Section 8

Section 8 is a program that helps individuals and families with low incomes afford decent housing. The program is funded by the federal government and administered by local public housing authorities (PHAs). A PHA is in charge of assigning vouchers, maintaining public housing, and making sure that the housing you get is safe, decent, and affordable. Section 8 has three main programs:

  1. The Housing Choice Voucher Program (also called “tenant-based Section 8”) is the largest part of Section 8. With this program, you pay about 30% of your monthly household income for rent in privately-owned housing, while the government pays the rest. Once you are issued a Section 8 voucher, you can continue to use it even if you move to another city or state. The only limitation is that there has to be a PHA available to service the voucher in the jurisdiction where you want to move.
  2. Project-based Section 8 also helps pay for rent in privately-owned rental housing. The difference is that while the voucher program lets you rent from any property owner who will rent to you, project-based housing means that you have to live in specific privately-owned buildings where the property owner has agreed to reserve a minimum number of apartments for low-income tenants.
  3. The Section 8 Homeownership Program is a program that some PHAs offer which allows you to use the money from a Section 8 voucher to buy a home and meet the monthly homeownership expenses. If you or somebody in your family has a disability, you may be allowed to use your Section 8 voucher for homeownership if having your own home is considered a necessary reasonable accommodation. You should ask your local public housing authority (PHA) about their Family Self-Sufficiency Homeownership Program.

Eligibility for these three programs is basically the same. Here we’ll explain the eligibility rules and how to apply. Later in the article we’ll explain the three programs and how each works in greater detail.

Eligibility

In order to qualify for Section 8, you must:

  • Have a low annual gross income
  • Be a U.S. citizen or an eligible immigrant. Eligible immigrants include permanent legal residents, refugees, asylees, and lawful temporary residents

When you apply for Section 8, the people reviewing your application will also take into account:

  • Your history with federal housing programs
  • Your criminal background
  • Your credit history

These eligibility issues are described in detail below.

Income

To be part of the Section 8 program you must have very low income. The exact income limits depend on the number of people in your household and where you live. Most people who get Supplemental Security Income (SSI) also qualify for Section 8.

The website of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has detailed information that you can review, based on the year and the county you live in. Go to their site and click the year you’d like to find out about. That will take you to information about income limits for your situation.

Assets

Section 8 doesn’t have an asset limit. However, when you apply for Section 8, a portion of your assets may be counted as income, meaning that if you have enough assets, your income might not be considered low enough for you to qualify.

Here’s how it works:

If your household assets are $5,000 or less, any income you earn from these assets will be counted by the housing authority that is reviewing your application.

Example

You have $3,000 in a savings account that earns 1% interest. The $30 you earn in interest income will be counted when your Section 8 application is reviewed.

If your household assets are greater than $5,000, the income you earn from your assets might be counted or, depending on how much income you get from your assets, the agency reviewing your application might estimate how much money they think you should be earning based on your assets. Their estimate will be based on the “passbook savings rate,” a number provided by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Example

You have $10,000 in an account that earns 1% interest. The passbook savings rate is 2%, so the housing authority figures that you should be earning 2% interest. They will figure that you should have $200 as income, even though your account only earned you $100.

However, growth of the investments in an ABLE account does not count as income for Section 8 housing. ABLE accounts allow people with disabilities that began before they turned 26 to save up to $15,000 each year. Money in an ABLE account must be spent on approved disability-related expenses, which includes housing. Learn more about ABLE accounts.

Citizenship Status

To get help from Section 8, you or another member of the household must be a U.S. citizen or a noncitizen with “eligible immigration status.” Eligible immigrants include permanent legal residents, refugees, asylees, and lawful temporary residents.

Your History with Federal Housing Programs

If you or someone in your household has had one of these problems with a Public Housing Authority in the past, you may not be able to get Section 8:

  • You were evicted from public housing
  • You were terminated from another Section 8 program for bad behavior
  • You committed fraud or other crimes related to the housing program
  • You owe a housing authority money

If you are not eligible for Section 8 because of one of these problems and the problem was related to your disability, you may be able to ask for an exception to this policy as a reasonable accommodation. For example, if you have a mental illness and your problem with your housing happened because you were not on a medication you need, you may be able to become eligible for public housing again if you explain that you are now receiving treatment.

If you explain that your problem was related to your disability and the housing authority still says you are not eligible, you may need to get legal advice. Here are a couple of resources that can help you:

Other Factors

When you apply, the housing authority reviewing your application may also take other things into account. Here are some common things that may help you qualify for a Section 8 voucher:

  • Having a disability
  • Having children
  • Being age 62 or older
  • Being a U.S. Armed Services veteran, widow, or widower
  • Being homeless
  • Residing in a shelter

Most public housing authorities have waiting lists to get Section 8. Sometimes people with disabilities and veterans get preference on these waiting lists, so make sure to ask how the waiting list at your housing authority works. Tell them about any relevant issues that might help you get a voucher faster, including the things listed above.

Application

Where to Apply

You can apply for Section 8 at your local public housing authorities (PHAs). There are dozens of these agencies in Arizona and you should apply to all of the housing authorities located in areas where you’d be willing to live and that have “open” waiting lists.

Each housing authority has its own application form which you will have to fill out. Generally, these application forms ask you to fill out the same information, like who lives in your household, how they are related, how much income you have, and if you are disabled.

If you have a problem applying for a Section 8 program, get help from the housing authority staff — you never have to pay to apply for Section 8. It is illegal for somebody to sell you a Section 8 application or voucher.

If your disability makes any part of the application hard for you, the PHA you are applying to is required to provide you with reasonable accommodations. Reasonable accommodations during the application process could include things like:

  • Help filling out application forms
  • Braille application forms
  • Extra time to fill out applications
  • Help finding an apartment

Waiting Lists

It’s important to apply to several housing authorities because many of them have waiting lists. If you’re put on a waiting list, you won’t receive any benefits for a long time. The length of time that you will be on the waiting list varies. By applying to more than one authority, you are more likely to start getting Section 8 benefits sooner. Note that most housing authorities give preference to people who already live in their areas, so if you apply to a program that isn’t in the area where you live, you may have to wait longer to get a voucher.

Unfortunately, some waiting lists are “closed.” That means that the PHA won’t even let you apply. However, you can apply to any housing authority that has an “open” list.

If you apply and are put on a waiting list, it’s very important to keep your contact information with the PHA up-to-date. If they try to contact you and can’t find you, they’ll figure that you don’t want a voucher anymore and they’ll take you off their waiting list, meaning that you won’t get Section 8. So keep that information up-to-date and reply whenever they try to contact you.

If you have a disability and are on a waiting list

If you miss a letter from the housing authority asking you to update your information, your name might be taken off the waiting list. If you have a disability, you can ask that your name be put back on to the list as a reasonable accommodation.

When you reach the top of the waiting list, the housing authority will review your application and personal information and make sure you qualify for Section 8. If you do qualify, you have to go to a meeting at the housing authority called a “Section 8 Briefing.”

At the briefing, they’ll give you an explanation of how the program you applied for works, whether it be the voucher program, project-based housing, or the homeownership program. After the meeting, you will then have to look for an apartment or home, depending on which Section 8 benefit you are getting. We’ll explain those programs later in this article.

How to appeal if you are denied

If your application is denied, the housing authority has to tell you why you were denied and how you can appeal the decision. If you want to appeal, do it right away, because there is a time limit for appealing.

If the reason you were denied is related to your disability, you can request another chance to complete your application. For example, if you had a hard time filling out the form because you are visually impaired or if you weren’t able to complete it as quickly as required because you have a mobility impairment, the Public Housing Authority must let you apply again.