Keeping up with the increasing costs of living has been getting more difficult every day. If you’re already going through financial struggles, there’s a good chance that housing is taking up a considerable amount of your income. The problem is, whether you’re renting or buying a place, the inflation we mentioned earlier is causing house prices to increase as well. The government is aware of the issue and is taking steps to try and counteract it. Among the efforts are housing assistance programs aimed at low-income individuals and households in the U.S.
Federal Housing Assistance Programs Available
One thing to remember is that these housing assistance programs may vary from state to state. That means that qualifications, benefits, and other factors may differ between two different states. These federal housing programs are ones to look out for:
Public housing is quite popular among low-income families who seek affordable housing. This program provides safe housing with reasonable rental prices for qualifying applicants. These homes can come in the form of single-family homes, apartment complexes, etc.
Local housing agencies (HAs) receive funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Besides managing public housing properties, HAs are the ones who assist eligible individuals and get them the affordable rent they deserve. When it comes to planning, developing, managing, and providing this housing assistance, local HAs work hand-in-hand with the federal government.
HAs decide on who qualifies for public housing. In some cases, applicants may qualify for the program but HAs may still reject their application. That’s because HAs may think these applicants’ behaviors and habits may impact other tenants negatively. For that reason, HAs will check the references these applicants provide and make sure they’re a good fit for the program.
The Way Public Housing Works
HAs receive funding from HUD to manage the housing units. On top of that, HUD also provides support to local HAs with planning, developing, and managing the units. With public housing, HAs act as landlords. HUD has two funds when it comes to Public Housing:
- The Public Housing Operating Fund: This fund makes up the difference between what the tenants pay and what it costs to maintain public housing. The costs include security, maintenance, etc.
- The Public Housing Capital Fund: Money from this fund pays for the renovations of public housing.
How To Qualify For Public Housing
You need to be eligible for public housing to receive its benefits. The whole idea of the program is to help those who actually need the help. Eligibility can be tricky, since different HAs may have different requirements for eligibility. However, some main qualification criteria that is considered includes:
- Annual gross income
- Family status
- Citizen Status
Your references are also important when you’re applying for public housing. The idea behind these references is for HAs to determine whether or not you’ll be a good tenant. As a result, HAs may deny some applications although they might be eligible. HAs want to make sure new tenants don’t disturb the living situation of current tenants.
Annual Gross Income
Local HAs must follow HUD’s guidelines when it comes to income-based eligibility. HUD sets the lower income limits at 80% of the area’s median income (AMI). They also set very low-income limits at 50%. The income amount that qualifies you for the program may differ from one state to another. If you wish to learn whether your income qualifies you for the program or not, you can ask your local HA or use this free tool created by the government.
Family Status/Citizenship Status
If any of the members of your family are elderly or disabled, HAs will take that into account. Your family plays a significant role in your application process for public housing. When it comes to defining what is meant by “elderly” or “disabled” it may differ from one state to the other. However, there are general guidelines regarding the matter. The definition you should care about the most is HUD’s. HUD sees a person as:
- Elderly if they’re 62 years old or older.
- Disabled if they suffer from a physical or mental disability that makes their lives seriously challenging. Those individuals must also have documents to prove their case.
- A citizen if they have the papers to prove it, or they may show a qualifying immigrant status.
The Application Process For Public Housing
It’s important to check the exact requirements for the program with your local HA. To find your nearest HA, you can simply search for it online, or you can use this locator provided by HUD. You can also reach out to your local HUD Field Office.
When it comes to the application itself, it has to be in written form, whether written by you or by an HA representative. HAs will require information from you, and that may include:
- Details of the people that would live in the unit (this includes name, sex, date of birth, relationship to the head of the family, etc.)
- Current phone number and address
- Family status information like characteristics or circumstances (if you are a veteran [characteristic] that’s living in substandard housing [circumstance])
- Current and previous landlords
- Estimate of your family’s expected income for the next year
- Financial details which include employers, banks, etc.
You Should Also Keep In Mind That..
Your local HA may request to visit you at home. These home visits are meant to understand you and your family better. They may also like to see how you take care of your current place. If your local HA accepts your application, they will provide you with a written notification. After that, you’ll likely be placed on a waitlist, unless the local HA can help you out right away. If your local HA rejects your application, you can expect to get an explanation of why they did so. On top of all that, you can request an informal hearing.
The Documents You’ll Need For Your Application
The best way to confirm everything you want to know about your application process is to contact your local HA. They will also inform you of what exact documents you’ll need to provide. Keeping all the information we mentioned above in mind, you should expect to provide the following documents:
- Driver’s license copy or I.D. card
- Birth certificates of everyone that’s living in the household
- Tax return documentation (you can get these from your employer)
- Bank statements for the past few months
- Qualifying mail items to prove your current address
HA will also request direct verification from your employer. To make that happen, you’ll need to sign a form that authorizes the release of information to your HA. This is to help them review your details in-depth and accurately.
Housing Choice Vouchers (Section 8)
Housing Choice Vouchers are another great option when it comes to affordable housing. You may also find this program under the name Section 8. What separates this program from public housing is that it offers assistance to qualifying applicants so they can afford houses in the private market. If qualified, applicants may receive these vouchers. They can then use these vouchers to pay for rent at private properties. These properties can be single-family homes, apartments, etc. However, these homes must meet the standards of your local public housing authority (PHA). When a voucher holder uses that voucher to pay rent, a housing subsidy is given to their landlord to cover a part of the rent by the local PHA on behalf of the recipients. After that, voucher holders will pay what remains of the rent due after subtracting the subsidy out of it.
Eligibility For Section 8
To qualify, you should expect your PHA to look into your:
- Annual Gross Income
- Family Status
- Citizenship Status
- Eviction History
Annual Gross Income
PHAs will likely require you to earn less than 50% of your area’s median income (AMI). The exact amount is up to each PHA, so you might want to check in with yours. Your family size can influence your income. One person making $30,000 a year is not the same as a family that makes the same. Some of the income sources that are important include:
- Employment Earnings
- Overtime Pay
- Social Security Payments
- Disability Income
- Death Benefits
- Insurance Payments
- Unemployment Compensation
- Workers’ Compensation
- TANF Benefits (with exceptions)
- Child Support
- Military Pay
PHAs may also require you to provide other financial documents like bank statements, tax returns, etc. That’s also subject to change, according to each PHA.
Just like public housing, your family can affect your application for Section 8. If you have the following members in your family, they may influence your application process:
- A person that’s 62 years old or older
- A disabled person
PHAs will also keep it in mind if your family was displaced involuntarily. Applicants don’t have to satisfy every single requirement, just one will do. Keep in mind that your local PHA will have exact criteria on which applicants will be eligible, these are just general guidelines! The size of your family will affect the housing unit size you’ll be eligible for. You should notify your local PHA of any changes that happen to your household. If there are any, you should provide whatever relevant identifying information.
An applicant needs to be a U.S. citizen or a qualifying immigrant to be eligible for the program. Applicants will need to provide documents that prove so. Applicants may expect to provide birth certificates, social security numbers, and other qualifying immigration paperwork if needed like a green card. They should also expect to sign an affidavit to declare their legal status in the country.
PHAs want to make sure you’ll be a good tenant in your new home. That’s why they treat this program the same way they would public housing. They’ll want to know if you were evicted from past homes for drug-related crimes. If you were, chances are your Section 8 application will be denied.
Section 8 Application Process
The application for Section 8 is free and simple. Just make sure you ask all the questions you have to your PHA before applying.
The Application Process Can Be Broken Up Into Four Steps
- Contact Your Local PHA: Your PHA is the best source of information on housing choice vouchers. They are also the agency where you will begin your application process at. If you can’t find your nearest PHA, use this locator tool provided by HUD.
- Make sure you’re eligible: This is where asking PHAs questions comes in handy. However, the only true way to determine eligibility is through an application.
- Start the application process: Ask your PHA how you can apply with them. Luckily, Section 8 applications are free, so no need to worry about paying anything. Make sure you provide all the information necessary and make sure it’s accurate.
- Wait for PHA’s response: Getting a response to your Section 8 application can take time. Once approved, you’ll likely be placed on a waiting list. These waiting lists can take a long time, so you’ll need to be patient.
Public housing and housing choice vouchers are amazing housing assistance programs that aim to help those financially unfortunate. While their application processes are straightforward (and free), it’s important to get every step of the process right. Keep in mind that receiving assistance through these programs can take a long time. Ask your local HA/PHA all questions you may have.