What is the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program?

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Section 8 is a housing program funded by the federal government that helps low income people pay for privately owned rental housing. The largest part of the Section 8 program is the Housing Choice Voucher Program.

Through the Section 8 program, individuals and families receive a “voucher” that can be used to pay part of the cost of their housing. The program allows people to choose where they want to live and what type of housing will be best for them.

When you are part of the program, you usually pay 30% of your monthly household income for rent and the government pays the rest directly to the landlord.

The program is run by local Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) or Housing Redevelopment Authorities (HRAs). To find the housing authority that runs the program in your area, you can use these resources:

Besides income, what factors are important for getting Section 8 housing?

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Several of the housing authorities in Minnesota keep some of their Section 8 vouchers just for people with disabilities.

Other things that may help you qualify include:

  • Being age 62 or older
  • Being a U.S. Armed Services veteran, widow, or widower
  • Working more than 42 hours per week
  • Being homeless
  • Currently residing in a shelter
  • Having children

What are project-based vouchers?

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In Project-Based Section 8 housing the local housing authority has contracted directly with the owner of a housing unit to make it available for people in the Section 8 program to live in. When one of these units is empty, the housing authority will offer it to someone that is waiting for Section 8 housing.

Project-based rental assistance is different from the Section 8 voucher program because the owner of a rental unit and the housing authority have agreed in advance to make the unit available for a person with a Section 8 voucher.

Project-based rental assistance provides the same amount of financial assistance as the voucher program does. The application procedures and eligibility requirements are also the same as the general Section 8 voucher program.

A big difference between project-based rental assistance and the Section 8 voucher program is that it is not always possible to keep your rental assistance when you move.

How do I apply for Section 8 housing?

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To apply for a Section 8 housing voucher, contact the housing authority in an area you would like to live and fill out their application:

If your disability makes any part of the application process difficult for you, you are entitled to ask the housing authority for a reasonable accommodation that will help you have a chance to participate in the program. Depending on your circumstances, reasonable accommodations may include help filling out applications, extra time to fill out applications or find rental housing, and assistance finding housing that will meet your specific needs.

Should I apply to more than one housing authority?

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Yes. In most areas there are not enough vouchers to help everyone that wants one. After you fill out an application, you will probably be put on a waiting list. In order to shorten the time that you have to wait, you should apply to several housing authorities in the general area that you would like to live.

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

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If a housing authority has a waiting list, they will only accept applications if the waiting list is “open”. Open just means that they will allow you to add your name to the list.

If the waiting list for your local housing authority is closed, you can find out which other housing authorities have open waiting lists at HousingLink's Housing Authority Waiting List.

What should I do if I move or change my phone number after I apply to a waiting list?

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If your contact information changes you must notify the housing authority immediately. If the housing authority is unable to reach you to confirm that you are still interested in housing, or if they can’t contact you when your turn on the list comes, you may be taken off the list completely.

What kind of apartment can I get with my voucher?

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When you receive a voucher, the housing authority will provide you with guidelines on the size and cost of housing you can rent. If you need a housing unit with more bedrooms, the amount that the housing authority will pay for rent will be higher.

The number of bedrooms that the housing authority allows you will depend on how many people are in your household and their age, sex, and relationship to each other. Depending on the medical conditions and disabilities of household members, more rooms may be provided.

For example, a common accommodation is an increase in bedroom size because of the need for a live-in aide or overnight support staff.

There are many different types of housing that you can rent with a voucher. In addition to houses and apartments, you can use a voucher to help pay for group homes, shared housing, congregate housing, single room occupancy units, and assisted living placements.

If you already have an apartment you like, you may also be able to use the voucher to help pay for it.

What is the Bridges program?

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If you qualify for the Section 8 program, and you or someone in your household has a mental illness, the Bridges Program for People with Serious Mental Illness may be able to help you. The Bridges program is a State of Minnesota program designed to help people with serious mental illness by providing rental assistance for housing while they are waiting for a Section 8 voucher.

The Bridges program is run by the same local PHAs and HRAs that run the Section 8 program. Because the Bridges program helps people that are waiting for a Section 8 voucher, the eligibility rules are very similar to the rules for the Section 8 program itself.

The main difference is that to become part of the Bridges program you have to have a mental illness and you have to get a referral from a mental health provider.

What is the Group Residential Housing (GRH) program?

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The Group Residential Housing (GRH) program helps pay for room and board in authorized locations for people with low income who have disabilities or other conditions. GRH may also help pay for additional services if you are not eligible for MA-Waiver programs or personal care assistance (PCA) services through MA.

To get GRH, you must be over age 65 or have a disabling condition. To qualify, you must have either:

  1. A General Assistance (GA) basis of eligibility, or
  2. A Supplemental Security Income (SSI) basis of eligibility.

For both, you need to live in a GRH-approved location.

The eligibility rules for GRH are not exactly the same as for GA or SSI. Most people who get GRH also get GA or SSI, but some people qualify for GRH even though they do not actually get GA or SSI cash benefits. Read more about the GRH eligibility rules.

You can apply for GRH online using ApplyMN or fill out the Combined Application Form and turn it in to your county human services agency. Note on your application that you are requesting GRH and the name, address, and telephone number of the location where you plan to live. If you do not mention that you are applying for GRH, the county may not check if you are eligible. For help applying, contact your county human services agency or Talk to an ExpertPopup Link.

What is a GRH Self-Sufficiency Account?

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A Self-Sufficiency Account is a special account for people on GRH with a GA basis of eligibility. You can put up to $500 a month of your earned income into this account, up to a maximum of $2,000. GRH does not count this money as earned income or savings. With a Self-Sufficiency Account, you make a lower room and board contribution and can save more than GRH’s $1,000 asset limit. Your GRH discharge plan will guide how you use the money when you stop getting GRH benefits.

Note: If you work and have GRH with a GA basis of eligibility, a Self-Sufficiency Account is the best way for you to improve your situation. To do this, it’s important that you create a GRH discharge plan with your county social worker or service provider and let the county know you want to start saving money in this account. If your county worker doesn’t know about Self-Sufficiency Accounts, Talk to an ExpertPopup Link.

What is public housing?

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Public housing is rental housing for low-income people, which 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. You also have to be a citizen or a noncitizen with eligible immigration status. Finally, you cannot have had problems with federally-funded housing programs, such as being evicted or committing fraud.

Public housing is operated by local Public Housing Authorities (PHAs), and Housing Redevelopment Authorities (HRAs). You apply to the local housing authority to get on their waiting list. Waiting lists for public housing may be very long. Also, there might only be a few of the type or size of housing that you would like. It is a good idea to apply to several waiting lists in order to improve your chances of getting housing.

To find the housing authority that runs the public housing program in your area, you can use these resources:

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

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Local housing authorities provide rental assistance to people living with HIV/AIDS and their families through the HOPWA program. The State of Minnesota also has HOPWA funds available to provide short-term rent, mortgage, and utility payment assistance.

To receive housing assistance through a local or state HOPWA program:

  1. At least one individual in your household must have AIDS or a related disease (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome or HIV infection.)
  2. Your household must have low or moderate income.

To get HOPWA rental assistance you should ask your HIV case manager for a referral.

Who can help me if I am in danger of losing my rental housing?

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If you are participating in the Minnesota Supplemental Aid (MSA) or Group Residential Housing (GRH) programs, additional funds may be available to you through the MSA program. To request help through the MSA program, contact your county human services agency.

The Crisis Housing Fund can help you pay for housing costs if you are hospitalized for mental illness or substance abuse treatment, and you are living in your own home, or a rental unit that is not part of a government assistance program.

Your hospital or treatment facility can help you apply for Crisis Housing funds. The funds will be distributed directly to the agency on your behalf and your case manager will use them to help you pay your housing expenses.

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

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No. In order to help people to start working, many public and subsidized housing programs have rules that allow tenants who start working to pay the same amount of rent for awhile after they start work. If you are thinking about getting a job, you may be able to get an Earned Income Disregard (EID) to help you start working without paying more rent.

What is an Earned Income Disregard (EID)?

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An Earned Income Disregard means that if you start working after being unemployed, your portion of your Section 8 or public housing rent will stay the same for a certain amount of time, even though you earn more money.

How does an Earned Income Disregard (EID) work?

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For the first 12 months after you start working, income from your job is not counted towards your rent, so the amount you pay in rent stays the same. In the second 12 months, your housing authority will count only half of your total work earnings towards your portion of the rent.

For example, if you earn $1000 each month, in the first 12 months, the housing authority can’t count any of this income when calculating your rent. In the second 12 months, the housing authority can only count $500 of your earnings per month when calculating your rent.

This is a great work incentive, but it is limited to a lifetime 48-month period starting from the first month of exclusion.

Note: The Minneapolis Public Housing Authority has different EID rules. If the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority provides your housing assistance, click here to contact them and ask about the EID rules.

Who qualifies for an EID?

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You can qualify for an EID if you have a disability and participate in any of the following housing programs:
  • Public Housing
  • HOME Investment Partnerships Program
  • Section 8 Voucher Program
  • Supportive Housing Program
  • Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA)

To qualify, you must be able to show that you are a person with a disability and any one of the following:

  • Before you got your job, you were unemployed for one or more years; or
  • You earned less than $3,375 over the 12 months prior to getting your job; or
  • You received welfare benefits or participated in a Welfare-to-Work program in the six months before getting your job; or
  • You got your job while you were in a job training or self-sufficiency program.

If you live in public housing, any household member is eligible, regardless of disability, as long as they meet one of the four conditions above.

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

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Yes. If you are a current Section 8 voucher recipient or a current public housing tenant, you may be eligible for assistance in buying your own home. The Section 8 program can help you by providing homebuyer education, mortgage readiness counseling, and down payment and closing cost assistance.

The basic idea of the Section 8 Homeownership Program is to use the money from a regular Section 8 rental voucher to help a family buy a home or meet monthly homeownership expenses.

Not all housing authorities offer the homeownership option as part of their voucher program.

In order to use the program, you have to have a Section 8 voucher. If you do not currently have a voucher, you must go through the same application process as if you wanted to apply for a Section 8 rental voucher. Once you have a voucher, and if your housing authority offers the Section 8 Homeownership Program, you can begin looking for a housing unit to buy.

Once you find a housing unit to buy, the housing authority will make the monthly homeownership assistance payment for you. The housing authority may make the payment to the lender directly or to your household.

The amount of the subsidy for the homeownership program is the same amount as your rental voucher would have been.

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, or you are already facing foreclosure, it can be very hard to figure out what you should do. There are several programs that can help you. The first step to getting help is to call 1-888-995-HOPE (4673).

1-888-995-HOPE is a hotline that is available to any homeowner in America having trouble paying their mortgage. It is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

When you call 1-888-995-HOPE you will receive absolutely free foreclosure prevention counseling by expert counselors at HUD-approved agencies. When you call you will get help immediately - the counselors themselves answer the phone.