Worried About Housing Affordability? Consider Section 8

Housing affordability has been a real problem for people across the U.S. Many young adults have been unable to afford rentals and have been forced to remain living in their parents' homes.

Rising housing prices and demand have made it difficult for people of all ages to buy or rent places to live. The federal Section 8 housing program provides a way for lower-income individuals to find rental properties they can afford. Depending on where you live, you might be able to use a Section 8 housing voucher to purchase a modest home. Here's some information about Section 8 eligibility and some advice if you consider applying.


Understanding the Section 8 Housing Program

The Section 8 housing program is administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to provide low-income and very low-income families with the opportunity to find safe, affordable housing. Eligible individuals can apply for vouchers that can be used to rent homes they find. Section 8 vouchers do not have to be used in public housing developments. Instead, they can be used to rent a home in any neighborhood as long as the landlord agrees.

Once an individual finds a home with a Section 8 voucher, their local Public Housing Authority (PHA) will pay a portion of their rent. The individual will be responsible for paying a percentage of their rent based on their income and household size. Below is some information about eligibility and advice for this program.


Income Limits and Household Eligibility

In general, Section 8 is only available to individuals whose incomes do not exceed 50% (very low income) or 80% (low income) of the median income for households of their size in the same geographic area. Public Housing Authorities prioritize vouchers for people whose incomes are 30% or less (extremely low income) of the area's median income.

In addition to meeting income qualifications, individuals also must meet one of the following criteria for their households:

  • Have a household member who is disabled or 62 or older

  • Have a household comprised of several people (with or without children)

  • Have a household that has been displaced by a natural disaster, government action, or damage

  • Be an individual not meeting any of the above-listed categories

To be eligible, you must also be a U.S. citizen or a U.S. resident.


Criminal Records and Section 8

To qualify for Section 8, you must not have had any criminal convictions within the past five years. The program will not accept registered sex offenders, people who have convictions for methamphetamine manufacturing while in public housing, and those who are currently using illegal drugs. Most PHAs won't accept applicants with felony criminal records.


History of Evictions and Section 8

People who have a history of evictions might be denied Section 8 housing vouchers. Programs typically won't accept anyone who has been evicted within the last three years. Those who were evicted following a conviction for manufacturing methamphetamine in public housing or committing other drug crimes will likely be denied.


College Students and Section 8 Eligibility

If you are a college student, you won't be eligible for Section 8 housing unless you meet one of the following exceptions:

  • You are 24 or older and a full-time college student

  • You are a married, full-time college student

  • You are a full-time graduate student

  • You were in the foster care system until you were 18 before attending college full-time

  • You are an emancipated minor who is a full-time college student

  • You are a military veteran or active military service member who is a full-time college student

  • You have a dependent and are a full-time college student

  • You are a disabled full-time college student who received housing assistance before Nov. 30, 2005

  • You are a member of a household that meets the section 8 income guidelines and are a full-time college student

Advice on Applying and Waitlists

You can apply for Section 8 through your local PHA. Make sure to bring all relevant documentation of your income, assets, debts, and household size. You must live in the area the PHA covers.

Once you apply, the PHA will complete a background check. If you pass the background check and are approved, prepare to wait. PHAs have lengthy waiting lists for Section 8 housing vouchers. In some areas, the waitlist can be as long as two years.

Don't be scared of the waiting list. If you qualify, it makes sense to go ahead and apply to hold your spot. If your financial situation improves in the meantime, you can always find a place to live without a voucher.

Certain populations have much shorter waiting periods, including those with incomes of 30% or less of the area median income for their household size, displaced people, and those who are homeless.

The Section 8 housing program provides an affordable way for people to find homes to rent in nice neighborhoods. If you qualify, you can use your voucher to rent a home anywhere without having to choose a unit in a public housing project. Be patient when you submit your application. While the waitlist might be long in your area, applying and getting on the waitlist will hold your spot until your name comes up.

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