What is Section 8?

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Section 8 is a program that helps people with very low-income pay for housing. It can help you get an apartment or buy a home. With Section 8, you usually pay about 30% to 40% of your monthly household income for rent. The federal government pays the rest.

Note: If you have a Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher, you may end up paying more than 30% to 40% of your income for rent if the landlord raises the rent after you move in.

To qualify for Section 8, you must:

  • Have a very low household income
  • Be a U.S. citizen or an eligible immigrant. Eligible immigrants include permanent legal residents, refugees, asylees, and lawful temporary residents
  • Not have had problems in the past with federally-funded housing programs, such as being evicted or committing fraud

To get Section 8, you have to apply at your local public housing authorities (PHAs). Most PHAs have waiting lists, so it’s important to apply to more than one PHA. Some housing authorities post online information about subsidized housing.

What are the income limits for getting Section 8?

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Almost all vouchers go to people with very low income. The exact income limits are different depending on the number of people in your household and where you live.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has the income limits for your situation.

Does Section 8 have asset limits?

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No. To be eligible for Section 8 there is no maximum on the value of the assets you own. However, when the housing authority figures out your income, it counts some of your assets as income.

Note: The growth of the investments in an ABLE account is not counted as income. Learn more about ABLE accounts.

Besides income, what do housing authorities look at for getting Section 8 housing?

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The public housing authority looks at your entire application to see if you qualify, so make sure to fill out the forms completely and carefully. You may be more likely to qualify for Section 8 if you:
  • Have a disability
  • Have children
  • Are age 62 or older
  • Are a U.S. Armed Services veteran, widow, or widower
  • Are homeless
  • Are in a shelter

What’s the difference between the Section 8 housing choice voucher program and Section 8 project-based housing?

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The housing choice voucher program (also called “tenant-based Section 8”) lets you choose any apartment you want, as long as it meets the size and price requirements given to you by your public housing authority.

In Section 8 project-based housing, the local housing authority works directly with the owner of a specific housing unit to make it available to people in the Section 8 program. When one of these privately owned apartments is empty, the housing authority offers it to someone on the waiting list for Section 8 housing.

Project-based rental assistance provides the same amount of financial assistance as the voucher program, and the application and eligibility requirements are also the same. A big difference between project-based rental assistance and the Section 8 voucher program is that it is not always possible to keep your project-based rental assistance when you move.

Should I apply to more than one housing authority?

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Yes, most public housing authorities (PHAs) have waiting lists to get Section 8 benefits, so it’s important to apply to more than one PHA. Unfortunately, some waiting lists are “closed.” That means that the PHA won’t even let you apply. However, you can apply to any housing authority that has an “open” list. By applying to more than PHA, you are more likely to start getting Section 8 benefits sooner — so be sure apply to all of the housing authorities located in areas where you’d be willing to live, and that have “open” waiting lists. (Most housing authorities give preference to people who already live in their areas, so if you apply to a program that isn’t in the area where you live, you may have to wait longer to get a voucher.)

Find your local public housing authorities (PHAs) or use the HUD Resource Locator. Some housing authorities provide online information about subsidized housing.

What happens when I am selected from the waiting list?

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When you are selected from the waiting list for a Section 8 housing choice voucher,
  1. You go through a screening process to make sure you meet the eligibility requirements for the program.
  2. If you pass the screening, you must attend a meeting at the housing authority, called a “Section 8 Briefing.”
  3. After the briefing you have 60 to 120 days (two to four months), to find a rental unit that is affordable and where the landlord accepts the voucher.

When you are selected from the waiting list for Section 8 project-based housing or public housing, you are offered affordable housing in a specific unit. You won’t get to choose the unit you rent.

Can I get reasonable accommodations to help me with the Section 8 application process?

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Yes. If your disability makes any part of the application process difficult for you, you can ask for a reasonable accommodation to help you have a chance to participate in the program. Reasonable accommodations could include things like help filling out the application, being given extra time to find rental housing, or assistance finding housing that meets your needs.

What should I do if the housing authority waiting list for my area is closed?

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If a waiting list is “closed,” you can’t apply. You need to find other housing agencies in the area that have “open” waiting lists. Find local public housing authorities. Some housing authorities provide online information about subsidized housing.

What should I do if I move or change my phone number after I apply for a housing program?

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Tell the housing authority immediately. If the housing authority tries to contact you but can’t find you, they might decide that you don’t want Section 8 and take you off their waiting list. Most housing authorities do not request the post office to forward mail, so it’s very important that you give the housing authority correct contact information.

Who can help me with my Section 8 application?

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The housing authority itself is the best source of help with the application. If you decide to get help from someone else, remember that no one should ever charge you for a Section 8 application; it’s illegal to sell a Section 8 application or voucher.

What can I do if my application for a Section 8 voucher is turned down?

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You can talk to the housing authority about their decision. However, the housing authority is not required to offer an informal hearing for applicants on every administrative decision. You can also appeal their decision. When you are told that you have been turned down, the housing authority is required to tell you how you can appeal. If you wish to appeal, you should do it quickly, because there is a time limit for appealing.

How can I find an affordable apartment?

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Ask the housing authority for a list of available property owners in its area, and use the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) Housing Locator to search for apartments in your price range.

Can the Section 8 program help me buy a house or pay for my current house?

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Yes. Section 8 can give you homebuyer education and mortgage readiness counseling, and may even help you with your down payment, closing costs, and/or mortgage payments. However, not all housing authorities offer this program.

To qualify for this program, called the Section 8 Homeownership Program, you must:

  • Be a current Section 8 voucher program participant or eligible for it
  • Not currently own a home or have owned one in the last three years
  • Not received homeownership help in the past or defaulted on a mortgage
  • Attend and complete a homeownership counseling program
  • Have full-time employment, if you are not disabled or elderly

The Key to Own Homeownership Program helps families with a rental housing choice voucher change it into a homeownership voucher, or you can apply directly to local public housing authorities that allow homeownership.

What is public housing?

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Public housing is rental housing for low-income people that is owned and managed by a local government agency. Eligibility requirements are usually the same as for the Section 8 voucher program. You must:
  • Have a low household income
  • Be a U.S. citizen or an eligible immigrant. Eligible immigrants include permanent legal residents, refugees, asylees, and lawful temporary residents
  • Not have had problems in the past with federally-funded housing programs, such as being evicted or committing fraud

To apply for public housing, contact your local public housing authorities (PHAs) or use the HUD Resource Locator. Some housing authorities provide information about subsidized housing online.

Waiting lists for public housing may be long, so to improve your chances of getting housing soon, apply to several housing authorities in the area where you want to live.

I’m homeless. How can I get help finding housing?

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Several groups offer special support for people who are homeless and have special housing needs. To get help, contact:

Or use the HUD Resource Locator and click on “Find Homeless Resources Near Me."

What is Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA)?

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If you or a member of your household is living with HIV/AIDS and your household has low income, you may be able to get help with housing costs through the HOPWA program. HOPWA can help with short-term rent and utility payment assistance.

For details, contact your local public housing authorities (PHAs).

If I start working, do I lose my Section 8 or Public Housing?

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Not necessarily. Many housing programs have a rule called the Earned Income Disregard (EID) that stops the rent from being increased for the first year after a family member with a disability starts working.

What is an Earned Income Disregard (EID)?

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An Earned Income Disregard (EID) is when your public housing authority doesn’t count your income when you first start a job. This means that if you get help with your rent from a housing program and then start working, your rent stays the same for a year, even though you are earning more money. During your second year on the job, your housing authority counts only half of the increase in your income caused by your earnings, so your rent doesn’t go up by as much. This rule means that you can get a job without having to worry about your rent going up immediately.

To qualify for an Earned Income Disregard, you must either:

Note: If you were already working before your earnings went up, the EID may not apply. For detailed information on this, see Module 5 of the WIPA & Community Partner Work Incentives Counseling Training Manual.

Who can help me if I am having trouble making my mortgage payments?

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If you are having trouble paying your mortgage, there are several programs that can help:
  • The Step Forward Michigan Program at 1-866-946-7432 may be able to help you catch up on your mortgage or tax payments.
  • Making Home Affordable offers a national hotline with counselors available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-888-995-HOPE (4673).
  • The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Counseling & Agency Locator Line at 1-800-569-4287 can refer you to a housing counselor who can guide you through the process.