Section 8 can be a great resource if you are struggling to find affordable housing. However, Section 8 housing is not always easy to find or request, as only homes must meet the program’s standards and the landlord of the property must accept the voucher system. Likewise, completing an application requires you to know your eligibility for the program and basic information about your finances.

You need to know how to secure low-income housing subsidies from the government, which can be complicated even after you are accepted into the voucher program. While you may have an idea as to how Section 8 rentals operate and the voucher program selects its recipients, there are plenty of things you may not know about the program and your responsibilities as an approved renter. To ensure you apply for Section 8 correctly and have the best chance to receive a voucher from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), read the sections below.

What is Section 8?

The Section 8 HUD program enables landlords to offer units at cheaper rates. Because the federal government pays for a portion of the rent, Section 8 housing is more affordable and regulated than typical rental rates.

Recipients of the program enroll by contacting their local Public Housing Agency (PHA), and the PHA determines if they have enough funds and housing resources to allot to another low-income tenant. Since there is a finite amount of resources available, the Section 8 waiting list helps the neediest beneficiaries receive a voucher as soon as possible.

HUD’s program operates within the private housing sector and allows beneficiaries to choose their own housing accommodations that would best suit their needs. Each PHA is encouraged to provide beneficiaries with guidance and support when they are searching for Section 8 rentals, but the ultimate rental decision is up to the beneficiaries.

The landlord must agree to HUD’s terms, and the tenant must sign a lease before the voucher expires. This system guarantees that needy individuals and families are not living in poor conditions and have rental units that meet the minimum standards of health and safety as specified by the PHA in control.

Learn About Section 8 Requirements

Section 8 housing is only available to you if you and your family are U.S. citizens or non-citizens with eligible immigration status. Additionally, your eligibility for Section 8 is determined by your total annual gross income and family size. According to the HUD, your household income cannot exceed 50 percent of the median income for the area in which you are choosing to live.

However, the HUD requires PHAs to distribute 75 percent of all their vouchers to applicants whose household incomes do not exceed 30 percent of the median income for the area. Consequently, it may be difficult to qualify for vouchers if there are other more needy applicants with more reduced circumstances.

Note: Be sure to divulge the most current and pertinent information during the Section 8 application process, as the PHA will verify your details with your employer, bank and other government agencies you may be involved with.

How to Apply for Section 8

To find out if you are eligible for Section 8 homes for rent, you must complete an application. Your local PHA maintains all Section 8 information and applications for your area, so you must contact your PHA to begin the application process. Pay attention to local preferences and waiting list availabilities before spending valuable time filling out an application, however.

If the Section 8 housing list contains too many potential voucher recipients, the PHA may be forced to deny future applicants. PHAs may be able to direct denied applicants toward other public housing assistance options in the city or state.

How to Use the Section 8 Voucher

Depending on your PHA’s Section 8 openings, you may receive a voucher within a few weeks or months of applying for the program. Your voucher lets you show landlords and unit owners that you are subsidized by the government to be able to afford housing.

Typically, rental units will state, “We take Section 8” on their rental listings online to make it easier for you to locate places that will accept your voucher. However, you may also discuss the possibility of a landlord accepting Section 8 even if the listing does not clearly state that vouchers are accepted.

You are advised to use sites like GoSection8 and regular apartment- and house-hunting apps like Zillow to aid in your search for rentals. Remember that it is your responsibility to find a place that meets your needs, not the PHA’s. Once receiving the voucher, your PHA will give you detailed instructions on how to begin your search during a briefing, but you must finalize a lease on your own.

Next, you need to request tenancy approval for the unit you have chosen. Even if a landlord claims that units are Section 8 rentals, your PHA must give their written consent for you to use your voucher for a unit. To do so, you must submit a request for tenancy approval form and an unexecuted copy of your lease to the PHA within the expiration period of the voucher. Your PHA will approve rental requests if the rental passes an inspection, is deemed affordable and meets all other HUD standards.

After the PHA inspects your Section 8 home, all you need to do is move into it. The final step is to set a move-in date, negotiate all the terms on your lease and sign it once you have determined your final rent cost after the subsidy is calculated.

Throughout your tenancy, you are required to keep in contact with your PHA, pay your remaining rent on time and maintain your eligibility for the program. If you fail to do so, the HUD has the right to terminate rent subsidy). As a result, your landlord may decide to evict you because you cannot pay the full rent. Therefore, it is imperative that you review all the terms of your Section 8 subsidy and your lease to ensure you will retain your housing for at least one year after your initial move-in date.