Guide to Federal Housing Vouchers

Throughout the country, there are many low-income families as well as elderly and disabled individuals who can’t afford decent, safe, and clean housing.

Throughout the country, there are many low-income families as well as elderly and disabled individuals who can’t afford decent, safe, and clean housing. It is a sad truth and occurs much too often. It is likely these people might be all too familiar with the housing choice vouchers program. This program is designed by the “federal government to assist those who are unable to afford acceptable living conditions,” according to the Housing Choice Vouchers Fact Sheet | / U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  

Housing assistance is provided for a family or individual, but that doesn’t limit them to find their own home. If participants choose to find their own home, that might look something like a single-family house, apartment, or townhome. As long as the requirements of the program are met, the family or individual is free to decide upon their housing. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development oversees public housing agencies. These local PHAs are responsible to administer housing vouchers.  PHAs receive federal funding from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development in order to manage the voucher programs. 

HUD describes that a family who is issued “a housing voucher is responsible for finding a suitable housing unit of the family’s choice where the owner agrees to rent under the program.” It is very possible that the unit includes the family’s present residence.  Minimum standards relating to health and safety must be met as determined by the local PHA. It is noteworthy that the family or individual is still responsible to pay dues. “A housing subsidy is paid to the landlord directly by the PHA on behalf of the participating family.” Once then, the family or individual pays the difference between the landlord’s actual rent charged and the amount subsidized by the program. In few instances, some families or individuals may use their vouchers to purchase a modest home.

Eligibility, Applying, and Functionality

You might be wondering how to determine if someone is eligible for a housing voucher. The PHA decides whether or not someone is eligible by looking at the total annual gross income and family size. United States citizens and specific categories of non-citizens, who have approved immigration status are the only people to be considered for housing vouchers. Particularly, a family’s income may not exceed beyond 50% of the median income for the county or metro area where the family chooses to live. It is mandated by law that a local PHA provide at least 75% of its voucher to applicants who have incomes lower than 30% of the area’s median income. The HUD publicly issues median income levels by location. If you have specific questions or concerns the PHA serving your area of residency can provide you with the income limits for your family size.

In the application phase, “the PHA will collect information on family income, assets, and family composition.” All gathered information is verified with your employer and bank.  This information will be used to decide if you are eligible and then the amount of housing assistance you will receive. Applying for a voucher commences with reaching out to your local PHA. If you need further help, contact the HUD office closest to you.  

These programs are designed to place the choice of housing in the hands of the individual or family. Low-income families and individuals are encouraged to assess options to secure the best interest of either their family or themselves. Unit sizes for those eligible are based on family size and structure. All potential dwellings are inspected by the PHA who then determines payment standards. Payment standards do not limit nor affect the amount in which a landlord charges the resident(s). A set of laws have been instilled to prevent a family from paying more than 40% of its adjusted monthly income for rent if the rent exceeds the payment standard.   

The obligations of the PHA are to ultimately provide housing assistance to those in need and who meet eligibility requirements. The PHA enters a contract with the landlord to provide housing and payments on behalf of the housing participants. The PHA has the right to terminate payments with the landlord if there is a failure to meet certain PHA requirements. The housing participants’ income is re-evaluated each year as well. Overall, the federal housing vouchers program has great potential to help those in need, as long as participants meet eligibility and the program rules are properly followed by all involved, including the housing participants, landlords, and PHA.

Adding Your Name to a Waitlist

In most cases, you will be placed on a waitlist when you apply for federal housing vouchers. This doesn’t mean that you will eventually be denied, but it does mean you might not be able to acquire Section 8 housing in a quick manner. In order to get onto a waitlist, you should do the following:

  • Have an email account
  • Sign-up for alerts when waitlists open
  • Apply to as many different waitlists as possible
  • Only provide a dependable mailing address if you are homeless or move around often (provide the mailing address of a friend or family member)
  • Never pay any type of fee to apply for a voucher
  • The wait for Section 8 housing can be sped up with a note from a doctor about your medical condition

Vouchers cannot be passed to someone else unless a family breaks apart via death, the conviction of a crime, or divorce. Vouchers cannot be handed down in a will or sold to anyone else.


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