How to Apply for Benefits at Public Housing Authorities

Public housing authorities (PHAs) are local agencies that manage many of the programs in this article, including Section 8 and public housing. They are the first place you should go when you are thinking about applying for help with your rent. This page explains the basics of how to apply for housing benefits at public housing authorities. Later pages explain who can get these benefits and how they work.

How to Find Local Public Housing Authorities

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) oversees PHAs and has a list of Michigan public housing authorities. Most PHAs have waiting lists to get Section 8 benefits or to enter public housing, so it’s important to apply at more than one PHA.

Not all housing programs are run by PHAs

PHAs manage Section 8, public housing, HOPWA (a housing benefit for people with HIV/AIDS), and some project-based housing. They can also help refer you to other housing possibilities.

Other agencies also manage housing programs. Here are a few examples:

When you talk with PHAs, ask what other agencies might be able to help you.

The Application

Each housing authority has its own forms that you must fill out. Generally, these forms ask for the same information, like who lives in your household, how they are related, how much income you have, and if you have a disability.

If your disability makes any part of the application process hard for you, the PHA must give you reasonable accommodations during the application process. Reasonable accommodations could include things like:

  • Help filling out application forms
  • Braille application forms
  • Extra time to fill out applications
  • Help to find an apartment

Note: You should never have to pay to apply for Section 8. It is illegal for somebody to sell you a Section 8 application or voucher.

Waiting Lists

When you go to apply for Section 8 benefits, public housing, or any other program managed by a PHA, you probably won’t get help immediately. Instead, you might be put on a waiting list. A waiting list means you have to wait until it’s your turn to get a benefit.

The PHA tells you if they have an “open” waiting list or a “closed” waiting list:

  • If the waiting list is open, you can apply and your name is added to the list. It may take years for you to get a benefit. How long it takes depends on the PHA. If you apply to more than one PHA, you are more likely to get benefits sooner.
  • If the waiting list is closed, you can’t apply.

If you are on a waiting list, you must keep your information up-to-date. Tell the PHA if your contact info changes and reply whenever the PHA tries to contact you. Otherwise, they might take you off the waiting list and you won’t get benefits.

Waiting List Tips
  1. Apply to all of the public housing authorities located in areas where you are willing to live and that have open waiting lists. You may get higher priority if you already live in the area the PHA serves.
  2. Sometimes people with disabilities and veterans get priority on waiting lists. Ask each housing authority how their waiting list works and be sure to tell them any details that might help you get benefits faster.
  3. If you have a disability, miss a letter asking you to update your information, and your name is taken off the waiting list, you can ask that your name is put back on the list as a reasonable accommodation.

Benefit approval

When your name reaches the top of the waiting list, the housing authority looks at your application and personal information to make sure you qualify for benefits.

If you qualify, the PHA then explains all program rules. The rules for some programs are explained in the rest of this article.

If you are turned down for benefits

If a public housing authority turns you down for benefits, they have to explain why and tell you how you can appeal. If you want to appeal, do it right away because there is a time limit for appealing.

If the reason you were turned down is related to your disability, you can ask for another chance to complete your application. For example, if you didn’t do the application quickly enough because you have a mobility impairment, the public housing authority must let you apply again.

And if you think you were turned down because of your disability and the housing authority still says you are not eligible, get legal advice. Here are resources that can help: