Finding Home
updated April 4, 2024

While many housing options are wonderful, you have to be realistic about which ones might work for you. Many factors can limit your options, including:

  • You currently get benefits from a program that will only help you if you live in certain housing settings.
  • You don’t want to live alone because you need help with some things.
  • You have a criminal history or poor credit or rental history.

Depending on these limitations, you may be able to figure out which housing settings won’t work for you, which also means you’ll have a better idea about the housing options that could work.

Note: Later in this article, we will discuss what to do about paying for housing if your income is low.

Program Eligibility

If you qualify for certain programs, they may only allow you to live in certain settings. Here are some examples:

It’s important for you to know how the benefits you get may limit where you can live. Talk to the agency that manages your benefits program to learn more about what limitations may exist.

You have to know what these limits are before you start looking for new housing, because otherwise, you might lose your benefits.

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If You Think You Cannot Live Alone

Maybe you’d like to live on your own, but think you can’t. For example, if it’s hard for you to prepare your own meals, you may think you have to move into a place that provides meals. That would limit your housing options.

However, just because you are going through changes doesn’t always mean you have to move. Live Well at Home is an excellent resource that can help you evaluate your living situation. It lists common reasons why people think they can’t live alone anymore, including:

  • Needing help with everyday tasks
  • Getting injured after a fall
  • Not having anybody around who can help
  • Having a caregiver who is feeling stressed
  • Feeling lonely
  • Becoming more forgetful

For each of these concerns, Live Well at Home explains what solutions may exist, ranging from accessibility improvements to the home to getting services. Earlier in this article, we looked at some home modifications and services that can help you live on your own.

Later in this article, we discuss programs that can help you pay for these services.

Strategies and Resources to Deal with Other Possible Barriers

Other significant issues that can affect you are related to problems you had in the past. When you apply for an apartment or other housing, the landlord will do a background check to see if you have a criminal history or a poor rental or credit history. If you apply for a benefits program like the Section 8 housing choice voucher program, the program will also see whether you’ve had a poor history with other public housing programs.

Because this information is easier for landlords to get than ever, it may make things difficult if you’ve had these problems in the past.

Credit Problems or No Credit History

When you want to rent a housing unit, the housing management will usually check your credit score. Your credit score is a measurement of how well you pay your bills. If you don’t pay your bills on time, don’t make the minimum payments, or go over your credit limit, your credit score will go down. Your credit score is very important to landlords because it helps them decide if you are a “good risk.” If your credit score isn’t good, landlords may think that you won’t pay your rent on time, and they won’t want to rent out apartments to you.

Some people have no credit history at all because they haven’t taken out loans in the past or used credit cards regularly. If you have no credit history, landlords won’t know if you will pay your rent on time and they may require you to have a cosigner on your rental lease, meaning somebody else has to sign and say that they’ll pay your rent if you don’t.

The better your credit score, the easier it will be for you to find a place to rent. Because it can take well over a year to clean up problems in your credit history, it is critical to improve your credit condition. Nonprofit credit repair organizations may be able to help you.

Another strategy if your credit history isn’t good is to provide a reference person whom a potential landlord can contact. Good references could be previous landlords with whom you had good relationships or your current employer, who can vouch that you have enough steady income to pay rent.

Poor Rental History

Have you ever been evicted? Being evicted means you were kicked out of a place you were renting. A landlord must go through specific legal steps to evict a renter and the eviction must be justified. A few reasons a landlord might evict you include:

  • You didn’t pay the rent on time
  • You damaged the property, or
  • A person not on the lease agreement was living in the apartment.

These are just a few examples. If your landlord went through the legal process to evict you, there will be a written record of this.

If you’ve been evicted before, when you apply for an apartment, the owners or managers of it will be able to look up your name in the court records and find out that you were evicted. They may not want to rent out their apartments to a person who has been evicted in the past, making it harder for you to find an apartment.

Poor History with Public Housing Programs

If you have had problems with a public housing authority (PHA) 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 and may not be able to get help from other programs, like the Section 8 housing choice voucher (HCV) program.

Here are some examples of past problems you might have had:

  • You were evicted from public housing
  • You were kicked out of a housing benefits program for bad behavior
  • You committed fraud or other crimes related to the housing program, or
  • You owe any housing authority money for unpaid rent or damages.

If you do not qualify for a program because you had a problem in the past with a housing authority and the problem was related to your disability, you may be able to ask for an exception to this policy as a reasonable accommodation.

For example, if you have a mental illness and you had the problem with the housing authority when you were not getting treatment or not on medication, you may be able to request an exception to the policy if you are now getting treatment.

You can find someone to help you ask for an exception at your local legal aid office.

Criminal Background

If you have a criminal background, potential landlords may find this information through public records. Unfortunately, this can make it much harder for you to find housing. It can be especially difficult if you are a registered sex offender. Your criminal background may also make it a lot harder to get help from public housing benefits, depending on the crime and how long ago it took place.

One resource that can help is If you wish to speak with a lawyer, try your local legal aid office or the Volunteer Lawyers Network. Beyond Backgrounds is a program that helps people with past problems get housing. It also can help property owners and managers rent to people who have had problems in the past.

Criminal Record Expungement or Sealing

There is a process called "expungement" or "sealing" that can prevent companies, employers, landlords, or agencies from viewing some or all of a criminal record. Only some criminal records can be expunged. For example, some violent offenses cannot be expunged.

To get help with expungement, you need to talk to a lawyer. For low-cost or free help, try your local legal aid office or the Volunteer Lawyers Network.