Public Housing
updated April 4, 2024

Public housing is rental housing for people with low income that is owned and managed by public housing authorities (PHAs). Public housing comes in many sizes and types, from single family houses to large apartment buildings.

If you qualify for public housing, you have the option of spending about 30% of your income on your housing. If your income increases, you can stay in your public housing unit and choose to pay a flat monthly rent that is not tied to your income (even at full cost, public housing units are usually cheaper than most market-rate rentals).

Differences between public housing, Section 8 tenant-based housing choice vouchers, and project-based vouchers

Public housing, tenant-based Section 8 housing choice vouchers, and project-based vouchers have a lot in common. They all:

  • Are for people with low income
  • Require you pay a lower than normal rent, and
  • Are administered by PHAs.

However, there are big differences:

  • With public housing, you live in units owned by a PHA, while Section 8 lets you live in privately owned units.
  • With public housing and project-based vouchers, you don’t get to choose what unit you live in, while tenant-based Section 8 housing choice vouchers let you choose any privately owned apartment that meets certain conditions set by your PHA.

Who Can Get It

Public housing is for people with low income. The exact income limit when you apply depends 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 public housing authority (PHA). If your income goes up after you’ve moved into public housing, you can still live there, but will have to pay more rent.

When you apply for public housing, the people reviewing your application will also look at:

  • Your references, to make sure you and your family will be good tenants
  • Your history as a tenant
  • Your credit history
  • Your criminal background

If you have had problems with a housing authority in the past or owe money for rent or damages to a housing authority, you probably won’t be allowed to live in public housing.

Public housing does not include additional services like personal care assistance. If you need services that can help you live in your public housing unit, you may be able to get help paying for them from programs like Medical Assistance (MA) and MA-Waiver programs. Contact your local county or tribal human services office to learn about your options.

You can appeal if your application is denied

If your application for public housing is denied, the denial letter from the housing authority has to tell you why you were denied and how you can appeal the decision. Appeal the decision right away, because there will be a time limit. If you wish to speak with a lawyer, try your local legal aid office or the Volunteer Lawyers Network.


Apply for public housing at local public housing authorities. It’s good to contact more than one PHA, because not all PHAs offer public housing and those that do usually have waiting lists.

When you call a PHA, they will tell you if they have public housing units or if there are other housing benefits that could help you. If they do have public housing, go ahead and apply. If you can, apply to more than one PHA, because that may make you more likely to be offered the type of public housing unit you want.

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 disability, make sure you note it on the application, because some units are reserved for people with disabilities.

Get Help

To learn more about public housing:

You can search for places with the HousingLink search engine. When searching with HousingLink, go to the “Subsidized Housing” section and check the "Subsidized Housing (% of income, Project Based Section 8, Public Housing, Section 811/PRAD)" option.

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