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Buying Section 8 Housing: The Homeownership Voucher Program

Jamie Johnson6-minute read

May 25, 2021

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If you come from a low-income household and are looking for assistance paying your rent, you may qualify for Section 8 Housing. The federal program gives qualifying participants a voucher, and a public housing agency pays a significant portion of their rent.

In the United States, roughly 4.5 million residents live in Section 8 Housing, and more than 50% of these residents will remain there for more than 5 years. Of those individuals living in Section 8 Housing, nearly 2 million are children. 

But if you’re hoping to qualify for a homeownership voucher, specific criteria must be met first. This article will explain what Section 8 Housing is, the eligibility requirements and how to apply for Section 8 Housing.

What’s Section 8 Housing?

The Section 8 Housing program was authorized under the Housing Act of 1937. The goal of the program is to provide low-income, disabled and elderly individuals with safe and sanitary shelter. It does this through the Housing Choice Voucher program.

Vouchers are portable subsidies that low-income families can use to lower their monthly rent. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) oversees and funds the program, but the vouchers themselves are administered by local public housing agencies (PHA).

The PHA determines eligibility for the program based on family size and total annual gross income. Your gross annual income cannot exceed 50% of the median income for that area to qualify. And by law, 30% of the vouchers must go to families whose income is below 30% of the median income.

If you qualify for Section 8 Housing, you’re expected to pay 30% of your monthly adjusted gross income toward rent and utilities. The remaining 70% is paid directly to the landlord by the PHA managing that family’s voucher.

What’s The Difference Between Section 8 And HUD?

Some people confuse Section 8 Housing with HUD housing, but these are two different programs. And one key difference is the available housing types. HUD housing is owned by the federal government and primarily consists of apartments and duplexes.

In comparison, Section 8 Housing participants are free to rent private residences as long as they’re approved by the local PHA. If you qualify for Section 8 Housing, you can rent an apartment, condo, single-family home or duplex.

The income requirements are more lenient for HUD housing; participants can earn up to 80% of the average income for their area. In comparison, the Section 8 income guidelines require participants to earn less than 50% of the average income for that area, with preference given to those earning below 30%.

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Buying A House Through Section 8

Though Section 8 Housing is designed to provide rental assistance, qualifying participants can also use the funds to purchase a home. Most families purchase a home and pay the same amount on a mortgage payment as they would to rent a house.

However, one thing important to note is that there’s a 15-year limit assistance with Section 8 Housing. So, if you take out a 30-year mortgage, you’ll only have vouchers to assist you in your monthly payments for half of the loan term. 

Let’s look at some of the pros and cons of buying a house through Section 8.

Pros

  • Participants are only required to pay 30% of their adjusted monthly income toward housing expenses.
  • Depending on where you live, you may have access to better homes than you could find as a renter.
  • Your local PHA will assist you through the home buying process.

Cons

  • Voucher support will end after 15 years, or 10 years if your mortgage terms are less than 20 years.
  • It could take a long time for you to qualify for a voucher due to the high demand for the program.

Housing Quality Requirements

And finally, any home you choose must meet the Housing Quality Standards (HQS) outlined by the HUD. There are specific requirements all homes must meet to pass these standards:

  • Cleanliness
  • Working kitchen area
  • Sanitary bathrooms
  • Working lights and electricity
  • Water availability
  • High air quality
  • Working smoke detectors
  • Sound structure and materials

In addition, the rent must be comparable to other units in that area. And the size must be appropriate given the number of members in your family. If you’re not sure whether the home you chose meets these requirements, your PHA can assist you in figuring it out. 

Eligibility Requirements

To understand the eligibility requirements for Section 8 Housing, let’s consider the case of Emma, a recent college graduate who’s working for a nonprofit in the Los Angeles area.

Income Guidelines

Emma started by checking the HUD’s online tool to determine whether or not she qualifies for Section 8 Housing. The median family income in Los Angeles is $80,000 per year, and the 50% income limit for a single individual is $41,400 per year. Emma currently earns $33,000 per year at her job, so she qualifies for Section 8 Housing.

Citizenship Status

Emma is ready to apply, so she begins filling out the Section 8 Housing Voucher program application. She has to provide the following information to prove her identity and citizenship status:

  • Name
  • Date of birth
  • Social Security Number
  • Annual gross income
  • Mailing address

Criminal History

Next, Emma has to provide some background information about any criminal history on file. She doesn’t have a record but is still required to undergo a background check. Having a record doesn’t automatically prevent you from qualifying, but anyone listed on a sex offender register won’t qualify.

Eviction History

Next, Emma is asked to explain any previous evictions that she’s gone through. Had she been previously evicted from public housing, she wouldn’t be eligible for the program.

Now that Emma has completed her application, she’ll either be rejected or placed on a waiting list. Even if she qualifies, there’s a good chance she could be rejected due to the high demand for the program.

How To Apply For Section 8 Assistance

If you meet the requirements for Section 8 Housing, here are the steps you’ll take to apply for the program.

Step 1: Find Your Local Housing Authority

The first step is to find your local housing authority. You can find your local PHA by state, city and zip code and receive all the available contact information on file. 

Step 2: Determine Your Eligibility

Next, you’ll work with your local PHA to determine whether you’re eligible for Section 8 Housing. Eligibility is based on the size of your family and your annual gross income. As a general requirement, your income cannot exceed 50% of the median income in your area.

Sometimes, a local PHA will show preference for certain individuals receiving housing assistance first. For instance, local residents or those dealing with homelessness may receive preferential treatment. If you qualify, be sure to let the PHA know so you can shorten your waiting time as much as possible.

Step 3: Fill Out The Application

Assuming you qualify for Section 8 Housing, you’ll need to fill out the program application. The application is free and will be available online or by mail. You’ll need to provide information about your income, citizenship, criminal history and eviction history.

Step 4: Find Out Your Waiting List Status

After you’ve submitted your application, you’ll find out your waiting list status. If you live in an area with a high demand for Section 8 Housing, you could find yourself on the waiting list for years. Once your application is processed, you can confirm your waiting list status through an online portal.

Step 5: Find Affordable Housing

And finally, once you receive your voucher, you can begin looking for affordable housing. You have 60 days to use your voucher after you receive it. Look for housing that accepts Section 8 vouchers and meets the program requirements.

Once you’ve chosen a home, you’ll sign a minimum 1-year lease with your landlord and may be required to put down a security deposit. You can expect to pay 30% of your monthly income toward rent, and the PHA will pay the remainder directly to your landlord.

If you decide to move after a year, you can do so without interrupting your Section 8 voucher benefits. But you must let the PHA ahead of time, and your new residence must meet the HUD’s housing requirements.

The Bottom Line: Buying A House Through Section 8 Is A Great Step

If you need help finding affordable housing, Section 8 Housing could be a good fit. It provides safe and affordable housing to low-income families. And though the program is aimed at providing rental income, you can use the funds from the Section 8 homeownership voucher program to buy a home. 

However, it can take a long time to get approved for the program. Some individuals stay on the waiting list for years before getting approved for Section 8 Housing.

If you’re looking to buy a house and don’t want to wait to get approved for Section 8 Housing, there are other options you can consider. Look into a down payment assistance program while you wait for Section 8 approval.

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Jamie Johnson

Jamie Johnson is a Kansas City-based freelance writer who writes about a variety of personal finance topics, including loans, building credit, and paying down debt. She currently writes for clients like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Business Insider, and Bankrate.