David's Story

David used to be an avid rock climber. Unfortunately, while climbing in the Grand Canyon several years ago he slipped. He was lucky and survived the fall, but it caused damage to his spine and he lost mobility in his legs.

Before the injury, he had a job as a construction worker, but after the accident he could no longer do that work. So he decided to go to a community college and learn how to be a sound technician. At that time, he also applied for the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) to cover his medical expenses and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), so that he’d have some money to live on.

He qualified for both, but unfortunately the SSI wasn’t going to be enough to cover all of his expenses, especially rent. He was staying with some friends then, but he knew that he couldn’t stay with them forever. Not knowing what to do, David called up his local independent living center and asked them if there were any programs that might help him be able to afford his rent. They recommended he speak with the local HUD Public Housing Field Office. He called it up at and spoke with Barry. He and Barry set up an appointment for later that week.

“Well, David,” Barry said, after reviewing all of David’s eligibility, “It looks like you qualify for Section 8 benefits. As a Section 8 recipient, the federal government will pay a portion of your rent.”

David had heard of Section 8, but didn’t know it would apply to him. “That sounds great!” he exclaimed. “Where do I sign up?”

“Unfortunately,” Barry said, “you’ll actually have to sign up in several different places. Section 8 is funded by the federal government, but it’s managed by many different local programs called Public Housing Authorities.” Barry gave David a list of the Public Housing Authorities in the area, along with their contact information. “Each Public Housing Authority has its own application form and there’s no real way of knowing which one will decide to give you a Section 8 voucher, which one will deny you a voucher, and which one will just put you on a waiting list. The best thing for you to do is to apply to all of the Public Housing Authorities in the area where you want to live and then see which one replies to you first.”

David looked at the list and circled the ones that were near his community college. He decided to take it easy and set himself a goal of submitting an application to one Public Housing Authority a week until he’d applied to them all. While he waited to hear back, he started school. His friends agreed to let him stay with them until his Section 8 was approved, so that gave him some security.

A couple of months later, he got a call from one of the Public Housing Authorities — it was even his first choice location. The case worker told him that because he had a disability, he had been given priority on the waiting list, that’s why they’d gotten back to him so quickly. David and the worker scheduled a screening interview so they could go over his eligibility together.

During the interview, the case worker asked David questions to make sure that he met the eligibility requirements for the program. They told him that he’d have no problem qualifying. At the end of the screening interview, the case worker scheduled him the following week for a meeting called “the Section 8 Briefing.” At the briefing, David was told how the Section 8 program worked and how to find an apartment that his Section 8 voucher would help pay for.

David was really happy. His friends helped him look for an apartment that weekend. He found one that was just $600 per month and only a block away from his school. Once he found it, he told the Public Housing Authority about it and they inspected it to make sure it was okay. Once it was approved, they calculated how much of the $600 David would have to pay and how much the Section 8 Voucher would pay.

David was receiving some income from SSI, so he would have to pay $200 each month in rent. Section 8 would pay the rest. Satisfied, David signed his lease agreement and moved in.

Earned Income Disregard

After going to school for a while, David decided he could handle a part-time job that would help cover his portion of the rent. He was lucky to find a job as a cashier at the local music store. The job would pay him $300 a month, enough to pay his rent with a little extra for his other expenses.

The day after he got the job, he called up Barry at the HUD Public Housing Field Office.

“Barry,” he said on the phone, “I just got a job!”

“That’s great!” replied Barry, “but it changes some things.”

“I was afraid of that,” David sighed. “Should I come in?”

“Absolutely. I’ve got an open appointment tomorrow morning if you’re free.”

Together they reviewed David’s new situation.

“Well, here’s your good news David,” Barry said. “While your income has gone up, it won’t affect your rent for the first year. You just have to contact your case worker at the Public Housing Authority and ask for an Earned Income Disregard.”

David wrote that down. “What’s that?” he asked.

Barry explained, “An Earned Income Disregard lets people like you who have a disability get Section 8 and then get a job without having their rent go up, at least for a couple of years. Your rent won’t go up during the first year after you start working at all. If you are still working after a year, your rent will go up some, but probably not too much, because only 50% of your work income will be counted by the Section 8 program.”

That was fine with David. He called up his Public Housing Authority case worker and told them that he had a job and that he wanted an Earned Income Disregard. He was quickly approved for the Earned Income Disregard, so the first year after getting his job, his rent didn’t go up at all.