Section 8 Overview
The Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program (often referred to simply as “Section 8”) is a housing program funded by the federal government that helps people with low income pay for privately owned rental housing.
The largest part of the Section 8 program is the Housing Choice Voucher Program. The program is run by local Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) or Housing Redevelopment Authorities (HRAs).
Through the Section 8 program, individuals and families get 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 participating in the program, you usually pay 30% of your monthly household income for rent and the government pays the rest directly to the landlord.
The help given by the program is designed to be long-term. As long as your income or other family circumstances don’t change very much, you can keep receiving the help. Once you are part of the program you can continue to get help with your rent, even if you move to a new city or another state.
To be part of the Section 8 program you must have an income that is low enough to qualify. Almost all vouchers go to people with very low incomes.
The exact income limits are different depending on the number of people in your household and where you live, but most people who are getting Supplemental Security Income (SSI) have incomes low enough to qualify.
There is no limit on the amount and type of assets you can own at the time you apply to the Section 8 program. However, when the housing authority figures out your annual income, it will count a portion of your assets as part of your annual income.
If your household assets are $5,000 or less, the housing authority will add any actual income you get from your assets to your income total.
When your household assets are more than $5,000, the housing authority will use either the actual income you get from the assets, or a percentage of the value of the assets called the “passbook savings rate.” The passbook savings rate is a number established by Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and is roughly the same as the amount of interest income you could have earned if your assets were held in a savings account in the bank. The housing authority will add the greater of these two amounts to your income.
To be part of the Section 8 program you have to be a citizen or a noncitizen with “eligible immigration status.” Eligible immigrants include noncitizens who are permanent legal residents or who have official status as refugees, asylum seekers, or lawful temporary residents.
Your History with Federal Housing Programs
If you're not eligible for housing because of a disability-related problem in the past, you may be able to ask for an exceptionto this policy as as a reasonable accommodation.
If you are not eligible for a program because you had a problem in the past with a housing authority, and the problem was related to your disability, you may be able to ask for an exception to this policy as a reasonable accommodation.
For example, if you have a mental illness and you had the problem with the housing authority when you were not getting treatment or not on medication, you may be able to request an exception to the policy, if you are now getting treatment.
You can find someone to help you make such a request at your local legal aid office. Minnesota Legal Services Coalition provides a list of local offices.
The housing authority may also take other things into account when considering your application. Many of the housing authorities in Minnesota keep some of their Section 8 vouchers just for people with disabilities.
- 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
In some counties there may be a waiting list to get a Section 8 voucher. People with disabilities and veterans may be given priority, so be sure to check with your local housing authority about how the waiting list system works, to make sure all of your relevant circumstances are being considered.
Section 8 housing is a federal government program that is run by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Local government agencies called Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) and Housing Redevelopment Authorities (HRAs) run the Section 8 program in local communities. There are dozens of PHAs and HRAs with housing programs in Minnesota.
To speed up the process of getting a voucher, you should apply to as many housing authorities as possible.
In most areas there are not enough vouchers to give to everyone that wants one, so you will probably be put on a waiting list. You should apply to several housing authorities in the general area that you would like to live. Some areas have very long waiting lists so it takes a long time to get a voucher. To speed up the process of getting a voucher, you should apply to as many housing authorities as possible.
Each housing authority has its own application form and you have to fill out a separate application for each one that you apply to. This is made a little easier by the fact that they ask about very similar things, such as who lives in your household and how they are related, what types of income and assets you have, and what your disability status is.
When you reach the top of the waiting list, you will go through a screening process to make sure you meet the eligibility requirements for the program. If you pass the screening you have to go to a meeting at the housing authority called a Section 8 Briefing. After the Briefing you have a short time, usually 60 to 120 days, to find a place to rent (rental unit) that is affordable and where the landlord will accept the voucher.
Once you find a place to live, the housing authority will inspect it. If they approve it, they will make arrangements with the landlord to pay part of your rent. You will also be responsible to pay your part of the rent, which will be between 30 and 40% of your income.
For your protection, while you are living in housing that the Section 8 program helps pay for, the housing authority will inspect the housing each year to make sure the owner is keeping it in good condition.
An important point to remember is that if your disability makes any part of the application process hard for you, you have the right to ask 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 help finding housing that will meet your specific needs.
You should tell the housing authority about any difficulty you are having with applying to or using the Section 8 housing program and ask them to help you.
How Waiting Lists Work
Since there are almost always more people who need housing than the number of Section 8 vouchers available, housing authorities will usually put you on a waiting list when you first apply.
When 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.
Once you have found an open waiting list, fill out an application and you will be added to the list. When you are on a waiting list it is very important to make sure that you keep your contact information up to date and keep in touch with the housing authority to check on the status of your application. If the housing authority can’t reach you when your turn on the list comes, you may be taken off the list completely.
It is also important that you respond to all letters from the housing authority. They may write to you to ask for more information or to ask if you still want housing. Because people can apply to many different housing authorities and be on many waiting lists at once, most housing authorities update their list often to make sure that everyone on it still wants a voucher.
If you don’t respond to an update letter from a housing authority, they will probably think you are no longer interested in a voucher and take you off the waiting list.
You can ask for reasonable accommodations at many stages during the application process.
If you have difficulty with the application, the housing authority must help you fill out your application, if you ask them to help you. For example, if you are visually impaired you can ask them to give you an application in Braille or to provide a staff member to read and help fill out the application with you.
Some housing authorities require you to deliver applications in person or have short time periods during which they accept applications. If your disability makes it hard for you to comply with these policies you can ask for an accommodation.
Examples of accommodations are allowing you to have someone else drop off the application for you, or giving you extra time to complete and submit your application.
Finally, if you miss a letter from the housing authority asking you to update your waiting list status and your name is taken off the waiting list, you can ask that your name be put back on to the list, even if the list is no longer open.
How to Apply
If you think you qualify for a Section 8 housing voucher, you should contact the public housing agency in your area.
If you have a problem applying for a Section 8 program, the best people to help you with your application are the housing authority staff. If you get help from someone else, remember that no one should ever charge you money for a Section 8 application. Anyone who sells an application or a voucher is committing a crime.
How to Appeal if Your Application Is Denied
If your application is denied, the housing authority has to tell you why, and how you can appeal the decision. Instructions for how to appeal will be in the letter telling you that your application was denied. Make sure to appeal the decision right away, because there will be a time limit.
Many of the reasons you could be denied may be related to your disability. Examples of such disability-related difficulties include having a hard time filling out the form, or not having enough time to turn in your documents.
If you think your disability is related to why your application was rejected, you can request another chance to complete your application even after it has been denied, or if the waiting list is now closed.
Using a Voucher
What Kind of Apartment Can I Get?
When you get a voucher, the housing authority will give you 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 may be able to use a voucher to help pay for group homes, shared housing, congregate housing, single-room occupancy units, and assisted-living placements.
If you request to pay for any of these housing types using a voucher as a reasonable accommodation and your local PHA will not let you, you may want to contact the Minnesota Disability Law Center or Talk to an Expert to see if anything can be done.
When you find housing you like, the housing authority may give higher payments to the landlord to help cover the cost of accessibility modifications. As long as the needed modifications are reasonable, landlords must allow you to make them. If you already have an apartment you like, you may also be able to use the voucher to help pay for it.
How Do I Find an Apartment Once I Get a Voucher?
When you get a voucher you will have a limited amount of time to find a rental unit. You must be given at least 60 days; many housing authorities allow up to 120 days. It may be difficult to find affordable housing that will meet your needs within this time limit. If you need more time to keep looking for a unit, you can ask for an extension of time as a reasonable accommodation.
If you find that your unique housing needs make it hard to find a unit within the price range given by your local housing authority, the housing authority may be able to raise your rental amount slightly.
If you still have difficulty finding appropriate housing, the housing authority can submit a request to Housing and Urban Development (HUD) asking for a specially approved payment amount. Such accommodations are rare, but if the housing market in your area makes it especially hard for you to find suitable housing, don’t hesitate to ask the local housing authority to help you in any way they can.
Another difficulty you may have when using a voucher is that not all landlords will be willing to accept a voucher. It is legal for them to refuse to accept vouchers. But it is illegal for a landlord to refuse to rent to you because you have a disability. If you suspect that a landlord is refusing to rent housing to you because of your disability you should tell the housing authority and ask for help.
Once you find an affordable unit that will accept your voucher, there are still a few more steps. Most landlords will require you to give them a credit, criminal, and rental history check. Also, the rental unit must be inspected before the housing authority will start making payments to the landlord.
How Much Will I Have to Pay?
Usually you will pay between 30 and 40% of your household income. However, you may end up paying a slightly lower percentage of your income depending on whether you qualify for credits related to your disability or medical expenses. The percentage you pay includes utilities too.
How Long Will I Get Assistance?
The assistance you get from the Section 8 program is designed to be long-term. As long as income or other family circumstances don’t change very much, you can keep getting the assistance. Once you have a voucher, if you move to another unit, the voucher can be used in the new unit. You can keep your voucher when you move anywhere in the United States, Puerto Rico, or the Virgin Islands, as long as you move to a place where there is a local housing authority to handle your voucher for you.
If your income goes up a lot, it will eventually affect the amount of rent that your voucher will pay. As your income rises, you will still pay between 30 and 40% of your income for rent, but because your income has gone up, the amount of rent that is left for the government to pay will keep getting smaller.
If you eventually make enough money that 30% of your household income can cover the entire rent for your housing, the subsidy will stop. Even though the subsidy stops, the voucher stays in effect for one year so that if your income goes down again, the subsidy can start again.
During the first year or two that your income begins to go up, there is a program that will keep the amount of rent you have to pay from also going up. This is called an Earned Income Disregard. To learn more about this program, see DB101's Housing and Work page.
Programs Related to Section 8
Bridges Program for People with Serious Mental Illness
If you qualify for the Section 8 program and you or someone in your household has a mental illness, the Bridges program may be able to help you. The Bridges program, funded through the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, 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.
One important difference between the Section 8 voucher and the Bridges certificate is that the Bridges certificate is not portable, and often cannot be used in different counties or out of state.
Not only will the Bridges program help you pay for housing costs while you wait for a Section 8 voucher, being a part of the Bridges program may also help shorten the time you wait.
The Bridges program is run by the same local Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) and Housing Redevelopment Authorities (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.
If you think you might be eligible for the Bridges program, ask your mental health provider or local social service agency about a referral. Not every area in the state has a Bridges program.
You should also apply for your local Section 8 program immediately and ask the housing authority about the Bridges program (being on a waiting list for a regular Section 8 voucher can only help you).
Project-Based Vouchers for People with Special Needs
An important part of the project-based Section 8 program is that many local housing authorities will save some of their project-based vouchers specifically for people with disabilities. Some project-based housing may also have supportive services already in place for people and families who are part of the program.
Many local housing authorities will save some of their project-based vouchers specifically for people with disabilities.
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.
You will qualify for the same amount of financial assistance under the project-based program as you would qualify for with the Section 8 voucher. The application process and eligibility rules 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. This may make it more difficult to move to a new location, because once you are in public housing, you may not be able to get a Section 8 voucher since you already have housing. This type of assistance is not as “portable” as the voucher system.
Help with Home Buying and Mortgage Payments: Section 8 Home Ownership Program
If you are a current Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher recipient or a current public housing tenant, you may be eligible for help with buying your own home. The Section 8 program can help you by providing homebuyer education and mortgage readiness counseling, and by helping with down payment and closing costs.
People with disabilities are given very favorable eligibility terms for this program. You may want to check with your local housing authority about how eligibility is decided, to make sure all of your relevant circumstances are being considered.