How to Apply for Section 8 Housing

The latest study from Harvard University’sJoint Center for Housing Studies found that half of the 43 million renter households in the U.S. spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent payments. A shortage of affordable housing units combined with increased housing costs means it’s more important than ever for low-income, elderly and disabled renters to know about housing assistance available to them.

If you’re a legal resident of the U.S. and aren’t making enough money to pay the rent, you could be eligible for the housing choice voucher program, also known as Section 8 housing. This federal program helps families and individuals afford decent housing in the private market by subsidizing a portion of the rent. In this post, we’ll go over the steps you need to take to apply for Section 8 housing.

Are you eligible?

Households must meet the income limits set by the local housing authority in order to qualify for Section 8 housing. Eligibility requirements vary by location as well as family size, so check with yourlocal housing agency to see what the income limit is in your area. Generally, your household’s total annual gross income cannot exceed 50 percent of the median income in your county or metro area. The Public Housing Authority (PHA) is required by law to provide 75 percent of Section 8 vouchers to households earning less than 30 percent of the median income. Other factors that impact eligibility are family composition, your assets, and the amount of rent you’re currently paying.

Prepare the necessary documents.

Before you apply for the voucher, collect all the information you’ll need to provide in your application. This includes your lease or letter from your landlord to verify your current rent, pay stubs to confirm your salary and documentation for any assets you might have. The PHA will cross-examine this information with your bank, employer, or other agency when they process your application to determine your eligibility.

Determine what kind of voucher you need.

There are two types of housing vouchers available to renters: tenant-based and project-based. A tenant-based voucher allows you to continue receiving housing aid even after you move to a new unit. Renters with project-based vouchers only receive rent assistance for the time specified on the voucher for that specific unit.


After you’ve done all your homework, it’s time to apply. Talk to your local housing authority to start the application process. Complete the paperwork in person or ask if they have online applications. Placement on a waiting list is common after your application is processed due to a limited number of vouchers and resources. Priority may also be given to a family who is homeless, living in substandard condition or has more than 50 percent of their income go to rent.

Once your application is approved, the local housing authority will need to inspect the unit of your choosing and determine if the monthly rent is reasonable. Housing authorities calculate how much housing assistance a participant receives based on their household income as well as the median rents in the area. A voucher recipient must spend at least 30 percent of their adjusted gross income on rent and utilities, but never more than 40 percent.

To learn more, contact your local Public Housing Agency (PHA) or visit the Department of Housing and Urban Development website.


Jennifer Chan is a marketing coordinator at Zillow and manages content for the rentals side of the Zillow for Pros blog.



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