Affordable Housing / Section 8

Who is Eligible for Section 8 Housing?

July 5, 2023

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What Factors Determine Who Is Eligible For Section 8 Housing?

For many low-income families, renting a decent home in the current market is an unrealistic goal. When rents rise faster than wages can accommodate, affordable housing via Section 8 is often the only option. 

However, not everyone is eligible for subsidized rent. In fact, Section 8 is reserved for only the lowest income families in the U.S., as well as elderly individuals and those with disabilities. The high demand for housing vouchers easily outpaces the affordable housing options currently available, leading many to sit on the Section 8 waitlist for months or even years. 

As a landlord, it’s important that you’re aware of the Section 8 program and who qualifies for it, as accepting a voucher can be highly beneficial for you, too. In this article, we break down what criteria a tenant must meet to apply for a Section 8 housing voucher. 

Family Definition 

Every applicant interested in obtaining a Section 8 housing voucher must meet the HUD’s definition of a family. According to the HUD’s Section 8 Guidebook, a family is defined as a single person or group of people and includes: 

  • A household with or without children. Children temporarily in foster care are still members, and single individuals are eligible. 
  • An elderly family. An elderly family is a family whose head, co-head, spouse, or sole member is at least 62 years old, a family wherein two elderly people live together, or one in which one or more elderly people live with their live-in aide(s). 
  • A disabled family. A disabled family is a family whose head, co-head, spouse, or sole member is a person with disabilities, a family with two disabled people living together, or one in which one or more people with disabilities live with their live-in aide(s). 
  • A displaced family. These are families that have been displaced by government action or those whose housing was damaged or destroyed as a result of a disaster recognized by federal disaster relief laws. 

Additionally, a member of a family that was previously part of an assisted tenant family can remain eligible for Section 8 if the other family members leave the unit and they remain. 

Income 

The main Section 8 eligibility criterium is income level. The HUD sets annual income limits and defines specific tiers in which a family’s income must fall in order to be eligible for the program. 

Adjusted Gross Income 

The HUD uses Adjusted Gross Income (or AGI) to calculate eligibility, which is a family’s total income (all wages, dividends, business income, etc.) minus any deductions (e.g., alimony payments, student loan interest, etc.). Some income is always excluded, such as income from public assistance programs (like SNAP), income earned by student minors and foster children, or reimbursements for certain expenses.  

A family’s AGI must fall into one of these three primary income tiers to qualify for Section 8: 

  • Extremely low-income – less than 30% of the median income for the area 
  • Very low-income – less than 50% of the median income for the area 
  • Low-income – less than 80% of the median income for the area 

In general, a family’s AGI must fall into the extremely low-income or very low-income categories to qualify for the program. The very low-income limit (>50%) is used to determine initial eligibility, and families in the extremely low-income category (>30%) are given the highest priority. In fact, local public housing agencies (PHAs) must give at least 75% of their vouchers to extremely low-income families each year. However, low-income families who make less than 80% of the median income may also be eligible if the meet one of the following criteria: 

  1. They are continuously assisted under the Section 8 or public housing program. 
  1. They are non-purchasing households in the HOPE 1, HOPE 2, or other HUD-assisted multifamily home ownership programs. 
  1. They have been displaced because of a mortgage prepayment or voluntary termination of a mortgage insurance contract. 

Since the median income varies by area, the actual value of income that meets the Section 8 eligibility income criteria varies widely. The number of members in the family also influences these income limits. For example, the median income in the Cincinnati metro area is $103,600. Below are the income limits based on household size in Cincinnati

Household Size (# of members) Extremely Low Income (30%) Very Low Income (50%) Low Income (80%) 
1 $21,250 $35,400 $56,650 
2 $24,300 $40,450 $64,750 
3 $27,350 $45,500 $72,850 
4 $30,350 $50,550 $80,900 
5 $35,140 $54,600 $87,400 

To qualify for Section 8, a family’s AGI needs to fall within the applicable income limits for the PHA’s jurisdiction at the time they receive a voucher to search for housing. The HUD has a useful online tool that shows the median income and income tiers by county. 

Citizenship 

An applicant must be a U.S. citizen or have eligible immigration status to qualify for Section 8 housing.  

For citizens, the verification process only involves signing a declaration of U.S. citizenship. However, individual PHAs reserve the right to ask for proof of citizenship via a U.S. passport, resident alien card, registration card, Social Security Card, or other appropriate documentation. 

Non-citizens with eligible immigration status must provide: 

  • A signed declaration of eligible immigration status 
  • An eligible Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) document 
  • A signed verification consent form 

The PHA will use these documents to verify eligible immigration status through the INS automated system. Non-citizen students are not eligible for Section 8, but they may be eligible if they are married to a citizen spouse.  

Some families include several members who are citizens/eligible immigrants and others who are not. These families are referred to as mixed families, and they are eligible for prorated assistance based on the number of members who are citizens or have eligible immigration status. See page 5-5 of the Housing Choice Voucher Program Guidebook for a breakdown about how prorated assistance is calculated. 

Eviction for Drug-Related Criminal Activity 

While the primary responsibility for screening tenants (including Section 8 tenants) is always the landlord’s, the PHA may perform preliminary screening to qualify otherwise eligible applicants. For Section 8 eligibility in most areas, applicants must undergo an eviction check. Any applicant who has previously been evicted from public housing or the Section 8 program for drug-related criminal activity is not eligible for the Section 8 program until at least three years have passed since the day of that eviction. 

Elderly People and Persons with Disabilities 

There are two populations who can receive special acceptance to the Section 8 program: elderly people (those 62 years or older) and people with disabilities. Local PHAs determine the specific criteria for these populations and decide how the program works for them. Families who qualify for a Non-Elderly Disabled (NED) voucher through Section 8 can usually receive special admission to the program and don’t need to currently be on the waitlist to receive a rent subsidy. 

Conclusion 

The eligibility criteria mentioned in this article help to identify and prioritize the families most at risk of eviction or homelessness. However, they do not necessarily indicate that a tenant approved through the Section 8 program will be a good renter. Remember that you should use the same screening checks and evaluations with Section 8 renters that you would with any other tenants. A successful Section 8 tenancy relies on thorough screening on the landlord’s part as well as diligent communication and cooperation between the family, the PHA, and the landlord. 

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