Understanding Section 8 Eligibility

Housing can be expensive. That is not breaking news to anyone in America, especially those dealing with financial hardship. Luckily there is a government assistance program available that can help. The Housing Choice Voucher Program (also referred to as section 8) can help eligible low income Americans deal with their housing costs.

Understanding Section 8 Housing Assistance

The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) made the Housing Choice Voucher Program (sometimes referred to as section 8). This program can give housing vouchers to qualifying low-income individuals. These housing vouchers can go towards the cost of housing if the property accepts them as a form of payment. Unfortunately, not every property accepts these vouchers so recipients are limited to which properties they can choose.

Even though this is a HUD program, it is provided through your local Public Housing Authority (PHA) who will manage the program. In order to receive this program assistance you will need to meet the qualifying criteria. While the specific requirements will vary based on the state, you can generally expect four factors to impact your eligibility which are:

  • Income Level
  • Family Status
  • Eviction History
  • Citizenship Status

Income Level

Since this program is only meant to help low-income individuals, income level plays an important part in eligibility. There are three main categories when it comes to understanding income level. The categories are:

  • Low Income
  • Very Low Income
  • Extremely Low Income

Generally, those considered low income make 80 percent of the area’s median income (AMI), while those who make 50% of the AMI are considered very low income, and those who make 80% of the AMI are considered extremely low income.

There will be a prioritization of extremely low income families that need assistance. That’s because people who fall under this category are more in need. The next priority will be very low income families, and finally the last priority is low income families. Even though each category is cost-burdened, the government aims to help those in need the most first.

How is Income Level Calculated?

When your local PHA is reviewing your application, they will need to verify your income. In order to do that they will need to look at your sources of income which may include:

  • Salary
  • Tips
  • Child Support
  • Commission
  • Overtime Pay
  • Retirement Fund
  • Interest or Dividends from Assets
  • Pension
  • Retirement Fund
  • Unemployment
  • Alimony
  • Welfare
  • Social Security
  • Disability
  • Lottery Winnings

Your local PHA will let you know what specific information they need when you are going through the application process.

Family Status

While HUD has their own definition of a family, they allow your local PHA to have their own definition as well. Family types that may be eligible include:

  • Families with or without children
  • Elderly families where someone is at least 62 years old.
  • Families with a member that has a disability.
  • Displaced families
  • A single person where there is not more than one member in the household.

It is also important to note that the size of the family will be an important part when it comes to the income level consideration. For example, a single person making $25,000 a year will be better off than a family of four making the same amount.

Eviction History

Another important factor to eligibility requirements for section 8 assistance is an individual’s eviction history. Individuals may not be eligible to receive this assistance option if they:

  • Were evicted from a property within three years due to drug-related criminal activity
  • Were convicted of producing methamphetamines in assisted project housing.

Citizenship Status

The government only allows HUD assistance for American citizens or those with a qualifying immigration status. The process will look different depending on which you have. If you are an American citizen then you will need to provide your social security information. If you have a qualifying immigration status then you will need to provide the necessary documentation that your local PHA will highlight like your passport, immigration documentation, etc.

How to Apply for Section 8 Assistance?

If you are interested in applying for section 8 assistance then you can basically break the process down into 4 steps.

Step #1: Get in Touch with Your Local PHA

You will need to find your local PHA in order to begin the process. This can be done through an online search or through HUD. You will need important information like their contact details, address, etc. Once you find where you will go, you can reach out.

Step #2: Review Your Eligibility

Your local PHA can provide you necessary information you need on determining your eligibility. It is important to keep in mind that eligibility will vary based on the area. If you find that you are not eligible in one spot, you may benefit from checking out another location.

Step #3: Begin the Application Process

You can begin the application process at your local PHA. Once you understand your eligibility they can give you the application documentation you need. These applications are free and may be able to be done online, through the mail, or in person depending on your locality. It is important that you fill out the application correctly and honestly. Any missing or inaccurate information can result in delays or rejection. Once you fill out the application you will need to follow the PHA’s instructions to submit it. Make sure to hand it in on time!

Step #4: Wait for Your Results

Once you submit your application you will need to wait for it to be processed. Processing time varies but generally takes a few months. Once the application gets processed you will either be approved and likely placed on a waiting list or rejected. If you are rejected and have questions you can speak to your local PHA for clarification.

Commonly Asked Questions About Section 8

Understanding section 8 assistance can be a bit confusing. Luckily it doesn’t have to be! There are some questions that people have had about section 8 that you may have too.

How are Voucher Values Determined?

The value of your housing voucher will be based on information found on your application like income level, family size, etc. However, vouchers also require recipients to only pay 30% of their household income or at least $50 for rent and utilities (whichever is higher). The voucher will cover the rest up to a limit referred to as the payment standard.

What Documentation Will You Need to Apply? 

The documentation you will need varies but you can generally expect that you will need to provide:

  • Birth certificates for all family members
  • Social security cards for all family members
  • Driver’s license
  • State or alternate government issued photo ID.
  • Passport (if you are not a U.S. citizen)
  • Immigration papers (if you are a registered immigrant or alien)
  • Signed verification of immigrant status (if applicable)
  • Income verification like paystubs, tax documents, bank statements, etc.
  • Disability documentation like medical records (if applicable)

How do Waitlists for Section 8 Work?

Since so many families are eligible for section 8 assistance and need support, there are long waitlists for this program. In fact, waitlists are so long that some PHAs only allow applications during a specific timeframe. Generally you will be placed on a waiting list after your application is processed but sometimes (very rarely) you may receive assistance right away.


Section 8 assistance (properly known as the Housing Choice Voucher program) is a great opportunity to receive support for eligible individuals. Generally there are 4 main factors that impact your eligibility which include your income level, family status, eviction history, and citizenship status.

You can begin the process of getting section 8 down at your local PHA. From there, you can start the application process. Once you submit your application, you may be able to receive assistance and will likely be put onto a waitlist or you will be rejected. If you have any questions about your application decision you can clarify with your local PHA! Luckily, your situation may not be as helpless as it feels.