People will from one time or another struggle financially. This can easily affect their ability to keep up with rent or mortgages owed.
While housing is a basic human need, it must still be paid for. There are many housing options out there, but they become limited when money is tight.
This struggle to find affordable housing has pushed many people into homelessness. The government did however develop rent assistance programs to help. When the need is acute, people may apply for emergency section 8 housing.
The name Section 8 comes from the actual Section 8 of the 1937 Housing Act. It calls for the payment of housing assistance to the private landlords of low-income families.
It currently takes the form of two types of assistance. Voucher and project-based. More on this later.
Given recent challenges with the pandemic and resulting job losses, many people are struggling. Section 8 housing assistance provides a means by which many families can keep a roof over their heads.
Over 5 million households received assistance from this program in 2018 alone. Chances are even more will need help in the current and coming year.
For a long time, there have been many more applications for assistance than funding. This means that people often find themselves on waiting lists for even 3-6 years. With no assurance, they will get funds anyway.
Later we will discuss what strategies a person can use to work their way up the list. And improve their chances of securing that voucher.
Let’s first explore the history of section 8 housing and how it works.
What is Section 8 Housing?
These programs were initially created in the 1970s. They worked by providing specific privately-owned housing that was subsidized. Families would pay lower rent that was based on their level of household income.
Within a few years, it was obvious that things were not going well. These project-based rental assistance programs were pushing low-income families into high-poverty developments dubbed “projects”.
Seemingly at a too high cost than the quality of housing being provided. Congress thus sought to find a better solution.
A voucher-based program was introduced. Distributed through public housing authorities (PHAs), they gave people more freedom of choice. As long as a minimum housing quality standard is met, people can choose where they want to live.
However, landlords are not required to participate in the program. So tenants will have to find landlords willing to accept these vouchers voluntarily. The housing must also meet minimum US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) housing standards.
The amount of the voucher often tends to vary. It can be based on the particular locality and size of the housing unit.
How Section 8 Housing Works?
Applications are made to any housing authority office within the state. How the vouchers may be issued will however depend on whether you are a resident or non-resident.
Residents of the jurisdiction issuing the voucher may use it for housing anywhere in the country. If applying while a non-resident, you can only use it within the issuing jurisdiction. And this must be done within a year.
To know how much a family should pay as rent, one must calculate adjusted income. The entire household income is first determined. Then total expenses from catering to underage and disabled dependents, full-time students, and medical expenses.
The difference is what gives the adjusted income. 30% of adjusted income then becomes the household contribution for Section 8 housing. Some adjustments may be made by the HUD based on asset estimates.
The voucher the family gets then covers the balance of the rent owed to the landlord. The federal government does perform regular reviews to ensure the rents being charged are fair. They also do inspections of properties to ensure the quality of housing.
Remaining a part of this program requires families to abide by certain rules. They must take due care of the property they are residing in. Unpaid damages from previous housing can cause one to be removed from the program.
They are also obligated to give a timely update to the PHA on any changes to household income. The same applies to when family composition changes. For instance, if a child reaches adulthood or someone moves out.
The waiting lists of may PHAs are limited. This means there can be a few thousand slots versus over a hundred thousand applications. The window of opportunity to apply can also be restricted.
How to Apply?
There are basic requirements for applying for Section 8:
- Have proof of citizenship or residency
- Provide suitable identification
- Have a low income – below half of the state median income level
- Provide evidence of household incomes
- List down special circumstances
This last requirement is where you can make your case for emergency assistance. It is what the PHA will use to assess your level of need.
It will determine your points and how far up the waiting list you will go. If you qualify for Section 8.
Should you have a history of criminal activity that led to eviction, then you may not qualify.
Emergency Section 8 Housing
Becoming a priority on the waiting list can also be very tough. Some PHAs do give priority to certain special groups.
These can include domestic violence victims, veterans, the disabled, seniors, and local residents. Those affected by natural disasters and other calamities can also be prioritized. If qualified, they may receive an emergency voucher immediately.
Emergency Section 8 housing is the priority list. It operates on a point scale. Those with a higher score get to move up the list.
They however must have housing that meets their needs and the requirements of the HUD. It is important to note that there is no guarantee of even landing on the waiting list at all.
It is best to consult the local PHA office to learn what criteria is applied for emergency vouchers.
Who Qualifies for Emergency Section 8 Housing?
As said there are specific groups of people that are considered for emergency vouchers. Their circumstances are considered more urgent. And therefore in greater need of assistance.
Seniors are considered a vulnerable group. More so when their condition requires medical support. Vouchers are issued as soon as such supportive housing becomes available.
Those that are disabled are also prioritized. This applies to those with both mental and physical disabilities.
Veterans and service members can also be prioritized for emergency section 8 housing.
Single parents with minor children coming from domestic violence situations are also prioritized. More so when more than half the household income has been going to rent.
Anyone that is facing eviction from public housing is also considered. Anyone facing the possibility of homelessness in the above categories can be further prioritized.
Persons or families that have lost their homes as a result of a fire or natural disaster also qualify. This is if FEMA does not already support them.
Tips to Moving Up the Waiting List
Because there is such a high demand for housing assistance, it can be tough to secure this funding. If in an emergency as described above, you need to work harder at moving up the list. Here are a few tips for achieving this.
It is legal to apply for vouchers at multiple PHAs. This is not so you can get multiple vouchers, which is fraud. But rather to get a voucher quickly where available.
Different PHAs have different levels of demand. They also have varying deadlines by which to make an application. Seeking out those you can immediately get assistance from is acceptable.
Seek out information from as many local PHAs as you can to figure out which are still accepting applications. Those with fewer applications may be able to accommodate your need faster.
Do The Research
There are multiple PHAs with multiple rules. You will need to make quite a few calls and possible visits from each one. Understanding how they work, their deadlines, and requirements will help.
You can prioritize applying to those with shorter deadlines and shorter waiting lists. You may find one PHA more sympathetic to your situation than another. This could make it easier to work your way to the top of the list.
It is your responsibility to find housing. You will also need to make the rounds to find suitable options. Call landlords and find out those that accept vouchers and have vacancies.
Getting yourself organized in this way can speed up your access to a voucher. Most PHAs are reachable on phone. You can also easily find their addresses online.
Do not waste time with email as this may take a while to get a response. Do the legwork. Be persistent and keep pursuing information, even when your calls do not go through.
Contact A Social Worker
Social workers are in a position to recommend people for emergency section 8 housing. They can help push your name up the waiting list.
Get in touch with one to see if you can secure this recommendation. Many PHAs do consider their recommendation when determining how urgent a case is.
If in an emergency, it should not be too hard to get in touch with one. You can speak to a doctor or lawyer to help put you in touch.
Many aid organizations also have contacts with these departments. Some even have social workers that volunteer or work part-time.
We cannot reiterate how much calling can make a difference. It can seem a desperate move, but the more noise you make about it, the better your chances.
Even as you send in your applications, try to establish a contact within the PHA. Keep following up with them to emphasize your need. even if it is every week, let them know you are still waiting and would appreciate the help.
Keeping your name in their minds may help encourage them to give you a break. In reality, the quieter you are about something, the easier it is to become sidelined.
Alternatives to Emergency Section 8 Housing
While there are ways to bypass and get emergency section 8 housing assistance, it is tough. The funds are still limited and the waits can be long. Not to mention desirable apartments you could be hoping for can be easily snatched up.
While making your applications where possible, do consider alternative options.
For the disabled cases, the HUD does offer a separate assistance program. The Non-Elderly Disabled Vouchers Program (NED) is available. This assistance offers funding for specially approved private housing, separate from Section 8.
There are also many shelters and hallway houses that cater to the same categories of people. Those in domestic violence situations and those facing homelessness can often find support. These places not only provide housing but also often offer counseling and other support.
This can be a good temporary solution as you wait on getting section 8 housing assistance.
Housing assistance is a possibility if you are willing to put in the work. Just applying is not good enough.
Just as with trying to finding a job you have to do the research and be persistent. Given that it is legal to apply to multiple PHAs, there is no reason you cannot get help if you are determined.
You can make use of alternatives to help fill the gap until you get a voucher. From applying for welfare assistance to taking a bed at a shelter, there are options. Even sleeping on a friend’s couch is fine, as long as you do not make yourself a burden.
Even as a felon, you can get this assistance. Especially if your crimes did not lead to eviction. Find a social worker that can support your efforts and help bump you up the list.
Be flexible about where you can live, especially if applying as a non-resident. With the growing need for housing, it will not be easy. but others have done it before and so can you.