Trying to get public housing or rent assistance can be a complex and time-consuming endeavor. Understanding what recipients of aid go through can also be difficult for those who earn more money or have fewer family obligations. Below is a gathering of information that will help you understand the public housing system and how to use it to meet your and your family’s needs if necessary.
What is public housing?
As described by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), public housing provides “decent and safe rental housing for eligible low-income families, the elderly, and persons with disabilities.” HUD administers funding to local Housing Agencies (HAs) that manage public housing in a variety of forms, from apartment complexes to single-family homes. Public housing provides comfortable accommodations at reduced prices for those who cannot afford market rent in their area.
What are tenant-based rental vouchers, or Section 8?
In addition to providing public housing to those in need, HUD sponsors a housing choice voucher program sometimes called “Section 8.” This program allows local Public Housing Authorities, or PHAs, to provide funding that will offset the cost of renting living space from an approved private company or landlord. The PHA must approve both the landlord and the tenant for participation in the program, ensuring that the housing being offered meets safety standards, and verifying that the potential tenant is eligible for federal assistance. To search for apartments in your area that accommodate tenants receiving assistance, use this handy resource provided by HUD.
Who qualifies for these programs?
You must apply for public housing and rental voucher programs. Admission to these programs is based on your family’s income in comparison to the median income in your area. Usually, your family must earn less than 30% to 50% of the average area income. Factors such as age and disability are also taken into consideration on applications for assistance. If you have a large family and very minimal means to provide for them, or have limited income due to age or disability, a public housing or rental assistance program may be able to help you out over time. If you have an education and work history, but are temporarily unemployed or just short on funds, public housing or rental assistance is probably not for you.
How do I apply?
The application process is involved, and there is often a waiting list for available units. You’ll need to contact your local housing authority for information about the specific application materials you need to submit. Generally, you’ll have to provide the following information:
(1) Names of all persons who would be living in the unit, their sex, date of birth, and relationship to the family head;
(2) Your present address and telephone number;
(3) Family characteristics (e.g., veteran) or circumstances (e.g., living in substandard housing) that might qualify the family for tenant selection preferences;
(4) Names and addresses of your current and previous landlords for information about your family’s suitability as a tenant;
(5) An estimate of your family’s anticipated income for the next twelve months and the sources of that income;
(6) The names and addresses of employers, banks, and any other information the HA would need to verify your income and deductions, and to verify the family composition
HUD notes that your local PHA also may visit you in your home to interview you and your family members to see how you manage the upkeep of you current home.
Can landlords treat recipients of rental assistance (Section 8) differently than regular tenants?
No. Tenants living in private property who receive rental assistance are bound to their lease agreements, just like regular renters. The only special requirement for tenants receiving assistance is that the local PHA sponsoring the tenancy be notified of all problems with the tenant and any legal action taken against the tenant. Just like “regular” tenants, section 8 or rental assistance tenants may be evicted for failure to comply with the terms of their lease. The PHA usually holds tenants receiving assistance to a set of behavioral standards that go beyond the lease agreement, so working with the PHA can be particularly effective in resolving problems with tenants receiving rental assistance.
What are my responsibilities as a resident of public housing or a recipient of rental vouchers?
Receiving rental assistance or housing from the government does not exonerate you from the traditional renter’s responsibilities. You must adhere to the terms of your lease, refrain from damaging your apartment, and allow others to enjoy their rented space as well. Aside from notifying the PHA of any problems you’ve caused or lease terms you’ve broken, your landlord will treat you like any other tenant.
What if I’m not a candidate for rental assistance? Should I avoid properties that have Section 8 units in them?
There is no need to avoid apartment complexes that offer space to people receiving Section 8 vouchers. However, do realize that not everyone in your apartment community meets a certain minimum annual income or has the same work schedule as you. If you’d like, you can ask the property manager how many units (if any) are set aside for tenants receiving assistance. If a majority of the property is occupied by Section 8 tenants, simply realize that you are in the minority as someone who does not receive assistance. Since tenants receiving assistance are held to the same lease agreement as other tenants, and may even have to uphold higher standards of behavior, you should not have trouble with your Section 8 neighbors. If you do, notify your landlord as you would regarding a dispute with any other tenant in your complex.
How do I know if a property offers Section 8?
Simply ask the landlord if the property accommodates tenants receiving assistance. You can also contact your local PHA or search one of the many resources available online from Affordable Housing, eHow, or HUD. To find the right form of affordable housing for yourself and your family, your best option is to work with your local PHA.