Eligibility for Section 8 Housing in the U.S.

The Section 8 Housing Program is a federal assistance program that helps low-income families gain access to affordable housing options.

It is also known as the Housing Choice Voucher Program, because participants receive a housing voucher to help cover their monthly rent. Applications are accepted at the local level by public housing authorities (PHAs), who are responsible for monitoring the waiting list and median income level for the area. These entities also conduct property inspections and verify applicant eligibility.

In order to qualify, applicants must meet certain program requirements. The most important factor considered is the household’s gross annual income, though other elements like health status and household size are also considered in the final interview.

Applicants who are on the waiting list must continue to meet eligibility requirements until they are officially accepted in order to receive assistance. Likewise, current program participants must remain eligible to continue using the voucher. Read on to learn the specifics about the Section 8 eligibility.  

Who qualifies for Section 8 housing?

The Section 8 program is aimed towards low-income families who are unable to pay their monthly rent and maintain sufficient housing. As such, eligibility is largely based off of the annual gross income for each household that applies. However, other factors are also considered by the PHA when reviewing an application.

This includes details on the general household, as well as individual members, such as:

  • Number of family members. Household size is an important factor in determining financial eligibility.
  • Citizenship status. Applicants must be U.S. citizens or lawful immigrants in order to participate in this program. Families that include some members without legal status may be eligible for prorated assistance based on the eligible members’ information.
  • Financial assets. This includes checking and savings accounts, as well as other liquid assets.
  • Rental history. PHAs can look into your past evictions to determine your eligibility.
  • Family member status, including whether he or she is disabled, pregnant or elderly.

Note: Social Security beneficiaries are eligible to receive Section 8 housing benefits as long as they meet other eligibility requirements.

In order to gather the necessary background information to verify your eligibility, the PHA can look to several sources. While you are required to provide certain supporting documents, you may also need to submit contact information for your doctor and previous landlords.

In addition, the PHA may verify your claims with banks, employers and other entities. The PHA may also check if you receive Social Security benefits or support from other government programs. 

It is important to note that your eligibility is reviewed more than once during the application process. After your initial application is accepted, you are assigned a number and put on a waiting list unless assistance is available immediately. It can take several months to reach the top of this list, and you must update your information regularly, including your mailing address.

Once you reach the top of the list, you must participate in an interview, during which a PHA representative will confirm your eligibility based on your current circumstances. If you are deemed eligible, the PHA will then use your income to determine the level of benefits you qualify to receive.

Alternately, if you fail to participate in this interview you forfeit your spot on the waitlist regardless of your eligibility status.

Did you know: Applicants are not required to be part of multi-member households in order to receive Section 8 housing assistance. Individuals who meet income limits are also eligible for assistance, as are multi-adult households with and without children.

What are Section 8 income limits?

Low-income families are the main focus for the Section 8 program. Therefore, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) allows PHAs to set income limits for program eligibility. Income limits can vary widely from one PHA to the next, as they are based on the local median household income.

The PHA monitors this information regularly and adjusts program income limits as necessary. Interested applicants can contact their local PHA to learn what the current median income level for their area.

Using income limits, PHAs can classify households to determine which applicants must be given preference. Families may be divided into categories such as:

  • Low-income.
  • Very low-income.
  • Extremely low-income.

Applicants who are considered low-income typically earn no more than 80 percent of the median income level for the area. Similarly, very low-income households earn no more than 50 percent, while the extremely low-income classification is reserved for those who earn no more than 30 percent of the local median income.

Families whose income is 30 percent or less receive 75 percent of all PHA vouchers, as outlined by HUD guidelines.

PHAs typically prioritize applicants in the extremely low-income category, though any low-income applications can apply to receive assistance. Household size is another factor that affects income limits and applicant classifications.

For example, an individual applicant with an annual income of $15,000, and a family of five with an annual income of $30,000 in the same area may both be considered extremely low-income. Information is available income change can affect Section 8 eligibility.

Even if you meet eligibility requirements, some PHAs may choose to close registration if the current waiting list is too long. This means you are unable to submit your application until the registration window reopens. 

However, you may also choose to apply through other PHAs that are still accepting applications. Keep in mind that you must then meet the particular income requirements for the PHA, and be willing to relocate to that jurisdiction.

In order to ensure that applicants receive the help they need, PHAs often establish priorities. These preferences may vary from one PHA to the next, though in general the focus is aimed at applicants who are determined to be the most in need.

As previously mentioned, preference is often given to families in the extremely low-income category. However, priority may also be assigned to families experiencing circumstances such as:

  • Homelessness.
  • Substandard living situations.
  • Involuntary displacement.
  • Rent payments that are more than 50 percent of their income.

Every PHA is granted the discretion to create and enforce these priorities. This means that families in these categories may be moved up the waiting list above other applicants. In some cases, these applicants may even be eligible for immediate assistance if it is available at the time.