Rent is expensive. Even the smallest studio apartment can take up a huge portion of your monthly income. If you need more bedrooms, a larger kitchen, or just want to live in a nicer area, then your monthly rent payment can quickly become the majority of your income.
For those with low income, decent rentals are often unaffordable, and many families find themselves struggling to pay for even a small unit in a bad part of town.
With the Section 8 low income housing assistance program, low-income renters can get the housing they need at a price they can comfortably afford.
How Section 8 Works for Renters
Unlike traditional public housing facilities, the Section 8 program offers housing assistance vouchers to low-income renters who then use them to help pay for a private rental. This gives the renter the freedom to choose from any rental property that takes part in Section 8.
Moreover, the Housing Choice Voucher covers up to 70% of rent and utility costs, which makes an array of otherwise unaffordable rentals available to Section 8 participants.
How to Qualify
Funding for the Section 8 program comes from the federal government, and local housing authorities manage renter approvals. While different locations may have additional qualifications, renters must typically meet the same basic requirements:
- Income Level. Renters must have an annual income that falls below the median in their area. The housing authority gives 75% of their funding to families whose income falls at or below 30% of the median income level. However, renters can make up to 50% of the median income and still qualify for Section 8. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development maintains a list of income levels by area on their website.
- Citizenship. U.S. citizens and most legal immigrants can qualify for the Section 8 program. Applicants need to provide proof of citizenship for themselves and every member of their household.
- Lifestyle. The housing authority conducts home interviews with potential Section 8 renters to get a feel for the renter’s lifestyle. Some housing authorities may not approve tenants with past drug or criminal convictions.
How to Apply for Section 8
The application process for a renter is not all that different from an application for how to become a section 8 housing landlord. To start receiving housing vouchers, renters need to complete and satisfy the following steps.
- Complete and submit an application to the local housing authority or HUD office. Renters need to apply for the Section 8 program in person. The application will require basic personal information as well as income information.
- Complete an interview with a local housing authority agent. Depending on the housing authority’s policies, the agent may ask the renter to come into the office, or the interview may take place in the renter’s home.
- Provide all necessary documentation. The housing authority will need to see recent copies of pay stubs, bank statements, and personal assets. The housing authority may also check the applicant’s credit and background, or contact previous landlords.
- Find a private rental that accepts Section 8. Renters need to complete a lease agreement with the landlord before moving into any rental.
Pros to Section 8 Housing
The Section 8 program has several advantages for renters who qualify.
- Freedom of Choice. With traditional housing assistance programs, renters had to move into a public housing facility. This often meant moving to an urban area far away from work, school, or family. With Section 8, on the other hand, renters have a much wider selection of homes from which to choose and often do not need to leave the area in which they work or where their children go to school.
- Better Quality of Life. Many traditional public housing facilities have high crime rates and neighborhood problems. With the Housing Choice Voucher program, renters have the opportunity to move into safer neighborhoods with low crime rates and better schools. Socially, this could have a huge impact by limiting the number of children growing up in and around gangs, drugs, and violence.
- More Income. Low-income tenants typically spend the majority of their monthly income on rent. With assistance from the Section 8 program, renters can use more of their income on essentials like food, clothing, or medication.
Cons to Section 8 Housing
The Section 8 program also brings its own set of disadvantages, which can cause more than a few headaches for renters.
- Long Wait Times. Many housing authorities in urban areas do not have enough funding to cover all applicants for the Section 8 program. As a result, they run a constant waiting list. Renters can wait several months before getting approval for a Housing Choice Voucher.
- Extra Work. Utilizing a Section 8 voucher results in more work. The renter will need to go through an application process with both the housing authority and the landlord. After moving in, the tenant will also have to go through periodic reviews with the housing authority.
- Stigma. While federal assistance is more common than many people are aware, some renters may feel judged by their family, friends, or neighbors once they start receiving Section 8. This can add stress to the tenant’s life.
- Complacency. Some people think that instead of providing an incentive for participants to improve their situation, Section 8 allows them to be complacent and not strive for a better paying job or better financial habits. If this is indeed the case, Section 8 may actually limit participants by keeping them dependent on federal assistance in lieu of improving their situation on their own.
Despite the long wait times, extra work, and social stigma, the Section 8 program has helped thousands of renters get decent housing in safe areas. Many renters can afford apartments and houses they could not have otherwise, still cover basic living expenses, and even have extra money left over for savings or an education. Yet, in spite of the program’s great aspects, people still have mixed feelings and mixed experiences with Section 8.
What are your thoughts on the Section 8 program? Have you or someone you know used housing vouchers in the past?