Section 8 Housing
Updated February 2017 Fact Sheet PDF
The Housing Choice (Section 8) voucher program is the federal government's rental assistance program for low-income families and elderly and disabled people, assisting them in renting decent, safe, and sanitary housing. Under this program, you are free to choose any housing that meets its requirements. You are not limited to units located in subsidized housing projects and can instead seek and lease privately owned housing, including single-family homes, townhouses, and apartments.
Housing Choice (Section 8) vouchers are administered locally by public housing agencies (PHAs). The PHAs get federal funds from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). A family that is issued a rental voucher is responsible for finding and selecting a suitable rental unit of their choice. This unit may include the family's present residence. The PHA then pays a rental subsidy directly to the landlord on behalf of the participating family. The family will pay the difference between the actual rent the landlord charges and the subsidy sent by the PHA.
The PHA determines eligibility based on the family size and total annual gross income. The program is limited to U.S. citizens and specified categories of non-citizens who have eligible immigration status. In general, the family income may not exceed 50% of the median income for the area (by county or city) where the family wants to live. HUD publishes median income levels, which vary by location. The PHA serving your area can tell you the income limits that affect you.
When you apply, the PHA will ask about assets, as well as your family’s income and composition. The PHA will check this information with other local agencies, your employer, and a bank. It will then use the information to see if you qualify and, if so, for how much.
The PHA will put you on a waiting list if it finds that your family is eligible. But it might be able to help you immediately. If you have to wait, the PHA will contact you and issue you a rental voucher at the proper time.
Contact your local housing authority. See our fact sheet “Public Housing Authority Contact Information” for a full list of public housing authorities in Arkansas. For further help, contact the HUD Office nearest to you.
The demand for housing assistance often exceeds the resources that are available to HUD and the local housing agencies. Long waiting periods are common. In some cases, the waiting list can be so long that an PHA may temporarily stop adding names.
When selecting a family from its waiting list, an PHA may give preference to a family who: is involuntarily displaced, is homeless or living in substandard housing, or is using more than half its income for rent. Families who meet any of these criteria will move ahead of families who do not. Each PHA has the discretion to establish other additional preferences to reflect the needs of its community.
The Housing Choice voucher program places the choice of housing in the hands of the family. A very low-income family who has been selected by the PHA should consider several choices so that they can secure the best rental housing for their needs.
The rental unit must meet an acceptable level of health and safety before the PHA can approve payments to landlords. When the family finds a unit and reaches a lease agreement with the landlord, the PHA must both inspect the dwelling and review the lease for approval. The holder of a rental voucher is advised of the unit size they are eligible for (based on family size and composition), as well as the applicable levels of rent.
The PHA determines a payment standard to calculate how much help the family will receive, but this does not affect what the landlord may charge or what the family may pay. A family that receives a rental voucher can select a unit that rents below or above the payment standard. If the rent is above the payment standard, the family must use more than 30% of its monthly-adjusted gross income for rent and utilities. If the total rent is less than the payment standard, the family would pay less than 30% of its monthly-adjusted gross income.
Under the Housing Choice voucher program, a family may choose a unit that rents for more than the payment standard and may pay more or less than 30% of its monthly adjusted gross income for rent. The PHA calculates the maximum amount of rental help available. This is the difference between the payments standard and 30% of the family's monthly adjusted gross income. The PHA pays rental assistance. The amount it pays changes with the payment standard, while the amount the tenant pays varies with the actual rent.
For example, if a family finds a unit that rents below the payment standard, the family would pay less than 30% of its monthly-adjusted gross income in rent. On the other hand, if a family decides to rent a unit above the payment standard, it would pay more than 30% of its monthly-adjusted gross income in rent. The family's rent share also changes when its income or family circumstances change.
A family's housing needs change over time with changes in family size or job locations or for other reasons. The Housing Choice voucher program is designed to allow families to move without the loss of rental assistance. Moves are allowed as long as the family notifies the PHA in advance, properly terminates its existing lease, and finds acceptable new housing.
Under the voucher program, new voucher holders may choose a unit anywhere in the United States if, when the family applied for assistance, they lived within the jurisdiction of the PHA issuing the voucher. New voucher holders not living within the jurisdiction of the PHA at the time the family applies for rental assistance must initially lease a unit within that jurisdiction for the first 12 months of assistance.
Once the PHA approves a family's lease and housing unit, the family and the landlord sign a lease. At the same time, the landlord and the PHA sign a housing-assistance contract. The contract lasts as long as the lease. This means that all involved (the tenant, landlord, and the PHA) have obligations and responsibilities within the program.
The family must sign a lease with the landlord for at least one year. The tenant may be required to pay a security deposit to the landlord. After the first year, the landlord may offer a new lease or let the family stay in the unit on a month-to-month lease. The family is expected to comply with the lease and the program requirements, pay its share of rent on time, keep the unit in good condition, and notify the PHA of any changes in income or family composition.
The landlord must provide a decent, safe, and sanitary housing and do so at reasonable rent. The unit must pass the program's housing standards. Also, the landlord must keep it up to those standards as long as the owner receives housing-assistance payments. Finally, the landlord is expected to meet their obligations outlined both in the lease with the tenant and in the contract signed with the PHA.
The PHA administers the voucher program locally. The PHA provides a family with the rental assistance, which enables the family to seek out suitable housing. The PHA also enters a contract with the landlord to provide rental-assistance payments on behalf of the family. If the landlord fails to meet their obligations under the lease, the PHA has the right to terminate assistance payments.