How Section 8 Really Works

We put together a guide for Section 8 based on our reporting. Here you will learn how to apply, qualify for a Housing Choice Voucher, and what it’s like to live in Section 8.

The Housing Choice Voucher Program, known as Section 8, is a type of government assistance for rental housing. In 2018, more than five million people used these coupons to help pay some or all of their rent.

Congress passed Section 8 of the Housing and Community Development Act in 1974. One of the goals was to ensure that very low-income people had access to “decent housing and a suitable living environment” in areas outside of development projects. public housing.

To access this federal assistance benefit for low-income individuals must apply with the program to receive a voucher. If the application is approved, they will then be able to select and rent an apartment or house using the voucher, and the local housing authority will pay the monthly rent directly to the property owner.

The voucher allows to cover a part or the entire amount of the rent. On average, each household spends between 30% and 40% of their income on the cost of renting a place to live.

access the information related to Section 8

As part of a series of reports on housing, conducted in conjunction with The Connecticut Mirror news organization , we have been investigating how Section 8 operates. In that regard, we find that access to and use of housing rental vouchers is seriously lacking. information.

“Half the battle is the information issue,” said Josh Serrano, one of the voucher program beneficiaries in Hartford, Connecticut. Serrano and his colleagues organize information workshops on the rights that people have to obtain vouchers.

“If you don’t know the law, you can’t obey it,” said Crystal Carter, who received a voucher through a Connecticut housing authority and struggled to find a place to live. Carter mentioned that the companies and tenants she dealt with weren’t always aware of Section 8 laws. That and her paperwork got her into trouble when she looked for housing.

To create this guide, we spoke with dozens of people who have navigated the system to obtain a voucher, as well as real estate agents, renters, former housing authority employees, attorneys, and housing advocates.

How to find out if you should apply for a Section 8 voucher

To obtain Section 8 housing you need to apply for a Section 8 housing voucher. You should be clear about the following before submitting an application:

  • Where do you want to live? Each local housing authority has different regulations for Section 8. Decide where you want to live, then go to the housing authority for that neighborhood. Here you will find a list of all housing authorities in the country. Keep in mind that you can apply with a housing authority even if you don’t live in that community. Look for a state or regional housing authority if you can’t find an office in the area where you want to live.
  • Personal and family income. The program is exclusive for people with a certain salary level according to the income of the area. Check the income requirements set by the housing authority. Then go to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) online tool and see if you, and the people you’ll be living with, fall into that category.
  • Immigration status of yourself and everyone who will live with you. In order for a family group to apply for a voucher, at least one of the members must have documents to live legally in the United States. The nonprofit organization called Affordable Housing Online offers detailed information here .
  • Criminal record of your own and of all the people who will live with you. All housing authorities check the legal background of applicants, but each one applies different rules. It is possible to get assistance to rent housing even if you have committed a criminal offense or are on probation. To check if you qualify, call or email the appropriate housing authority.
  • IMPORTANT:it is not possible to obtain a voucher if the applicant (you or a member of your household) is on the sex offender registry for life. People who have been convicted of producing methamphetamine in federal housing or who have been evicted from a home for drug-related problems in the last three years will also not be eligible for vouchers.

How to apply for a Section 8 voucher

The first step in applying for housing through Section 8 is communicating your interest to the housing authority. However, the number of people who want a voucher is greater than the number of vouchers available. In most cases, the applicant will be placed on a waiting list.

How to get on the waiting list

  • Open an email account. You will need an email address to apply. To get one for free, you can visit the Gmail or Yahoo website .
  • Receive notifications. You can sign up for services that send you an email when housing authorities open waiting lists. Affordable Housing Online has a website where you can see the listings that are open. You can also sign up on this website to receive notifications of the state where you want to live. Some housing authorities have their own notification systems. If you want to live in a specific neighborhood, find the housing authority in charge of that area and register there directly.
  • Be flexible. Get on as many waiting lists as possible, as long as you plan to live in that neighborhood for at least twelve months. You can plan to move after a year and still keep your voucher.
  • Use a reliable mailing address. If you move often, or do not have a fixed address, provide the housing authority with the mailing address of a family member or friend who can notify you when a notice arrives. You can also ask local churches and shelters to serve as your mailing address. If you do, check with them once a week to see if you’ve received mail.
  • Do not pay money to apply. There is no need to pay to apply for a spot on a Section 8 waiting list. There is also no way to pay to move faster once you are on the list. If someone asks you for money for this type of paperwork, it is probably a scam.
  • A letter from a doctor can speed up the wait. Some housing authorities have special spaces on the waiting list for applicants or family members with disabilities or chronic conditions (such as asthma) made worse by current housing conditions. If that’s the case for you, ask your doctor for a letter explaining to the housing authority how the new accommodation would help improve your quality of life. Be sure to keep a copy of the doctor’s note.

Steps to take while on the Section 8 waiting list

Lawyers and former housing authority employees said being on a waiting list doesn’t mean you have to sit and wait until you hear news. These experts offered the following advice:

  • Take notes and photos. Keep a written record of all communication with the housing authority. Use your phone to photograph documents and emails, and take notes on phone conversations. According to experts, keeping a record of every communication is important because housing authority officials often change frequently.
  • Stay in touch. Respond to any notification you receive from the housing authority, either by [m1] via [MM2] phone, email, or mail. This serves to make it known that you are interested in remaining on the waiting list.
  • Keep submitting applications. Submit new applications as soon as new waiting lists open in your state. Do not wait!
  • Join online communities. Join Section 8 groups on social media platforms. Thousands of people are in the same situation as you and have created networks to help each other. Here are some of the most popular Facebook groups in the country: Public Housing (Section 8) (Voucher Holders) HUD Tenants Group and Housing Choice Voucher (Section 8) Friends .
  • Be patient. Depending on demand, it can take months or years to get a voucher approved. You must not give up!
  • Keep your information up to date. Contact the housing authority if your personal information changes, such as your address, your income level, or that of anyone who lives with you; if the marital status of any of the members of the household changes; or, if there is a new member of the family by birth or adoption.

What to do once your Section 8 voucher application is accepted

  • Be your own advocate. Ask the questions you need. If you are missing information or have questions, you can call or email the housing authority. This is a complicated process and it is important that you speak up for yourself when you do not understand something. Housing authorities also have special days to deal with inquiries from the public.
  • Deliver documents on time. Your move could be delayed if you submit the documents late.
  • Don’t miss the housing authority briefing. All housing authorities are required to offer an information session to give users the information they need before getting a voucher. You should receive an email with the date, time and place where the meeting will take place. If you can’t make it, be sure to contact your local housing authority. Some housing authorities deliver the voucher the same day as the information session, and others days or weeks later.

How to find housing with a Section 8 voucher.

You should start looking for an apartment as soon as you have your voucher. This is an image of a voucher, but yours could be different.

What to know about the voucher:

  • Check the number of bedrooms and ask the housing authority about the rent amount. The voucher has a limit on the number of bedrooms an apartment can have. The voucher does not come with a fixed amount to pay the rent. Before you begin your search, ask a housing authority employee about the rent range that you have access to.
  • Calculate the costs of gas, electricity and other services (such as heating). We have heard from people who had difficulty paying for basic services because they did not calculate the costs. If you’re not sure how much the voucher allows for these services, contact the housing authority or housing rights organization in your community.
  • You are responsible for paying the security deposit. When searching for apartments, ask the landlord for the amount of the security deposit, since you will be responsible for paying it. Check to see if you can ask your state’s security deposit programs to help cover that expense. Use the phrase “deposit assistance program” on search engines like Google, or ask your housing authority.

Tips for looking for homes:

  • Most of the people we interviewed advise documenting the search. Keep a diary of the places you visit and bring someone with you to help you take notes during your visit. It is also advisable to take pictures of the place with your phone. Here are some of the details you should note:
  • dates, times and addresses of the places where you will have meetings during the search process.
    • name and position of the people with whom you meet [m3] [MM4] .
    • address of the apartments and houses you want to rent and the type of building.
    • If your rental application is denied, it is IMPORTANT to write down the reasons.
  • Search homes online. HUD compiled a list of all the apartment buildings it has worked with within Section 8. Here you will find a map of car assistances of those locations. These are other places to look for housing:
  • GoSection8
    • Zillow
    • Facebook Marketplace
    • socialserve
    • trulia
    • rently

How to apply for an apartment or house:

When you have found the place where you want to live, you must request the rental contract.

  • Give your documents to the landlord. Make sure they are complete and sent to the housing authority. When your voucher is delivered, you will also receive documents that include an “Application for Tenant Approval.” Make sure the housing authority receives the “Application for Tenant Approval” as well as a copy of the rental agreement.
  • Read the rental agreement carefully. Ask questions if there is something you don’t understand. Expert housing attorneys commented that rental agreements can be complicated and difficult to understand. Sometimes they also include technicalities that put the tenant at a disadvantage. Before signing, the recommendation is to read the contract with a housing authority official, an expert on the subject, or a local attorney.
  • Please note inspections. Days or weeks after signing the rental agreement, the housing authority will schedule an appointment to inspect the place to verify that it is in good condition. You will be able to move into your new home upon passing the inspection.

What problems can arise in the process.

  • Limit date. From the information session, you will have at least 60 days (may be up to 90 or 120 days, depending on the housing authority) to find a place to live. It is normal to have difficulty finding housing in that period of time, especially if the person has a complicated work schedule.
  • If that is your case, you can ask the housing authority for an extension. “Do it sooner rather than later,” said Erin Kemple, executive director of the Connecticut Fair Housing Center.
    • The housing authority will give you an extension if you demonstrate the efforts you have made to find a place to live. Therefore, please photograph and write down the address and date of each visit you make.
  • Housing discrimination. Studies of the operation of the housing voucher program reveal that local zoning agencies, as well as building owners, put obstacles in the way of voucher users to limit them to living in certain areas of neighborhoods. .
  • Some states have responded with laws that combat these practices. As of December 2019, fourteen states have gone into effect laws prohibiting property owners from turning away tenants for using housing vouchers.
    • If you see a “Section 8 Not Accepted” sign in any of these states, tell your local housing authority, legal aid office, or an experienced housing justice attorney.
    • If you think having a voucher was the only reason you were NOT allowed to apply for an apartment, document the case and file a complaint with your local housing authority.

live on a voucher

We have heard from people with a lot of experience in Section 8 processes who commented that it is like living in any other apartment. However, there are certain challenges that arise when living with a voucher and that are frequently mentioned.

Here’s what you need to know when living on Section 8 vouchers:

  • Always pay your portion of the rent on time. Ask for a receipt every time and keep it.
  • Keep everything in writing. If the property owner tells you to pay for repairs, ask for a written explanation. If you are not responsible for paying for the repair, contact your housing authority or seek advice from a housing expert.
  • Move in when you have a voucher. If you’ve lived in one place for at least twelve months, you can move to a different neighborhood or state and still keep your voucher. This is called “ porting ” and must be done through an application. HUD offers training and forms to make these transfers. Find the information at this link .
  • A voucher cannot be transferred to another person, unless the family is dissolved. The voucher can remain in the household if the holder dies, gets divorced, or is convicted of a crime. It is prohibited to inherit or sell the vouchers.