David's Story

David used to be an avid rock climber, until he slipped. He was lucky and survived the fall, but it caused damage to his spine and he couldn’t walk anymore.

Before the injury, David was a construction worker, but after the accident, he couldn’t do that anymore. So he decided to go to a community college and learn how to be a sound technician. He also applied for Medicaid to cover his medical expenses and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), so he’d have some money to live on.

He qualified for both, but SSI wasn’t going to be enough to cover all of his expenses, especially rent. He was staying with some friends, but he knew that he couldn't stay with them forever. Not knowing what to do, David called up his local Independent Living Center and asked them if there were any programs that might help him with his rent. They told him to call the local HUD Public Housing Field Office. David called the HUD office and spoke with Barry. He and Barry set up an appointment for later that week.

“David,” Barry said, after reviewing David’s info, “It looks like you qualify for Section 8 benefits. When you get Section 8 benefits, the federal government pays a portion of your rent.”

David had heard of Section 8 but didn’t realize he could get it. “That sounds great!” he exclaimed. “Where do I sign up?”

“Unfortunately,” Barry said, “you’ll have to sign up in several different places. Section 8 is funded by the federal government, but it’s managed by many different local programs called public housing authorities.”

Barry gave David a list of the housing authorities in the area, along with their contact information, and told him, “Each public housing authority has its own application form and there’s no real way of knowing which one might give you a Section 8 voucher, which ones may turn you down, and which ones just put you on waiting lists. The best thing for you to do is to apply to all of the housing authorities in the area where you want to live and then see which one replies to you first.”

David looked at the list and circled the ones that were near his community college. He set himself a goal of submitting an application to one public housing authority each week until he’d applied to them all. While he waited to hear back, he started school. His friends let him stay with them until his Section 8 was approved.

A couple of months later, David got a call from one of the public housing authorities. His caseworker at the housing authority, Ahmed, told him that because he had a disability, he had priority on the waiting list, and that’s why they’d gotten back to him so quickly. David and Ahmed scheduled a screening interview so they could go over his eligibility together.

During the interview, Ahmed asked David questions to make sure that he met the eligibility requirements for the program, and then said that David would have no problem qualifying. At the end of the screening interview, Ahmed scheduled David for the following week for a meeting called the “Section 8 briefing.” At the briefing, David learned how the Section 8 program worked and how to find an apartment that his Section 8 voucher would help pay for.

David was really happy. His friends helped him look for an apartment that weekend. He found one that was $800 per month and only a block away from his school. Once he found it, he told the public housing authority about it and they inspected it to make sure it was okay. Once it was approved, they calculated how much of the $800 David would have to pay and how much the Section 8 voucher would pay.

David was getting some income from SSI, so he would have to pay $771 each month in rent. Section 8 would pay the rest. David signed his lease agreement and moved in to his own place.

Earned Income Disregard

After going to school for a while, David decided to get a part-time job. He was lucky to find a job as a cashier at the local music store. The job would pay him $500 a month, enough to pay his rent, with a little extra for his other expenses.

The day after he got the job, he called up Ahmed at the public housing authority.

“Ahmed,” he said on the phone, “I got a job! Does that affect anything?”

“It might,” said Ahmed. “Why don’t you come in so we can talk? I’ve got an open appointment tomorrow morning if you’re free.”

The next day, they looked at David’s new situation.

“Well, here’s your good news David,” Ahmed said. “While your income has gone up, it won’t affect your rent for the first year, thanks to the Earned Income Disregard.”

“What’s that?” David asked.

Ahmed explained, “An Earned Income Disregard helps people with disabilities who get Section 8 and then get jobs. It means that your rent won’t go up because of your higher income during the first year after you start working. In the second year after you start working, only half of your higher income due to work affects your rent. That gives you some time after you start working to adjust.”

David was quickly approved for the Earned Income Disregard, so the first year after getting his job, David’s rent didn’t go up at all.