code, Title 42 §1437d
Read the regulations: U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, Title 24, Part 982, Subpart E