If a government agency helps pay your rent, you live in subsidized housing. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) pays most housing subsidies.
Types of Subsidized Housing
There are two types of subsidized housing: site-based and tenant-based. In site-based subsidized housing, the subsidy is attached to the rental unit. If a site-based tenant moves out of a unit, the subsidy usually does not move with the tenant. Site-based housing can be privately owned or it can be public housing. Public housing units are owned and managed by local housing commissions.
In tenant-based subsidized housing, the subsidy is assigned to the tenant, who must find a landlord who is willing and eligible to participate in the subsidy program. The Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher is the most common type of tenant-based subsidy. A voucher tenant can move with the voucher to another unit (even in another city or state) through a process called portability.
Qualifying for Subsidized Housing or Vouchers
HUD uses a formula to see if your income is less than one of three limits: low income, very low income, or extremely low income. You can find the income levels for your county at the HUD Income Limits website.
Your income must be less than the low income limit to qualify for any subsidized housing. Most subsidized housing is for households with very low and extremely low incomes.
Other factors may also affect your eligibility for subsidized housing and vouchers. Subsidized housing providers can set preferences for applicants based on factors. Examples of these factors are being a:
- Senior citizen
- Disabled person
- Survivor of domestic violence
You must either be a U.S. citizen or an eligible immigrant to qualify for subsidized housing. If a household has members without eligible immigration status, it may qualify for assistance on a “prorated” basis. This is true so as long as at least one member has an eligible status.
A subsidized housing provider might disqualify you from getting subsidized housing or a voucher for a number of reasons. These reasons include poor rent and utility payment history, and a record of drug-related or violent criminal activity.
If there is a negative factor in your background, the subsidized housing provider may consider it along with all the other facts of your situation.
Get a copy of the admission policy from the private owner or from your local housing agency to see what factors they use to decide who is eligible for vouchers in your area.
Just because you’re eligible for housing assistance does not mean that you will get it. Many more people qualify for housing subsidies than there are spaces available. Most local housing authorities have waiting lists.
Applying for Subsidized Housing and Vouchers
If you need housing assistance, contact local housing commissions for application information about the public housing and voucher programs. You can find contact information on HUD’s Public Housing Authority Contact Information website.
For privately owned housing, you can go to the HUD Affordable Apartment Search. Another good place to find site-based subsidized housing providers is MSHDA’s subsidized housing locator. Ask the provider what subsidized housing is available, how long the waiting list is, and if it has any preferences.
The subsidized housing provider will need to verify the information on your application. Be ready to show birth certificates, tax returns, and other documents. You will need to sign a release of information.
After you apply, the housing provider will notify you in writing whether you are eligible for subsidized housing. If you’re eligible, you’ll be put on a waiting list unless there is housing available. If a waiting list has gotten too long, a housing authority may close it to new applicants. You can be on a waiting list for more than one housing authority at a time. Providers can wait to do some eligibility screening (for criminal history, for example) until an applicant nears the top of the waiting list.
If you’re not eligible, the housing authority must tell you why. If you disagree with the finding, you can request an informal hearing or meeting. You may want to talk to a lawyer to see if your denial was improper. Use the Guide to Legal Help to find lawyers and legal services in your area.
When you apply for subsidized housing or a voucher, you must certify your income. You must recertify your income at least once a year if you continue to use housing assistance.
If you live in subsidized housing, the manager of the property or the housing commission is responsible for collecting and verifying your income information for recertification. You must supply the requested information, and sign consent forms and asset declarations to verify your income.
Rent in Subsidized Housing
Before you can move into subsidized housing, you must sign a lease. Your rent will usually be the highest of the following:
- 10% of your monthly income
- 30% of your adjusted monthly income (income minus deductions)
- A minimum rent of up to $50
Annual deductions to your adjusted income include all of the following:
- $480 for each dependent household member
- $400 for any elderly or disabled household members
- Medical deductions beyond 3% of household income if the head of the family is elderly or disabled
To qualify for a voucher, you must have very low-income for your area. If you get a voucher, you can rent a home from a private landlord and part of the rent will be paid by your local housing authority. You must pay at least 30% of your monthly income as rent. Most voucher households pay more. The housing authority pays the remainder of the rent up to a fixed “fair market” value for your area.
After you are approved for a voucher, you have 60 days to find a home to rent. That time can be extended. The home must meet the local housing authority’s requirements for health and safety.
When you rent a home with HUD assistance, you have the same rights and responsibilities as other tenants. To learn more, read Tenant Rights and Responsibilities and Rights of Tenants With Disabilities.
If you begin making more than the income limit for your housing, you will probably not be eligible to renew your lease or voucher.
Losing Your Subsidized Housing
While you live in subsidized housing, your landlord can’t evict you or refuse to renew your lease without good cause. This means you can’t lose your home as long as you’re meeting the terms of your lease. If you commit a serious lease violation or many lesser violations, you could be evicted for good cause.
There is an exception for the voucher program. If you have a voucher, your landlord does not have to renew the lease when it ends.
If your landlord refuses to continue your lease for good cause, your landlord can issue a termination of tenancy notice. The notice must clearly state the reasons for a proposed termination.
Some examples of good cause for eviction or non-renewal are:
- You repeatedly refuse to comply with lease terms, including late rent payments and creating excessive noise or traffic that seriously disrupts your neighbors;
- You haven’t recertified your income;
- You have used the home for illegal activity; and
- You have been involved in drug related or violent criminal activity.
In most cases, public housing tenants have the right to a hearing before the housing commission can file an eviction complaint. You must request the hearing, usually within 10 days of the notice. To learn more, read Appealing Your Denied Application for a Housing Subsidy.
You also can not be evicted unless your landlord goes to court to evict you. To learn more about eviction, read Eviction: What Is It and How Does It Start?
Losing Your Voucher
If you get a voucher to help pay your rent, you could lose it for any of the following reasons:
- You are evicted for a serious violation of your lease;
- You use illegal drugs or abuse alcohol;
- You engage in violent criminal activity.
If you lose your voucher, you do not necessarily have to move out of the home if you have not been evicted. You can choose to stay in the home if you pay the full amount of the rent yourself.
You have the right to notice and a hearing before your voucher is terminated, but you must promptly request the hearing. To learn more, read Appealing Your Denied Application for a Housing Subsidy.
You can also be evicted from your home if the owner has good cause to evict you. To learn more about eviction, read Eviction: What Is It and How Does It Start?