When you’re a single mom, it can be difficult to afford a place to live that is safe for you and your little ones. It’s possible to find many low cost housing options, but most of them are in high crimes areas. Luckily, you can hope to find a safer place to live by using several government housing assistance programs, such as Emergency Solutions Grants program, Emergency Shelter Program, Housing and Community Facilities Programs, Family Unification Program, and Housing Choice Voucher Program (Section 8).
As a single mom, you may be eligible for some of these housing assistance programs, but the Housing Choice Voucher program, also known as Section 8, is one of the best choices for people with a low income to afford safe, decent housing.
Here’s what you need to know to apply for section 8 housing assistance.
Know More About Housing Choice Vouchers
Administered locally by public housing agencies (PHAs) and designed to assist the disabled, the elderly and very low-income families, the program is federally funded but run by an extensive network of more than 2,250 state and local housing agencies. As housing assistance is offered on behalf of the individual or family, it is possible for you to find your own housing, including townhouses, single-family homes, and apartments in the private market.
Here’s a bit more about housing choice vouchers:
- The PHAs receive funds from the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to administer the program.
- In 2012, Section 8 voucher and other forms of government rental assistance lifted 2.8 million people out of poverty.
- Even though you may be eligible, extremely low-income families with children and an income less than 30% of their respective area’s median income are more likely to get the voucher.
Once you get your housing voucher, you will have to find a suitable housing unit on your own. The owner of your new housing unit should agree to rent under the program. It is important to ensure that rental units meet minimum standards of safety and health, as outlined by the PHA. Since you will have to stay at your new location for at least a year, it is important to select a place keeping the following points in mind.
- Do you have school-aged children? Be sure to check the distance from your housing unit to the school before making a choice.
- Avoid high crime areas and always consider your neighborhood and surroundings.
- Consider childcare availability before selecting a housing unit. Also, consider the distance between your housing unit, the childcare provider, and your work location.
- In the absence of a vehicle, you should also consider how easy it is to access public transportation in the area you’re going to select.
Once you have selected a housing unit, your landlord will receive a housing subsidy by the PHA on your behalf. The rent subsidy is generally the lesser of the payment standard minus 30% of your monthly adjusted income. You will only have to pay the difference between the amount subsidized by the PHA and the actual rent charged by your landlord. In some cases, you can also use your voucher to purchase a modest home.
Know Your Eligibility
So many factors, including the median income in your area, your family’s income, your assets, how much rent you’re currently paying, and the composition of your family will determine your eligibility.
- A housing voucher is available only for US citizens and specified categories of non-citizens who already have eligible immigration status.
- Your income needs to be less than 50% of the median income in your area; however, the PHA also assists applicants earning closer to 30% of the median income in their counties or cities.
- Median income levels may vary by location and are clearly mentioned by HUD, but you can also know the income limits for your family size and area from the PHA.
- The PHA will also collect information about your assets, family income, and family composition and verify it with your bank, your employer, and other local agencies to determine program eligibility and the amount of the voucher.
Your name will go on a waiting list if your family is eligible. Here are a few important things to know about the waiting lists.
- There may be thousands of families already on the waiting list for Section 8 vouchers.
- Be prepared to wait up to 4-5 years to get your voucher.
- Some lists may already be closed to new applicants. Check with the PHA to know about it.
- Wait lists may open very briefly, for just five days in some cases, and this may happen once every seven years.
- Some PHAs use a ‘lottery’ approach to select 10,000 families out of 100,000 applicants on the waitlist.
Know the Types of Vouchers
It is important to determine if you need a tenant voucher or a property voucher. HUD offers assistance to both renters as well as homeowners. You may want to apply for a tenant voucher if you want to rent the unit where you’re living. Opt for a property voucher if you’d want some financial assistance to pay a mortgage for your housing unit.
Prepare Your Documents
Once decided, have pay stubs from your employer to verify your current salary. Talk to your property owner and get something in writing that confirms your current rent. You may need your mortgage information if you’re applying for a property voucher. As per Section 214, Part 812 of the Code of Federal Regulations, all your family members need to submit evidence of citizenship – you may also have to submit eligible immigration status for verification.
Begin the Application Process
Contact your local PHA to apply for a voucher. You can search online for PHAs – not all PHAs will allow you to complete the forms online though. You may require some assistance to complete the paperwork if you’re an eligible immigrant with English as a second language. To complete paperwork in person, you can contact your local public housing authority and meet them in their office hours.
Here’s a bit more about exactly what you should submit at the time of submitting your application:
- Evidence of citizenship
- Verification of $0 income or documentation of income
- Evidence of household composition
- Social security numbers of all family members
- Drug-free certification with release of information authorization
It is important to keep in mind that you must provide any documentation required for interim recertification before the due date, or else you may have your voucher terminated. Under no circumstances should you be supplying incorrect information. It is a crime to give false information to receive benefits or aid under any federally or state funded assistance program. If it is found that you have not given correct information, you may be imprisoned up to five years or fined up to $500.00 or both.
As mentioned, you may end up being on a waiting list, which is quite common. However, you need to bear in mind that some states may have different types of waiting lists for section 8 vouchers. For instance:
- Centralized Section 8 Application Waiting List: Several public housing agencies may share this type of list, which is open indefinitely.
- Section 8 Waiting List: There will be a separate waiting list for Section 8 maintained by the HUD. These waiting lists are also open and you can be on these lists by applying at public housing agencies in your state. It is important to be in the same state where you get your voucher and notify your housing agency when you’re on a waiting list and want to move.
Select a Housing Unit Carefully
After you get the voucher, you can select a housing unit that the PHA should approve. The Housing authority will inspect your housing unit for eight specific areas, such as the following:
- Living room
- Secondary rooms
- Other rooms for living
- Heating and plumbing
- Building exterior
- General health and safety
The Housing Inspector will also verify a listing of the conditions.
- Gas, electricity, water utilities should be working fine.
- There should no broken, missing, or badly cracked windowpanes.
- The refrigerator should be in working condition.
- There should be no holes, tears, or loose seams in linoleum or carpeting.
- Railings and stairs should be secured, and every stairway with more than four steps should have a railing.
- There should be no rats, mice, or insect infestation.
- There shouldn’t be any plugged drains or plumbing leaks.
- All windows and doors should have working locks.
- There should be no excessive debris in the unit, such as an accumulation of paper, boxes, tires, wood, auto parts, paint cans, batteries, or old appliances.
There are some other points as well that come under housing quality, and you should know about them and keep them in mind when looking for a new housing unit to ensure the Housing Inspector doesn’t reject it.
Once the Housing Inspector has approved your unit, you will have to sign a lease with your landlord for at least one year. If your housing needs change over time with changes in job locations, family size, or for other reasons, you can move without losing your housing assistance. Be sure to notify the PHA before moving and terminate your existing lease within the lease provisions to find alternate housing.
It is important to report any changes in writing and give information directly to your housing representative.
You should inform your housing representative of the following changes.
Update them about changes in income, including:
- New job
- Pay raise
- Termination of job
- Spousal or child support
- Overtime pay
- Regular monetary gifts
- Regular payment of bills
- Pension, SSI, and SSA
- Business Income
Be sure to update them about any changes in house hold composition, such as the following:
- A death in the family
- New baby
- A person moves out of your unit or who eats, sleeps, and bathes in your unit.
- Any addition to your household – it is mandatory to obtain your housing authority’s approval before letting someone move in your unit.
You should also notify them about any changes in assets, including:
- New bank accounts
- Changes in bank accounts
- Insurance settlement
- Bonds, stocks, or certificates of deposit
- Collections for investment, such as coin collection
- Life insurance with a cash value
- Gambling or lottery winnings
It is your responsibility to keep your unit decent, safe, and sanitary all the time. You should also keep all appointments scheduled with the PHA – they may terminate your voucher if you fail to keep two scheduled appointments.
For additional information about section 8 housing voucher program, contact the Office of Public Housing within your local HUD office or the local PHA serving your community. Remember, the demand for housing assistance usually exceeds the resources available to the local housing agencies and HUD, so you may have to wait for long to even come on the waiting list and finally get the voucher. If you are in an urgent need of housing, you may consider exploring some other subsidized programs administered by HUD. It is easy to get a list of programs from your local HUD office.