Figuring out how to get access to public housing and rental assistance programs can be a confusing and downright time-consuming process. Here’s a short guide to help you understand the public housing system — what it is, who it’s for, how to qualify — and how to use it to secure yourself a safe and clean place to live.
If you have any questions as you’re reading this, be sure to contact a Housing and Urban Development (HUD) representative for information that’s geared toward your specific circumstances.
What is Public Housing?
According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s website, public housing was “established to provide decent and safe rental housing for eligible low-income families, the elderly, and persons with disabilities.”
HUD gives funding to the local Housing Agencies (HAs) that manage public housing, which can range from apartment complexes to single-family homes. These HAs provide comfortable and safe housing for those who can’t afford rent in their area (i.e. they have a salary that doesn’t allow them to cover the average rent in their city).
What are Tenant-Based Rental Vouchers (Section 8)?
In addition to providing public housing, HUD also offers a housing choice voucher program called Section 8. This program allows local Public Housing Authorities, or PHAs, to provide people with funding that will offset the cost of an apartment on the rental market. In other words, the tenant is not limited to choosing public housing options and can rent a regular apartment that’s listed online, so long as the PHA approves both the landlord and the tenant for participation in the program. The PHA also ensures that the housing being offered meets safety standards and verifies that the prospective tenant is eligible for federal assistance.
Once everything has been approved, the landlord will be given a housing subsidy directly from the PHA, and the renter will be asked to pay the difference between the amount of the required monthly rent and the amount of the subsidy.
To look for apartments in your area that accommodate tenants receiving assistance, use this handy low-rent apartment search that HUD created.
Who Qualifies for These Programs?
Qualification for public or Section 8 housing is based on your family’s income level. Usually, your family must earn less than 30 to 50 percent of the average income in your city. Factors such as age and disability are also taken into consideration on applications for rental assistance.
You should also be aware that your local PHA may request to interview you and your family members to see how you manage the upkeep of your current home.
How Do I Apply?
The application process can be pretty lengthy, and there’s often a waiting list for available units. You’ll need to contact your local housing authority for information on the specific materials you need to submit. Generally, you’ll have to provide the following information:
- Names of all persons who would be living in the unit, as well as their sex, date of birth, and relationship to the family head
- Your present address and telephone number
- Family distinctions (e.g. veteran) or circumstances (e.g. living in substandard housing) that might qualify you for tenant selection preferences
- Names and addresses of your current and previous landlords for information about your suitability as a tenant
- An estimate of your family’s anticipated income for the next 12 months and the sources of that income
- The names and addresses of employers, banks, and any other information the HA would need to verify your income, deductions, and family composition
Can My Landlord Treat Me Differently if I Use Rental Assistance?
No. Tenants living in private property who receive rental assistance are bound to their lease agreements just like regular renters and should not be treated any differently.
The only special requirement for tenants receiving assistance is that the PHA sponsoring the tenancy will always be notified of any problems involving or legal action taken against the tenant. Just like “regular” tenants, rental assistance tenants may be evicted for failure to comply with the terms of their lease.
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 exempt you from the responsibilities of renting. You still must pay your rent on time, refrain from damaging your apartment, and follow any other rules of the lease. 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.
How Do I Know if a Property Offers Section 8?
Simply ask the landlord if the property accommodates tenants receiving public assistance. You can also contact your local PHA or search one of the many resources available online from Affordable Housing and HUD. To find the right form of affordable housing for yourself and your family, your best option is to work with your local PHA.