Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) Program
updated September 22, 2017

The Section 8 housing choice voucher (HCV) program helps people with low income afford housing. The program is funded by the federal government and administered by local public housing authorities (PHAs).

The HCV program is best known for helping people pay for rent in any privately owned housing that accepts a Section 8 voucher. This is sometimes called the “tenant-based voucher program.”

If you qualify for Section 8, you will end up spending 30% – 40% of your income on your housing and Section 8 will pay the rest.

Other ways Section 8 can help

In addition to tenant-based housing choice vouchers, Section 8 may help you with:

  • Project-based vouchers, which also help pay for rent in privately owned rental housing, but only in specific buildings where the owners have agreed to reserve units for people with low income
  • The Section 8 Homeownership Program, which helps buy a home and meet monthly homeownership expenses

Who Can Get It

Tenant-based support from the Section 8 housing choice voucher program is for people with low income who want to be able to choose a rental unit to live in. The exact income limits depend on the number of people in your household and where you live. The best way to know the income limit in an area is by contacting a local PHA. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) also lists income limits. Households with income that is below 50% of median income (what HUD considers “very low income”) or lower may qualify, but most people on Section 8 are below 30% of median income.

When you apply for Section 8, the people reviewing your application will also look at:

  • Your history with federal housing programs
  • Your criminal background
  • Your credit history

Learn more about Section 8 housing choice voucher eligibility on Disability Benefits 101.

Section 8 is hard to get, even if you qualify

Even if your income is low enough that you qualify for Section 8, you probably won't be able to get help from it. That's because Section 8 can only help a limited number of people. At most public housing authorities, the waiting lists for the Section 8 housing choice voucher program are either closed or are very long, so you might have to wait several years before Section 8 starts helping you.

If you cannot get help from Section 8 right away, get on the waiting list if you can, because it might help you in the future. As long as you are on the waiting list, keep the housing authority updated on your address and contact information, so that they can contact you. If they cannot find you, you could lose your place on the waiting list.

At the same time, you need to look into other programs that may help while you are waiting for Section 8.

Housing Settings Where the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program May Help

Tenant-based support from the Section 8 housing choice voucher program helps people rent any apartment or home where a landlord will accept Section 8 as a form of payment. This means that you can choose the apartment you want to live in instead of being limited to a housing project or low-income housing units.

If you get Section 8 and need additional services like personal care assistance, you may be able to get help paying for those services from programs like Medical Assistance (MA) and MA-Waiver programs. Contact your local county human services agency to learn about your options.

Application

Apply for Section 8 at any local PHA. It’s good to apply to more than one PHA, because most of them have waiting lists. If you’re put on a waiting list, you probably won’t get any benefits for a long time. By applying to more than one authority, you are more likely to start getting benefits sooner. Some PHAs do not have open waiting lists. That means there is no way to apply for Section 8 at that PHA. You can check on the status of waiting lists in the Twin Cities metro area on HousingLink.

Each housing authority has its own application form you will have to fill out. These application forms ask you to state how many people live in your household, how they are related, how much income you have, and if you have a disability.

If you have a problem applying for a Section 8 program, get help from the housing authority staff — you never have to pay to apply for Section 8. It is illegal for somebody to sell you a Section 8 application or voucher.

Section 8 and other housing benefits

When you apply for some other housing programs, you may also have to apply for a Section 8 voucher. These other programs are designed to give you temporary help until you can get Section 8 or are meant to be fallbacks for people who can’t get Section 8. That means you may end up applying for Section 8 even though there’s no way for you to actually get it.

For example, to get MSA Housing Assistance, you may have to apply for Section 8 first and will only get MSA Housing Assistance if you are unable to get Section 8. In that case, you would explain that you tried to apply for Section 8 and that you were either denied for Section 8, placed on a Section 8 waiting list, or that the Section 8 waiting list of your local PHA was closed. You may need to provide documentation showing that you tried to apply.

Finding a Place

If you are approved for a tenant-based Section 8 housing choice voucher, you need to find a place. The place you find will have to be within size and rent limits that are set by your PHA and the landlord will have to agree to accept Section 8 as payment. There are different ways to find a place to rent. Here are a few you can try:

  • Search on websites such as HousingLink
  • Look at bulletin boards in community locations
  • Check ads in newspapers
  • Get recommendations from people you know, and
  • Ask your PHA and other nonprofits that help people with housing.

Once you find an apartment that will accept Section 8, you will spend about 30% – 40% of your income on your housing and Section 8 will pay the rest.

Get Help

To learn more about the Section 8 housing choice voucher program, contact:

Read more on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) website.

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