Keeping Your Housing
updated April 15, 2024

If you get housing benefits like Section 8 or MSA Housing Assistance or you live in public housing or in a project-based unit, you may think that you’ll have to move out if you start working or if something changes in your situation.

Understand the Rules

When you get benefits, you must make sure you understand the rules and keep in good communication with the agency running it. These are some of the common rules a housing program may have:

  • The amount of rent you have to pay each month may depend on your income. For example, if you get Section 8 benefits and have $500 in income each month, you might have to pay $150 per month in rent, and Section 8 would pay the rest. If your income goes up to $1,000 per month, your rent payment might go up to $300 per month. Even though you’d be paying more, you might still qualify for Section 8.
  • Special rules may help you when you start working. For example, the Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program means that if work causes your rent to go up, the extra rent you pay can be saved up in a special account that you can access later.
  • You always have to report changes in your income or living situation. If your income goes up or down or if somebody moves in or out of your place, you have to tell the office of the program that gives you benefits. If you don’t, you might stop getting benefits.
  • The program may only agree to help you if you live in an apartment that meets certain conditions. For example, if you live alone, the program might say that you could only stay in a one-bedroom apartment.
  • A program may only help people who are in certain situations. For example, HOPWA only helps people with HIV/AIDS, while other programs only help people with disabilities or seniors. If you get HOPWA benefits because a family member is HIV-positive and that family member moves out of your apartment, HOPWA will no longer help pay for your apartment.
  • You may have to live in certain locations to get help from a program. For example, if you qualify for project-based housing or public housing, you may not get to choose what unit you want to live in and if you move out of your unit, you might stop getting benefits.
  • There may be a time limit for staying on the program. Some programs have time limits, but often you can stay on them longer if you apply for other benefits when required.

Learn more about the exact rules for the benefits you get in HB101’s Programs section.

Rules That Help You Start Working Without Losing Benefits

You might be worried that if you start working, you’ll lose the benefits that help you pay for your housing. The good news is that most housing benefits programs are designed so that as your income goes up, your situation will usually get better. For example, many programs, including Section 8 and public housing, require you to pay about 30% of your income as rent. That means that if you start working and your income goes up by $100 per month, you’ll only have to pay $30 more in rent and will get to keep the other $70.

Example

Sheila and her two children are on Section 8. She currently works and makes $700 per month. Her rent is 30% of $700, which is $210 per month. Section 8 pays the rest of her rent.

At her job, Sheila’s going to work more hours and make $1,200 per month. Her family will keep getting Section 8 benefits, but now will have to pay 30% of $1,200 in rent, which is $360 per month. Section 8 will still pay the rest.

Their income will go up $500 per month, while their rent will only go up $150 per month, so they’ll be better off.

Read the articles in HB101’s Programs section to see how your income might impact your benefits.

Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) Program

The Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program helps families whose income goes up because of work. When the family income goes up and the program starts paying less for rent, the FSS program takes the money that it saves on rent and sets that money aside for the family. The family can use these savings for purchases, such as the down payment on a home or a car.

The FSS program can help people who get help from programs like:

Check with your public housing authority (PHA) or with the administrator of your housing program to see if the FSS can help you. Learn more about the FSS program.

Example
Clyde and Bertha live with their two children and have $2,000 in monthly income. Due to their low income, they qualify for the Section 8 housing choice voucher program. With the voucher, they pay about $600/month in rent (30% of $2,000), even though their apartment costs $1,800/month. Section 8 pays the remaining $1,200/month.


Bertha starts doing some childcare work and the family income goes up to $3,000 each month. Because her earnings went up, after their annual reexamination they have to pay about $900/month as rent (30% of $3,000), while Section 8 pays the remaining $900/month for the family's apartment. This means that Section 8 is paying $300 less per month than it used to pay and Clyde and Bertha are paying $300 more.

Because the family is part of the FSS program, the PHA that administers Clyde and Bertha's Section 8 benefits takes that $300 extra that they are paying each month and sets it aside for the family. A year later, there is $3,600, which Bertha can use to make the down payment on a car.

Staying in Your Place After You Stop Qualifying for Benefits

If you live in public housing, you can stay in your place even if you stop qualifying to get help paying for your rent. What this means is that you will have to pay the full rent for your apartment on your own. This can be good for you, since full rent in public housing units is often lower than it is in privately owned housing.

If you are in a program that lets you choose a privately owned unit, like the Section 8 housing choice voucher program, you also can stay in your privately owned apartment even if you don’t qualify for Section 8 anymore. As with public housing, you will have to pay your full rent. The difference is that the full rent in your privately owned apartment will likely be at market rates, which means it won’t be cheaper than other, similar apartments.