How To Qualify for a Section 8 Voucher

4 Basic Requirements for a Section 8 Voucher

An illustration shows the four Section 8 qualifying factors: family status; income; citizenship; eviction history.

The Balance

An unexpected job loss, disability, or injury could leave you scrambling to pay the bills. If your emergency fund runs out, you may find it difficult to pay rent. In that scenario, you may be able to get help with housing through Section 8.

Section 8 is a federal program administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The program provides eligible families and individuals monthly rental assistance.

But who qualifies for Section 8? If you need housing assistance, it's helpful to know who's eligible and how to apply.

Key Takeaways

  • Section 8 is a federal program that provides vouchers to help low-income families and individuals pay for housing.
  • Who qualifies for Section 8 is determined largely by household size, income, and where you live.
  • U.S. citizenship is required to qualify for Section 8, although some non-citizens may also be eligible for housing vouchers through the program.
  • Contacting your local Public Housing Agency is recommended to find out who qualifies for Section 8 in your area.

What Is Section 8 Housing?

Section 8 housing is a federal program that provides vouchers to help low-income families and individuals pay for housing. Program participants can choose their own housing, as long as it meets the requirements of the program. That means people who use Section 8 are not limited to subsidized housing projects, but may look for single-family homes, townhomes, or apartments.

How Section 8 Vouchers Work

Housing-choice vouchers are issued by Public Housing Agencies (PHAs). The federal government provides money to the PHAs to issue the vouchers to people eligible for Section 8.

If an individual or family receives a housing-choice voucher, it provides what's effectively a discount on their rent. The PHA pays a housing subsidy to the landlord on behalf of the Section 8 recipient. The recipient then pays the difference between the actual rent owed and the amount covered by Section 8.

Under certain conditions, families may be authorized by their PHA to use their voucher to purchase a modest home instead of renting.

How Much Help Does Section 8 Provide?

Section 8 rules don't specify a set dollar amount that individuals or families can receive to apply toward rent payments. Instead, the PHA establishes a payment standard, which is a baseline amount needed to rent a moderately-priced dwelling in the local housing market.

A family receiving housing vouchers can choose to rent a dwelling that's above or below the payment standard set by the PHA. In most cases, recipients must pay 30% of their monthly adjusted gross income for rent and utilities. In some cases, this can increase to 40% if the rent is higher than the payment standard.

For example, say that you live in Los Angeles. The Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles sets the payment standard for a two-bedroom unit at $2,248. If you qualified for the program with an income of $2,800 per month, then using the 30% rule, you'd be responsible for paying $840 toward rent and utilities.

In Philadelphia, the payment standard is applied based on fair market rents by zip code. Standards are categorized as basic, traditional, midrange, opportunity, or high opportunity rents, based on where the properties are located. So a two-bedroom unit in a basic rent area would have a payment standard of $1,012. Meanwhile, a two-bedroom unit in a high opportunity rent area has a payment standard of $1,870.

Assume you're approved for the program with an income of $1,900 a month. You choose a unit in the middle that has a payment standard of $1,287. You'd be responsible for paying $570 toward rent and utilities for that apartment.

Baseline payment standards don't dictate what a landlord can charge for rent.

Why Section 8 Exists

The Section 8 program exists to help low-income families and individuals find affordable housing. The program was authorized by Congress in 1974 and developed by HUD to provide housing subsidies for eligible renters. Section 8 was largely intended to be a response to the increasing amount of income families had to dedicate to paying for rental housing.

Section 8 Voucher Requirements

Who qualifies for Section 8? The answer is not simple. It depends on your ability to meet four specific requirements as established by HUD.

Income Limits

People who apply for Section 8 are subject to income limits, which are set annually by HUD. These income limits are calculated as a percentage of the median income for individual areas of the country. There are three income-limit tiers:

  • Extremely low income: 30% of the area's median income level
  • Very low income: 50% of the area's median income level
  • Moderately low income: 80% of the area's median income level

These income limits take into account where you live as well as the number of people in your household. Using Los Angeles as an example again, the 2021 limits for a four-person household are as follows:

  • Extremely low income: $35,450
  • Very low income: $59,100
  • Moderately low income: $94,600

HUD offers an online query tool that you can use to check income limits in your area.

Priority for Section 8 housing vouchers is usually given to people who are in the extremely low income limits.

Citizenship Status

Section 8 eligibility is limited to U.S. citizens and non-citizens who qualify for certain immigrant categories. When you apply for Section 8, you and every person in your household must sign a certification form stating that you are:

  • A U.S. citizen, OR
  • An eligible alien, OR
  • Choosing not to claim eligibility status

A declaration is enough to meet HUD standards for verifying citizenship. However, your PHA could ask for additional documentation, including:

  • U.S. passport(s)
  • Resident alien card(s)
  • Registration card(s)
  • Social Security card(s)

Eligible immigrants may also be required to sign a declaration attesting to their immigration statuses, provide documents from the Immigration and Naturalization Service proving those statuses, or sign a form giving the PHA consent to use that information.

Families that include both citizens and ineligible non-citizens can still apply for Section 8, but assistance will be based on the number of eligible individuals in the household.

Family Status

Section 8 applicants also have to meet HUD's definition of a family. A family, for HUD, is an individual or group of individuals that meets any of these conditions:

  • Have children
  • Have one family member that's 62 or older
  • Have one family member who is disabled
  • Has been displaced from their home for an eligible reason
  • Lived with people receiving Section 8 but lives alone after other family members have moved out

Single people can qualify for Section 8, and you don't need to have children to be eligible.

Eviction History

Families or individuals generally must have positive rental histories to be considered for Section 8. HUD disqualifies people from applying who have been evicted from a property for drug-related or criminal activity. You can also be disqualified if you've ever been convicted of manufacturing methamphetamine in a subsidized housing project.

You can also be denied Section 8 assistance if you violate any eligible requirements established by your PHA.

How To Apply

To apply for Section 8 housing-choice vouchers, you'll need to contact your local Public Housing Agency. Your PHA can tell you if the program is currently accepting new applicants and what documents you'll need to apply. Depending on where you live, you may be able to apply online, in person, or by mail.

Complete the Application

You'll need to fill out the housing-choice voucher application used by your PHA. The information requested can vary, but you may be asked for any or all of the following:

  • Your name and the names of all people living in your household
  • Name and address information for the head of household
  • Dates of birth, Social Security numbers, places of birth, and genders of all people living in the household
  • Your preferred bedroom size
  • Your veteran or military status
  • Your current homelessness status
  • Criminal history
  • Residency status
  • Race, ethnicity, and native language
  • Disability status
  • Names of previous landlords
  • Current employer's name and contact information

It's important to be as thorough and accurate as possible when completing the application, whether you're submitting it online, in person or by mail. Omitting information or providing inaccurate information could result in your application being denied.

Submit Supporting Documents

Once you support your application, your PHA may ask for supporting documentation. Some of the things you may be asked for may include:

  • Copies of government-issued IDs for all members of the household
  • Proof of citizenship (i.e., passports, birth certificates, etc.)
  • Bank account statements
  • Pay stubs
  • Tax returns
  • Copies of your current rental agreement

Responding to any requests for information is important for getting your application processed as quickly as possible.

Join the Waiting List

If you're approved for Section 8, you'll most likely be added to a waiting list. This waiting list is a pool of all individuals and families who have been approved for housing-choice vouchers. Once a home becomes available to rent, you can be taken off the waiting list and begin receiving voucher benefits.

A PHA can close its waiting list to new applicants if there aren't enough resources to go around to pay housing benefits. And getting on the waiting list doesn't mean you'll be able to secure housing right away. In some cases, it can take years for a Section 8 applicant to rise to the top of the pool.

Some states with closed Section 8 waiting lists will offer lottery drawings, which are open to applicants already on the list.

The Bottom Line

Section 8 housing can help make housing more affordable for eligible families and individuals. In terms of who qualifies for Section 8, the general answer is people with low incomes. But the income limits you're subject to and your ability to get help can be determined by where you live or how many people live with you.

If you need help with housing, Section 8 is just one option, and it can take time to get approved. You can also ask your Public Housing Agency about other possibilities for getting rental assistance if you don't qualify for a housing-choice voucher.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How can I get Section 8 housing immediately?

You can contact your local Public Housing Agency to ask about applying for emergency housing assistance. The Emergency Housing Voucher (EHV) provides vouchers to local PHAs to help families who are homeless; at high risk of becoming homeless; or who are fleeing a situation involving domestic violence, dating violence, human trafficking, sexual assault, or stalking.

How do I learn what number I am on the Section 8 waiting list?

You can learn what number you are on the Section 8 waiting list by calling the number specified by your Public Housing Agency. You may also be able to go online to check your waiting list position or update information regarding your application.

What happens to my Section 8 when my child turns 18?

If you're receiving Section 8 assistance and your child turns 18, that may affect your eligibility benefits. Whether it does can depend on whether the child continues to live with you or begins contributing to the household income. Talking to your Public Housing Agency can help you clarify what income or household information you may need to update to determine your continued eligibility for Section 8.

Article Sources

  1. Department of Housing and Urban Development. "Housing Choice Vouchers Fact Sheet." Accessed Feb. 1, 2022.

  2. Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles. "About Section 8." Accessed Feb. 1, 2022.

  3. Philadelphia Housing Authority. "Payment Standard Schedule by Neighborhood Zip Code." Accessed Feb. 1, 2022.

  4. Department of Housing and Urban Development. "Section 8 Program Background Information." Accessed Feb. 1, 2022.

  5. Department of Housing and Urban Development. "Housing Choice Voucher: Chapter 5." Page 2. Accessed Feb, 1, 2022.

  6. Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles. "About Section 8." See Income Limit. Accessed Feb. 1, 2022.

  7. Department of Housing and Urban Development. “Housing Choice Voucher: Chapter 5." Page 3. Accessed Feb. 1, 2022.

  8. Department of Housing and Urban Development. "Housing Choice Voucher: Chapter 5," Page 1. Accessed Feb. 1, 2022.