Keeping Your Housing
updated April 21, 2017

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 let you start working without worrying that your earnings will impact your housing. For example, if you have a disability, the Earned Income Disregard (EID) means that you can start working and your rent won’t go up at all for an entire year due to your earned income.
  • 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.

The Earned Income Disregard for People with Disabilities

Some housing programs, including Section 8, public housing, and HOPWA, have a rule called the Earned Income Disregard (EID) that helps people with disabilities on housing benefits start working.

With the EID, if you have a disability and start working, the money you earn won’t be counted for the first year after you start working. That means your rent won’t go up. During the second year after you start working, only half of your work income will be counted, so your rent won’t go up as much as it otherwise would. After the second year, your entire income will be counted by the program.

The exact rules for the EID can vary depending on the benefits you get and your family situation, so ask the office that runs your program about it.

Learn more about the Earned Income Disregard on Disability Benefits 101.

Example

Beverly has an apartment that costs $800 a month in rent. However, she only pays $100 a month, while Section 8 pays the rest. She’s worried that she’s going to have to start paying more rent, because she just got a new job where she makes $1,000 each month.

Beverly talks to her caseworker at her local public housing authority (PHA). The worker tells her that because she has a disability, she qualifies for the Earned Income Disregard (EID). This means that the PHA won’t count her income and Beverly will keep paying the same amount for her apartment, $100, even though her income has gone up.

A year passes, and Beverly is doing well at her job. The PHA reviews Beverly’s situation and starts counting $500 of her earnings (not all $1,000). Beverly has to pay 30% of that as rent on her apartment, which equals $150 ($500 x 30%). This is in addition to the original $100 she was paying before she got her job. So her new rent is $250 per month.

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.