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Section 8 Rental Assistance
Section 8 changed : Housing Choice Voucher Program

      The Federal Government in the U.S. has attempted to provide affordable housing to "low income" people since the Great Depression of the 1930s. However, subsidized housing projects were often built or administered poorly, resulting in slums and unsafe conditions for tenants. All too often public housing came to resemble our worst public restrooms; dirty, smelly and sometimes even scary.
      The Republican Congress elected in the 1090's tried to empower tenants with Rent Vouchers allowing them to seek their own housing from private landlords, rather than confining low-income tenants to public housing ghettos.
      State and local units of government contract with HUD (Housing and Urban Development) to administrator the rent voucher programs. HUD pays them an administrative fee of about 5% of the funds they use. The contractor screens tenant applicants for eligibility, issues vouchers, contracts with landlords, inspects housing and monitors participants for compliance with HUD regulations.

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Section 8 Rental Assistance in privately own rental housing
Income Limits
Income Certification
Waiting Lists
Where to Apply
Family Self-Sufficiency

Section 8 Rental Assistance

Voucher/Certificate Programs in the Private Market.

      A Section 8 rental subsidy is a federal payment to a landlord on behalf of an individual tenant. In a Section 8 certificate tenancy, the household pays 30 percent of their income for rent. The difference between 30 percent of the household income and the set "fair market" rent of a unit is paid by the federal government. Certificates have been phased out during the late 1990's in favor of Rent Vouchers.

      The Section 8 voucher program varies from the certificate program in that there is not a cap on the rent level. The tenant obtains a voucher for a set amount of money based on the area, and if they are willing to pay more than 30% of their income on rent, they are free to rent a unit that exceeds the "fair market rent" figure used in the certificate program.

      Unfortunately, the money available for housing vouchers does not come close to meeting the demand for subsidies. Applications are taken only sporadically and once accepted for the program, people can expect to wait a fair amount of time before they get a rent voucher in their hands.

      Tenants have 60 days from the time they receive a voucher to find a house in the area that meets the Section 8 physical requirements, that does not exceed the established rental guideline, and in which the property owner is willing to participate. Sometimes it is possible to get an extension on the 60 days, but sometimes tenants have to return the voucher unused because they cannot locate a unit that meets the requirements.


      The Section 8 program can assist families, single people who are over the age of 62, and people with disabilities. A single woman who is pregnant may also apply for Section 8 housing assistance.
      In addition to the overall Section 8 program, HUD also offers two special Section 8 sub-programs:

(1) The program for homeless veterans with severe psychiatric disorders or substance abuse problems,

(2) The Shelter Plus Care program for homeless adults with mental illness.


      Tenants can apply and be on the waiting list for more than one subsidized housing program at a time. They should call the program offices regularly to check on where they are on the list. If they are sitting there much longer than originally estimated and suspect discrimination, they should confront the agency with their suspicions. Also contact government agencies up the ladder from the administrating office.
      Tenants can send complaints to local politicians and ask them to investigate the situation. They can also file Freedom of Information Act requests with the Federal Government if they feel information about the administration of federally subsidized housing is being withheld. As with all housing problems, it is important to document your interaction with the different administrators and politicians. Consider using the media to put public pressure on the owner or agency. Fair Housing Centers will investigate discrimination claims with testers. Also check to see if there is a Human Rights Department in your area whose task it is to investigate human rights violations complaints. The program does not discriminate on the basis of sex, race, religion, national origin, age, sexual preference, color, familial status, mental or physical handicap.

Income Limits:

      A family/individual must meet the very-low income requirements when they initially receive Section 8 housing assistance. After that, household income may exceed these limits. The most recent income limits (January 10, 1996) are:

Number in Household:









Max. Gross Income:









Income Certification :

      Once tenants are in a subsidized program, they must certify their income once a year with their employer or the Department of Social Services. This requirement can also be a protection for the tenant. If you receive Section 8 and your income goes down, your rent should be adjusted down also. You can request an income rectification mid-year from the agency you receive subsidy from and possibly get a retroactive reduction from the date your income went down.

Waiting Lists:

      Because of demand for the program assistance, waiting times are hard to predict, but have been as long as four years. As current participants leave the program, assistance is offered to people on the waiting list in order of their date and time of application, and according to "local preferences", or priorities established by Housing Authorities and Community Services Agencies. Despite the likelihood of a long wait, every low income tenant should apply because the program will be worth thousands of dollars a year to them. Eventually, families and households do move to the top of the list.

      Until recently, the government did not require landlords to give priority to those most in need. Tenants only had to meet the income eligibility requirement. This has lead to a problem where privately owned subsidized developments do not rent to the people most in need. HUD recently started requiring landlords receiving subsidies to consider the following priorities for giving people housing from the waiting lists:

1. homeless through no cause of your own (i.e., landlord refuses to renew your lease, you are threatened with or subject to physical abuse);
2. currently paying more than 50% of your income for rent and utilities;
3. living in a home that is substandard (i.e., no toilet, plumbing or electricity).

You can ask when applying how the landlord weights the priority list.

Where to Apply:

      Tenants may apply at the offices of their state or local Housing Authority and Community Services Agencies. For a listing of state offices, see: HUD Section 8 Pages .

Also See: Section 8 Changes | HUD Section 8 Program Fact Sheet | Section 8 Developments | Housing Choice Voucher Program

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