Rental Benefits and Work

This page discusses the income rules for:

Other programs may also use these same rules or rules that are similar.

Rent Based on Your Income

The key thing to know when you get help with rent from these programs is that how much you pay for rent is directly related to your total income, including earnings from work, benefits you get (like Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), and other unearned income.

When you get benefits from one of these housing programs and move into a place, you’ll have to pay between 30% and 40% of your household income in rent. For example, if you make $1,000 a month, you may have to pay $300 each month for rent. The program pays the rest of the apartment’s rent. You may end up paying a little less if you qualify for credits related to your disability or medical expenses, or if you have children and you pay for childcare costs.

Note: Any money earned by a child under age 18 does not count as household income, and will not affect the rent the family pays.

Generally, you keep paying the same amount of rent as long as your income or other family circumstances don’t change. The only thing you have to do is keep your income, family information, and contact information up-to-date with the manager of your housing benefit. Each year, in a process called annual recertification, the housing agency looks at your income and family situation again and decides how much rent you must pay in the coming year.

If your unearned income goes up, you still pay about 30% of your income for rent, but because you have more income, your 30% adds up to more, and the housing program pays less.

If you start to make more money at work, you might not have to pay more rent, depending on whether your housing program has an Earned Income Disregard (EID).

If 30% of your income is more than the total rent

If you make enough money that 30% of your income is enough to pay the entire rent, Section 8 housing choice vouchers won’t help pay your rent anymore – you’ll have to pay the full rent. However, if your income goes down during the first six months after you stop getting a Section 8 subsidy, Section 8 will start helping you with your rent again and you won’t have to reapply.

The rules are a bit different for public housing. If your income goes over the “low income” limit, the PHA can choose to evict you from public housing unless you are participating in the Family Self-Sufficiency Program (FSS) or if a family member gets the Earned Income Disregard. If your income goes up enough that 30% pays the entire rent and the PHA does not choose to evict you, at your next annual recertification you have the choice of switching to paying “flat rent” (market rate) or staying with income-based rent. If you switch to paying flat rent and then your income drops drastically, you can immediately change back to income-based rent (you don’t have to wait for the next annual recertification).

Earning More in Project-Based Housing

In project-based housing, the more you make, the more rent you pay. Earned income is treated exactly the same as unearned income, so if your earnings go up by $500 per month, your rent would go up by about 30% of that ($150 per month).

The bottom line: You’re better off if you earn more because your rent won’t go up as much as your earnings.

Example

Last year you moved into a project-based apartment that costs $800 per month. You used to make $1,000 a month and only paid $300 each month for your apartment. Section 8 paid the other $500 each month in rent.

Two months ago, you got a better job where you make $1,500 each month. Because you make more, you now have to pay $450 each month for your apartment and Section 8 only pays $350.

Even though the amount you pay towards your rent is higher, you still have more money left over after paying your rent. When you made $1,000 a month from your job and paid $300 a month rent, you had $700 a month left over (minus taxes). Now that you make $1,500 a month from your job and pay $450 a month rent, you have $1,050 a month left over (minus taxes).

See How More Earnings Might Affect Rent
If you have subsidized housing and the amount you pay for rent is based on your income, use this tool to see how making more money could affect your rent.
This tool looks at rent, earnings, SSI, and SSDI. It doesn’t adjust for other benefits. If you have any questions, talk to a Benefits Planner.

Earning More in Public Housing, or with a Voucher from Section 8 or HOPWA

If you live in public housing or get help from a Section 8 housing choice voucher or HOPWA, there is a rule that means when you start working, your rent might not go up at all!

These housing programs have a rule called the Earned Income Disregard (EID) that lets people with disabilities get a job (or a raise) and keep paying the same amount for their rent for a year, even if their work causes their total income to go up. With an EID, you don’t have to worry that your housing benefit will change or that your rent will go up immediately if you get a job.

With an EID, your increased earnings only affect your rent gradually:

  • Year 1: During the first 12 months after your earnings go up, the amount your work causes your total income to go up isn’t counted when your rent is calculated. Your rent doesn’t go up because of your earnings.
  • Year 2: During the next 12 months after your earnings go up, only half of the amount your work causes your total income to go up is counted. Your rent only goes up half as much as it would if you didn’t have an EID.
  • Year 3 and later: After 24 months, your entire income is counted when your rent is calculated.

There are a few details to keep in mind.

  • You only get an EID once and it ends after 24 months. If you’ve ever had an EID in the past, you can’t get another one.
  • If you are in the Section 8 housing choice voucher program, the only way to qualify for an EID is if it is a family member with a disability who has increased their earnings. That family member could be you or someone else who lives in the house, but they must have a disability.
  • If you are in public housing, the family may qualify for an EID if any family member has increased earnings.

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.

To get an EID, you or your family must also meet one of the following requirements:
  • When your income goes up because you or your family member gets a job, it’s the first job you or your family member has had in a year or more; or the family member earned less than an amount equal to 500 hours at the local minimum wage in the year before the new work started
  • In the six months before you or your family member got a new job and your household income went up because of this work, your family was getting FIP or was participating in a jobs program through FIP, or
  • You or your family member got your job while participating in a job-training or self-sufficiency program.

Family Self Sufficiency (FSS) Program

The Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program helps families in public housing who get help through either

  • Housing choice vouchers
  • The Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act
  • and whose income goes up because of work.

When the family income goes up and the program starts paying less for rent, the FSS program takes the money that it saves on rent and sets that money aside for the family. The family can use these savings for purchases, such as the down payment on a home or a car.

This can be especially helpful if you’ve used up your Earned Income Disregard or if it does not apply to your situation. Learn more about the FSS.

Example

Clyde and Bertha live with their two children and have $500 in monthly income. Due to their low income, they qualify for the Section 8 housing choice voucher program. With the voucher, they pay about $150/month in rent (30% of $500), even though their apartment costs $1,000/month. Section 8 pays the remaining $850/month.

Bertha starts doing some childcare work and the family income goes up to $1,000 each month. Because she’s already used up her once-in-a-lifetime EID, they now have to pay about $300/month as rent (30% of $1,000), while Section 8 pays the remaining $700/month for the family's apartment. This means that Section 8 is paying $150 less per month than it used to pay.

Because the family is part of the FSS program, the PHA that administers Clyde and Bertha's Section 8 benefits takes that $150 each month and sets it aside for the family. A year later, there is $1,800, which Bertha can use to make the down payment on a car.