The Housing Choice Voucher Program (HCVP), also known as Section 8, is a federal program for low-income families, seniors and people with disabilities. Even though Section 8 housing is a federal program, local public housing agencies (PHA) take care of giving out benefits to households in need.
Families may receive housing assistance if they meet the program’s requirements and get approval from their local PHA. Eligible families can choose between houses, townhomes and apartments, as long as the landlord or complex agrees to accept the housing vouchers as payment.
To apply for Section 8, households need to meet four basic requirements. One of the Section 8 qualifications that most applicants worry about is income since the program targets low-income families.
However, the other qualifications are just as important. To learn more about Section 8 requirements, review the information below.
1. Learn About Section 8 Requirements for Families
To be eligible for Section 8 housing, applicants need to meet the definition of a family according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Fortunately, HUD’s definition is quite general: A family is one or more people who live together, even if they’re not directly related.
Section 8 benefits are also available to households that meet the following requirements:
- Elderly family – A family where the head of household or a dependent is 62 years of age or older. Single-member “families” who meet the age requirement and survivors of the elderly individual also fall under this category.
- Disabled family – A family with at least one member who is disabled. Single disabled individuals must be 18 years of age or older to fall under this category.
- Displaced family – Families or single-member families who are displaced by governmental action can apply for Section 8. Families whose residence has been destroyed by a disaster as declared by the government also fall under this category.
Section 8 housing benefits are also available to families even if one member is away from the household for an extended period of time. Finally, any live-in health care workers (such as aides) are also considered part of a family.
2. Section 8 Qualifications for Income
Just as with other assistance programs, Section 8 housing has income limits to ensure that applicants with the most need receive benefits first. Even though anyone can apply for Section 8, only applicants who meet their PHA’s income requirements will be eligible for benefits.
There are three main categories to determine an applicant’s level of need. These are based on median family income and are as follows:
- Extremely low-income – Families with incomes that are at or below 30 percent of their area’s median family income. PHAs give 75 percent of vouchers to these applicants. With this requirement, the PHA makes sure families in the most need are being served and receiving the Section 8 housing benefits.
- Very low-income – Families with income at 50 percent of their area’s median income. This is the income that PHAs generally use to determine an applicant’s initial eligibility.
- Low-income – Families with income at 80 percent of their area’s median income. This designation is used for families whose income is above the 50-percent limit. Despite exceeding the limit, these applicants may still be eligible for benefits.
Moreover, a family’s Section 8 income limit is dependent on the PHA’s jurisdiction. The same income may be considered normal in one area but very low in others.
As mentioned above, Section 8 eligibility is also dependent on family size and composition. A bigger family may have a higher income and still fall under the extremely low-income category, while a single person with the same income may not.
Applicants should inquire with their local PHA for more specific information about possible special considerations.
3. Residency Requirements for Section 8 Housing
There are legal status Section 8 requirements that applicants must meet to receive benefits. While U.S. citizens automatically meet this Section 8 eligibility requirement, non-citizens can only receive benefits if they fall into one of the following categories:
- Permanent resident
- Special agricultural worker with lawful temporary resident status
- Non-citizen continuously residing in the U.S. before 1972 and eligible for permanent residence by law
- Refugees and asylum or amnesty recipients
- Conditional entrants due to prosecution
- Applicants lawfully present by the discretion of the Attorney General (must meet particular requirements)
Section 8 applicants who are not citizens must present documentation to the PHA to prove that they fall into one of the above categories.
4. Clean History of Eviction for Criminal Activities
Several Section 8 rentals accept tenants with an eviction record. However, even though Section 8 houses for rent might accept applicants who have been evicted in the past, PHAs will not grant benefits to applicants who have been evicted due to criminal activity. Applicants with crime-related evictions on their records are ineligible for housing vouchers for a minimum of three years.
Resources to Save on Housing Costs
- Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
- HUD-VASH for Homeless Veterans
- Housing for Senior Citizens
- State Offices for Rural Residents
Why Qualified Applicants May Not Receive Housing Assistance
You can apply for Section 8 if you believe you meet all the program requirements. While you cannot apply for Section 8 online, you can visit your local PHA to complete an application and ask about the program’s requirements in further detail.
If you are unsure about if you meet the requirements, then PHAs also have information that can help you determine your eligibility. Remember that agencies have different eligibility requirements and can make exceptions at their discretion.
Keep in mind that even if you meet the requirements listed here, you still may not be able to receive housing vouchers. The reasons why you may not receive or need to wait for housing vouchers include the following:
- Limited Resources – There is a limited supply of voucher funds and PHAs prioritize families with extremely low incomes.
- Witing Lists – Since PHAs get so many applications, they typically have long waitlists that sometimes stay closed until more vouchers become available. Even if you are able to apply, you may face long wait times before you can start receiving vouchers.
Fortunately, you can apply to multiple PHAs at the same time to increase your chances of getting a voucher. If the housing agency in your area has closed its waitlist, then you may be able to find an open waitlist with a PHA that serves an area near you.