What is Section 8?

Section 8 is part of a larger piece of federal legislation that monitors certain aspects of housing in the United States. The current scope of the government’s influence over housing is determined by the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974 (Public Law 93-383, Title 2, Section 201).

The Housing and Community Development Act of 1974 created a housing assistance program simply called “Low Income Housing Assistance.” Its purpose was to help renters pay their monthly rent when the property is privately owned by a landlord. The Housing Choice Voucher Program, as it’s now officially called, was created as a result of this legislation, and is what people are referring to when they discuss “Section 8.”

How does the Housing Choice Voucher Program Work?

The Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program assists renters of privately-owned properties by paying any portion of the rent that exceeds 30% of the renter’s monthly income. (30% has long been the established threshold for housing affordability. Anyone paying more than that is considered to be living outside of their means.). The local Housing Authority must inspect and approve the rental unit, and the monthly rent must not exceed the Fair Market Rent, as determined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Despite being part of a federal program, the HCVP is managed by local Housing Authorities. Many have their own set of additional criteria that can impact your placement on the waiting list. If you want to learn more about Section 8 in your area, contact your local Housing Authority. Just be aware that most areas are underfunded, meaning that accepted parties could be on the waiting list for years before they actually receive assistance.

Does Section 8 Assistance Follow Me from Home to Home?

It depends. There are actually two types of Section 8 assistance: tenant-based and project-based.

Tenant-based Section 8 is the Housing Choice Voucher program we’ve already discussed. Individuals receiving assistance through this program can continue receiving assistance after they move because the program is connected to the person. Wherever the person goes, the assistance follows.

Project-based Section 8, on the other hand, is connected to the property. When a person or family moves into project-based Section 8 housing, they receive the same assistance as does a family using the Housing Choice Voucher. Any rent over 30% of their monthly income is covered. The difference is that when the renter moves, the assistance remains available for the next tenant of the property and does not follow them.

Unfortunately, both programs tend to have long waiting lists.

How Can I Sign Up for the Housing Choice Voucher?

You can apply for assistance, or learn more about Section 8, at your local Housing Authority. They will manage the program in your area and can get you started on the right path.

It’s important to be aware that assistance is not available for just anyone. Certain requirements – such as income, citizenship, etc. – must be met in order to be eligible.

To find the contact information for your local Housing Authority, select your state here and locate a Housing Authority nearest you. You can also check for open waiting lists across the country on this page (newly identified open waiting lists will be on top of the list)

What Would My Rent Be If I Were Approved for Assistance?

The primary factor in determining how much assistance you would receive is your monthly income, but your rent would never be more than 30% of that total.

For instance, if you make $1,790 each month, then you would never pay more than $537 in monthly rent. That’s because: 0.30 (30%) x $1,790 (monthly income) = $537

If the rent you owed was $712 per month, then you would still owe only $537. The remaining $175 would be paid directly to the landlord, on your behalf.

In the end, the most important thing is your monthly income. The less you make, the less you pay, and vice versa.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Voucher?

As was mentioned earlier, Section 8 waiting lists are pretty long. All over the country, people are waiting for their turn to receive assistance. There’s just not enough federal money to help all of the people that need it.

Even so, if you qualify for assistance, you should apply now. Even if the waiting list in your area is quite long, applying now means you’ll have a better shot of strengthening your financial position in the future. If you don’t apply, you’ll never be approved.

Note: Frequently, local Housing Authorities maintain priority waiting lists for particularly at-risk groups, such as the homeless, senior citizens, or victims of domestic abuse. If you think you may qualify for a priority list, or just want to learn more, contact your local Housing Authority.

Can I Use Section 8 HCV Assistance for Any Rental Unit?

While there are no restrictions on a property’s location or building type, not every property qualifies for assistance.

Rental units must be inspected and approved by the local Housing Authority, and must fall within specific cost restraints. This is to prevent federal money from paying for unsafe, unclean, or otherwise unsuitable properties. It also limits the ability of applicants to abuse the system by using assistance to rent lavish units.

Can I Take a Voucher Outside the Service Area of My Local Housing Authority?

Absolutely. Once you are approved for assistance, you can take your Housing Choice Voucher with you anywhere you go. The only way you’ll lose your voucher is if you cease to meet all of the requirements, but living in a particular place is not one of them.