What Is the Housing Choice Voucher Program (Section 8)?

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The Housing Choice Voucher Program, sometimes referred to as Section 8, is a federally funded program that assists very low income households with rent payments. Begun in the early 1990’s, the program offers a wide variety of options and allows benefit receivers power over their residence.

Section 8 Explained

Section 8 is the means by which the federal government assists very low-income persons or families, disabled persons or the elderly with rent payments. In the program, beneficiaries can choose their own residence, including their current home, as long as the landlord agrees to participate in the program. Housing choices are not limited to only those currently identified as public housing. In some instances, vouchers can be use to assist in the purchase of an inexpensive home.

After being awarded benefits, the government makes a portion of rent payments directly to the landlord. The tenant is still responsible for some portion of the rent and utilities for the residence. The percentage of tenant responsibility, however, differs based on the tenant’s income and local housing authority guidelines.

Management of Section 8

Section 8 is a program falling within the purview of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Operation of the program, including application and identifying awardees falls to local Public Housing Authorities (PHA), which are named by different local housing authorities.

While application procedures are typically the same, the different PHA’s essentially have control over the management of the system. This means that application procedures, selection process and subsequent follow-up including disbursement of funds can change based on the city. Check with your local PHA for its exact requirements.

General Section 8 Requirements

Applications to the voucher program must have an income of less than fifty percent of the area’s median income. As the median income changes depending on the area, this percentage will be different for each PHA. The HUD publishes these median income levels by location and your local PHA should also be able to provide you this information.

Applicants must also be United States Citizens or immigrants with eligible citizenship status. Not all residents of the household must be citizens, however, merely the applicant.

Application for Benefits

To receive Section 8 benefits you must apply and be chosen by your local PHA. Typically, the choice is made by lottery, and the lottery closes as many as two years in advance. Application requirements are strict, set by local PHA’s and require supporting documentation. After submission of application materials, the PHA will verify all information and perform a background check. Should they be unable to provide immediate assistance, the PHA will place your name on a waiting list.

Section 8 is a great program offering rent assistance to those in need. Unfortunately, receiving benefits is difficult and can often take years. Contact your local PHA for information on how to apply and the length of any wait.

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