Apartment Living BlogApartment Tips › Learn More About Section 8 Vouchers

Section 8 vouchers (aka “housing choice vouchers”) are provided through a federal program to assist very low-income families, people with disabilities and the elderly in affording decent housing in the private market. That housing may be a single-family home, a townhome, or an apartment. This is a different federal program than what is referred to as “Section 8 housing,” which is project-based. In other words, the entire community is made up of housing for low-income families, people with disabilities and the elderly. So, someone with a Section 8 voucher is free to choose any housing that meets the requirements of the program and does not have to rent a unit located in subsidized housing projects.

Federal funds are made available to public housing agencies (PHAs) to administer the voucher program. The money is paid to the landlord directly by the PHA on behalf of the voucher-holding family who then pays the difference between the actual rent charged by the landlord and the amount of their voucher.
There are not enough dollars (and thus not enough vouchers!) for everyone who might need them. This is a government program, so there are rules and conditions as to who gets vouchers from the dollars that are available. Waiting lists for vouchers are very common.

Even if you have a Section 8 voucher, it does not necessarily mean that you will find the apartment home you are looking for (or if you find it, that you will actually be able to rent). Why is that?

  • You will be limited to the size of the apartment (and number of bedrooms) based on the size of your household.
  • Apartments must meet minimum standards of health and safety based on the determination of the PHA that issued your voucher.
  • Many private sector landlords, even those who have excellent health and safety standards, do not want to get involved with the federal government more than they have to, so they choose not to accept Section 8 vouchers because of the inspections and extra paperwork.
  • Often a private sector landlord does not have to accept Section 8 vouchers. However, sometimes the state or local fair housing laws will require a landlord to do so (assuming that as a voucher holder you meet all of the other landlord requirements for becoming a resident). So, it will be helpful in your search to know whether landlords in your area have this requirement.
  • Unrelated to your voucher, there might be circumstances that would preclude your application being accepted by a landlord. For example, whether you have a criminal background, how well you have managed your credit and rental history previously, and bankruptcy filings.
  • Even if you have cleared all the hurdles – you have found a potentially suitable apartment with PHA approval; your prospective landlord is willing to (or must) accept your voucher; you have a good “track record” from the landlord perspective – you still may not qualify for the housing. That is because rents are high right now. So, even with your voucher, you may not have the required income to support the balance of the rent that would be due for the apartment you would like to lease.
    As with life itself, the rental quest for those with Section 8 vouchers can have its obstacles. But as with life, there can be many success stories as well. Hopefully, your search for an apartment will have a happy ending and you will find that special place to call home.

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    About :

    Nadeen Green is the senior legal counsel for For Rent Media Solutions. She has been an attorney and has taught Fair Housing law to the multi-family housing industry for decades, presenting more than 1,150 programs to management companies and apartment associations nationwide, including the National Apartment Association, IREM and AIM. Her reader-friendly articles and guest blogs appear regularly in publications and on websites, and she blogs as Fair Housing Lady at http://fairhousing.forrent.com/. Nadeen lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband, Ned.


    1. Awilda Vázquez says:
      My husband and I have been talking about the possibility of living in Houston , Tx to live. Since my work , I will continue working via email , but my husband has to get a job. I have been doing an Internet search for rental properties that do not require credit, and that’s why we’re going, we lost our home. I wish you could guide us .
    2. Nadeen can you please enlighten me as I search for assistance for my daughter? Every resource in my community seems to only lead to another bureaucratic dead end. As a first time user of the system, I am at a complete lose on how to even get ON a waiting list.
      • Hi, McKinney. Thanks for reaching out to us. If you have not already done so, contact your local housing authority to get all the details as to applying. Income is going to be the first threshold question and that will relate to the Area Median Income (AMI) for the area where your daughter lives. There are other basic requirements such as citizenship (or certain categories of legal residents) and owned assets.

        AffordableHousingOnline.com is a good resource to consider. They suggest that you find your local housing authority (because while Section 8 is a Federal program, it is administered at the local level) by using their housing authority search tool, so check out their website. Their Open Waiting Lists page can help you find an open waiting list in your daughter’s area, but as you have come to know, those waiting lists can be years long.

        If you are assisting your daughter because she has some form of disability (thus needing your help in this process) you may also want to seek out organizations that are focused on disabilities and housing for those with such (and more specifically as might relate to your daughter).

        Best of luck!

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