For years, you’ve worked persistently for long hours yet your pay is just not enough to take care of your expenses. Health care, utilities and rising food prices are barely covered by your wage. Pretty soon, your take-home pay won’t be able to keep up with your family’s growing expenses.
This distressing scenario plagues millions of American families today. Their salaries just can’t be stretched enough to adequately provide for housing expenses. If you are a legal United States resident and don’t earn enough money to cover rent or mortgage payments, you may want to consider applying for the federal government’s Housing Voucher Program, which is also referred to as section 8.
What is Section 8?
The Housing Act of 1937 provided for financial aid to be paid by the federal government to local housing agencies or LHAs to make the living conditions of low-wage earning families better. Section 8 of the Housing Act of 1937, usually just referred to as Section 8, mandates the payment of federal housing assistance to landlords for the benefit of about 3.1 million families with low income. It makes housing assistance possible through various programs, with the Housing Choice Voucher program being the largest, which subsidizes most of the rent and utilities payments of about 2.1 million families.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) manages and funds the Section 8 programs. There are about 2,400 public housing agencies (PHAs) that administer the program locally.
A Brief History of Section 8
Section 8 housing had its beginning during the Great Depression. The passing of the U.S. Housing Act by Congress constituted the start of federal housing assistance in the country. It furnished the money to build quality yet affordable low income housing apartments for financially-challenged wage earners. These units are administered and maintained by local authorities.
The U.S. Housing Act was revised in 1961 to give way to the Section 23 Leased Housing Program which allowed low-income earners to take up residence in private low income housing apartments leased by local authorities. Tenants agree to pay a certain percentage of the rent, while the difference between the tenant’s payment and what the landlord would have normally received in the open market. Building maintenance were also performed by the local housing authorities.
In 1974, the Act underwent another revision which provided for the creation of Section 8. Rather than build and manage public housing, it aimed to assist low-earning tenants who were allotting the greater part of their earnings on rent payment. Federal funds were now used to pay a portion of the rent in housing units chosen by the renters on the open market. Since then, several more legislations were passed to amend and refine the Section 8 program.
The Critical Need for Housing Assistance
The 2005 HUD report to Congress stated that the almost 6 million renter families in the country who don’t benefit from public housing assistance suffer from worst housing needs. A huge bulk of these families have undergone “severe rent burden” which HUD describes as paying in excess of 50% of the wage-earners income for rent. Other households made their homes in second-rate buildings.
Groups being given priority by Section 8 are composed of low-income households with children, senior citizens and handicapped individuals. Likewise, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs have a Section 8 program called the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) which distributes a number of housing vouchers to qualified homeless U.S. armed forces veterans.
The Housing Voucher Program
The main Section 8 program is currently engaged in the housing voucher program. Housing choice vouchers are locally distributed and managed by public housing agencies or PHAs. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provide federal funds to these PHAs to manage the voucher program.
A voucher can be project-based which means its use is confined to a particular apartment complex. PHAs may appropriate up to 20% of their vouchers for this. A voucher can also be tenant-based where the tenant can freely choose any housing that passes the criteria of the program and is not restricted to units within subsidized housing projects.
The tenant may choose to rent a housing unit in the private sector, is not confined to any particular apartment complexes, and can choose to live anywhere in the U.S as long as the total rent meets the standards established by HUD. This can include living in Puerto Rico which has a Section 8 program managed by a public housing agency.
Under the housing voucher program, households or individuals who are eligible for Section 8 funding are given a voucher which allows them to find and rent a unit where they will be responsible for paying 30% of the rent. The housing voucher will pay for the remaining 70% of rent and utilities.
Most families pay for section 8 housing using 30% of their adjusted income, which is a family’s total earning less the deductions for dependents below 18 years old, senior citizens, handicapped individuals, full-time students, as well as medical expenses and disability assistance.
The voucher program is currently subsidizing the rent payment for nearly 2.1 million households in the United States. What’s more, these vouchers can be used at times by low income households to pay the mortgage or purchase a house.
Prioritization of Housing Voucher
In many instances, your local public housing agency will receive more applications than it can afford to approve vouchers for, and will as a result create a waiting list of applicants. PHAs can move certain applications forward or put them way back of the waiting list, and may choose to grant priority to households who are presently without a home or are residing in second-rate housing, wage-earners who spend more than half their income in rent, or individuals who are displaced against their will. Know more about prioritizing by inquiring at your local public housing agency office.
Since section 8 isn’t actually an entitlement benefit, people who become eligible for a housing voucher cannot be 100% sure that they’ll get one. According to the latest figures, only 1 out of about 4 households who qualify for housing assistance receive it. Waiting lists can take long to be processed. In several places, eligible applicants fiercely compete with other applicants for vouchers. Due to the huge volume of demand, some LHAs have entirely ceased taking in applications.
For instance, in New York where rents are exorbitant and oftentimes beyond reach of low-income earners, many households set their sights on section 8 vouchers. Today, as the country teeters toward the reality of the sequestration cuts to the federal budget, it seems that New York City may miss out on up to 6,000 section 8 vouchers that were intended to be made available this year.
In Chicago, more than 2,300 households are on the waiting list. Recipients are picked out of the list by a lottery held every month. Only when the list is exhausted will the application process resume.
Requirements to Qualify for Rent Assistance
Putting these realities on one side, if you belong to a low-income bracket and you require rent subsidy or other support provided by the voucher program, you first need to make sure that you have what is financially required to qualify for Section 8 housing. Whether you qualify or not is dependent on certain factors which include your total household income, how much rent you are paying, the members of your household, the average income in your locality, and your assets.
Income requirements differ from place to place, but as a rule you will need to have a total household earning of not more than 50% of the average income in your locality. The program is open to all U.S. citizens and people with legal immigration status.
Another criterion is the number of your household members. Your Section 8 income limit gets lower as the members of your household gets fewer.
Other factors are also put under consideration by HUD and its local agencies when checking an applicant’s qualifications. Generally taken into consideration are homelessness and other factors that are linked to a particular location like involvement in a local welfare-to-work program. Other criteria that may help you get considered for assistance are:
- presently living in a homeless shelter
- working over 42 hours each week
- being a veteran of the U.S. Armed Services (widow or widower)
- suffering from disability
- being a senior citizen 62 years old and over
- having children
LHAs should also give priority to very low-income households whose total earnings don’t even amount to 30% of the average income in the area. 75% of the new applicants that get qualified for housing assistance each year must be near or at the lowest-income level.
If you think you have every reason to qualify for a housing voucher, you must go and get in touch with the public housing agency in your locality. You can get all the information you need on the HUD website including local office address, toll-free phone numbers, and email addresses.
Don’t get yourself fooled by professional con artists. There are fly-by-night agencies that will promise to help you to get all the Section 8 paperwork done for a certain fee. You can get all the help you need to apply for a housing voucher at no cost just by visiting your local public housing authority or your federal HUD office. Bear in mind that no person should ever ask you for money for a low income housing assistance application. Anyone who charges you for a voucher or an application can be arrested for fraud.
Since a public housing authority approves the housing unit of a qualified household, the landlord and the family head sign a lease agreement. At the same time, the PHA and the landlord sign a contract for housing assistance payments that will run concurrently with the lease. This demonstrates that the PHA, the landlord and the tenant all have roles and obligations they must fulfill under the program.
Expect some delays before you receive the final decision on your application. Many applicants can be on the section 8 housing waiting lists for months, or possibly even years.
If your application gets approved by the local PHA and you have received a housing voucher, you have to be absolutely sure that your present or future living situation meets HUD safety and health requirements. If you are renting, you’ll be asked to sign a one-year lease with a willing landlord who will be obliged to provide you with safe quality housing and fair rent.
The landlord may require the tenant to pay a security deposit. After the first year, the landlord can draw up a lease renewal contract or allow the household to reside in the unit on a monthly lease. http://mm.hr/
Know how much rent you’ll be paying. Section 8 housing requires you and your household to pay 30 percent of your monthly adjusted gross income on rent and utilities. The voucher you received will cover the rest of the cost. Visit your local PHA if you need help in determining how much you need to allocate each month.