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Low Income Housing

What types of low-income housing are available?

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offers an array of rental assistance programs to help low-income individuals and families find and secure safe and hygienic housing. Programs such as Section 8 help residents find subsidized, privately owned rental units in their area. Public housing provides government owned housing units managed by public housing authorities. Other programs offer rental supplements and subsidies to specific subsections of the low-income population such as Native Americans.

Who qualifies for low-income housing assistance?

Individuals and families may be income-eligible for assistance under HUD programming if their annual incomes fall below a designated percentage of the Federal Poverty Level or below the median income level in their area. Individuals may also qualify for HUD assistance if they have a qualifying disability, meet federal guidelines to be considered elderly, or meet other program specific criteria such as belonging to a recognized Native American Tribe. You must provide verification to apply.

HUD-sponsored Housing Assistance

Federally funded housing assistance programs are prohibited from discriminating against eligible applicants on the basis of protected characteristics including age, race, gender, disability, religion and nation of origin. However, eligibility is not a guarantee that an applicant will receive services. Housing assistance programs often have significantly more applicants than there is funding to serve at any given time. As a result, qualifying applicants can find themselves on a waiting list until funds become available.

Apply for Housing Assistance

Most federally funded HUD programming is mediated and administered at the local level by authorized partner organizations called Public Housing Agencies (PHA). PHAs are the primary contacts and starting points for everyone seeking to apply for HUD housing assistance. HUD also collaborates with Housing Counseling Agencies, which offer consumers, certified, financially sound guidance on buying or renting a home, mortgages, foreclosures and general credit concerns. Housing counseling services for first time homebuyers is also available through HUD sponsored providers.

Not all HUD subsidies must be applied for through a PHA. Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) is provided directly to landlords and property owners to promote the acquisition, rehabilitation or construction of rental housing units. In return, LIHTC recipients agree to rent their properties only to qualifying low-income households. Individuals and families can apply directly for residency in LIHTC properties and receive eligibility assessments as part of that process.  Landlords must also maintain a high level of safety and agree to HUD inspections each year.

HUD’s website provides extensive lists of resources and links to maps, search tools and other navigation aids designed to assist families in determining what programs, supports and resources are available in their area at all levels. It also provides guidelines and charts heads of household can use to assess their eligibility for various programs prior to applying.

Documentation for Housing Assistance

Applications for housing assistance must be accompanied by a wide variety of supporting documents. Limits on how long applicants have to deliver these documents upon request apply, so it is in an applicant’s best interest to gather as much basic documentation as they can before beginning the application process. Mandatory documentation generally supports primary eligibility criteria by proving an applicant’s age or disability status, household income or family composition. Family composition encompasses the names, ages, birth dates and genders of all members of the household, as well as their relationship to the head of household. Examples of qualifying documentation include birth certificates, adoption records and marriage certificates. Additional family characteristics, such as veteran status, homelessness status or the unsafe, unhygienic condition of a family’s current living situation may also require documentation such as inspection records or intake information from a shelter. Native Americans and Native Hawaiians applying for HUD support under Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act (NAHASDA) programs may be required to provide documentation of membership in a recognized Tribe or residency on Hawaiian Home Lands as part of their eligibility documentation.

Income documentation may be comprised of pay stubs, tax returns and eligibility letters or benefits statements from other state or federal programs under which applicants are receiving payments or support. In some cases, banking and savings information, divorce records and other documentation relevant to a household’s available income and resources may be required. Disability documentation must clearly show that the applicant has received a medical diagnosis of a physical or mental impairment that directly and negatively impacts opportunity for gainful employment and which is considered terminal or chronic (longer than 12 consecutive months).

Rules to Follow When Receiving Housing Assistance

In addition to maintaining eligibility through income, age or disability status, housing assistance recipients must abide by all program rules and regulations. Recipients must inform their local PHA if their income or family membership changes and households are prohibited from receiving housing subsidies under multiple HUD programs at the same, for either the same unit or different units. Recipients who fail to abide by the terms of their leases, are evicted for cause, terminate their leases without warning or consultation with their PHA or who fail to actually live in the supported unit the majority of the time may be disqualified from further assistance under all HUD programming. Recipients who engage in violent or criminal activity, including bribery and fraud, or who are or threaten to be violent or inappropriate toward PHA staff will also be disqualified for all future benefits. Alcohol or substance abuse is also considered grounds for termination of housing assistance.

Time Limits on Housing Assistance

Each program will be regulated by separate and distinct guidelines. However, in many cases recipients may continue to receive HUD housing assistance indefinitely so long as they continue to meet eligibility criteria and remain in compliance with all program rules, regulations and requirements. Public housing agencies and housing counseling agencies will typically offer assistance and support to households that lose their eligibility for housing assistance due to changes in income or family size to ensure that families continue to remain safely and stably housed.  

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