How To Qualify for a Section 8 Voucher
4 Basic Requirements for a Section 8 Voucher
An unexpected job loss, disability, or injury could leave you scrambling to pay the bills. If your emergency fund runs out, you may find it difficult to pay rent. In that scenario, you may be able to get help with housing through Section 8. Section 8 is a federal program administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The program provides eligible families and individuals monthly rental assistance. But who qualifies for Section 8? If you need housing assistance, it’s helpful to know who’s eligible and how to apply.
What Is Section 8 Housing?
Section 8 housing is a federal program that provides vouchers to help low-income families and individuals pay for housing. Program participants can choose their own housing, as long as it meets the requirements of the program. That means people who use Section 8 are not limited to subsidized housing projects, but may look for single-family homes, townhomes, or apartments.1
How Section 8 Vouchers Work
Housing-choice vouchers are issued by Public Housing Agencies (PHAs). The federal government provides money to the PHAs to issue the vouchers to people eligible for Section 8. If an individual or family receives a housing-choice voucher, it provides what’s effectively a discount on their rent. The PHA pays a housing subsidy to the landlord on behalf of the Section 8 recipient. The recipient then pays the difference between the actual rent owed and the amount covered by Section 8.
How Much Help Does Section 8 Provide?
Section 8 rules don’t specify a set dollar amount that individuals or families can receive to apply toward rent payments. Instead, the PHA establishes a payment standard, which is a baseline amount needed to rent a moderately-priced dwelling in the local housing market. A family receiving housing vouchers can choose to rent a dwelling that’s above or below the payment standard set by the PHA. In most cases, recipients must pay 30% of their monthly adjusted gross income for rent and utilities. In some cases, this can increase to 40% if the rent is higher than the payment standard.
For example, say that you live in Los Angeles. The Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles sets the payment standard for a two-bedroom unit at $2,248. If you qualified for the program with an income of $2,800 per month, then using the 30% rule, you’d be responsible for paying $840 toward rent and utilities.2 In Philadelphia, the payment standard is applied based on fair market rents by zip code. Standards are categorized as basic, traditional, midrange, opportunity, or high opportunity rents, based on where the properties are located. So a two-bedroom unit in a basic rent area would have a payment standard of $1,012. Meanwhile, a two-bedroom unit in a high opportunity rent area has a payment standard of $1,870.3
Assume you’re approved for the program with an income of $1,900 a month. You choose a unit in the middle that has a payment standard of $1,287. You’d be responsible for paying $570 toward rent and utilities for that apartment.
Why Section 8 Exists
The Section 8 program exists to help low-income families and individuals find affordable housing. The program was authorized by Congress in 1974 and developed by HUD to provide housing subsidies for eligible renters. Section 8 was largely intended to be a response to the increasing amount of income families had to dedicate to paying for rental housing.
Section 8 Voucher Requirements
Who qualifies for Section 8? The answer is not simple. It depends on your ability to meet four specific requirements as established by HUD.
People who apply for Section 8 are subject to income limits, which are set annually by HUD. These income limits are calculated as a percentage of the median income for individual areas of the country. There are three income-limit tiers:5
- Extremely low income: 30% of the area’s median income level
- Very low income: 50% of the area’s median income level
- Moderately low income: 80% of the area’s median income level
These income limits take into account where you live as well as the number of people in your household. Using Los Angeles as an example again, the 2021 limits for a four-person household are as follows:6
- Extremely low income: $35,450
- Very low income: $59,100
- Moderately low income: $94,600
HUD offers an online query tool that you can use to check income limits in your area.