The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funds and oversees the Section 8, or Housing Choice Vouchers, program. HUD lets local public housing agencies (PHAs) control the day-to-day operations of the program; therefore, there is no set time between approval for assistance and the receipt of a Section 8 voucher. Applicants are at the mercy of their PHA's administrative process. There are federal guidelines, however, that govern other aspects of Section 8 vouchers.
There is no set time limit for receiving the voucher after you've been approved for assistance. It depends on your PHA's administrative process. The longest delay occurs in the pre-approval stage, and it may take a couple of years from first application to being awarded a voucher.
Function of the Section 8 Program
HUD's aim with the Section 8 program is to close the gap between a city's market rate rents and what a low-income family can afford to pay for rent. As the U.S. Census Bureau explains, when a household spends 30 percent of their income, or less, on rent and utilities, most experts agree that their housing expenditure is affordable.
Once a family breaks the 30 percent threshold, the concern is that they will not have enough money remaining to cover life's other necessities, such as food, health care and the cost of transportation.
Section 8 Assistance Process
Families are eligible to apply for Section 8 assistance if their household income is at or below 50 percent of their area's median income. When a PHA approves a family for Section 8 housing, they receive a voucher that includes a number on it, indicating the size of the unit HUD has authorized them to rent.
This voucher represents the difference between 30 percent of a family's income, in most cases, and the HUD payment standard for a rental. When HUD approves a tenancy, the agency pays its share of the tenant's rent directly to the property's landlord.
This process does not always commence straightaway, however. As HUD's Housing Choice Voucher website indicates, "long waiting periods are common." Some PHAs close their list once demand for vouchers significantly outstrips supply.
Wait lists numbering several years are common across the nation, particularly in populous and expensive rental markets. If a family gets on the list, their PHA contacts them when they reach the top, confirms their eligibility and gives them their voucher.
Time Frame for Section 8 Vouchers
When a PHA issues a Section 8 voucher, the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) requires that the PHA give the assisted family at least 60 days to obtain housing. A PHA can extend the time it allots to a family on the basis of factors at its discretion. The CFR states that a PHA must extend the initial voucher term by an amount of time "reasonably required" to "make the program accessible to a family member who is a person with disabilities."
Limits to the Program
There are limits placed on how a family can use a voucher, particularly in relation to the cost of rent. HUD sets area-specific payment standards annually, based on fair market rents for cities, counties and metropolitan regions. If a family rents a unit that is at or below the payment standard, the Section 8 voucher pays the segment of the rent that exceeds 30 percent of a family's income.
A Section 8 household can choose a unit with rent higher than the payment standard for their area, however, HUD requires the household to pay the portion of the rent that exceeds the payment standard. Overall, a Section 8 family cannot commit more than 40 percent of its income to the cost of rent and utilities.
Section 8 Voucher Example
The 2018 HUD payment standard for a two-bedroom unit in the Los Angeles-Long Beach, California, metropolitan area is $1,465. If a Section 8 family earns $1,750 a month, they will pay $525 in rent (30 percent of $1,750). Their PHA pays the difference, which equals $940.
If the same family wanted to rent a $1,600 two-bedroom apartment through the Section 8 program, they would have to cover the $135 in rent that exceeds HUD's payment standard. This would bring the family's share of the rent to $660 ($525 plus $135 over the payment standard). Because this housing expenditure represents 37.7 percent of their income, their PHA can approve the tenancy. If, however, they wanted to rent a $1,700 two-bedroom, their PHA would not approve the tenancy because, at $760 ($525 plus $235 over the payment standard), their rent eats up 43.4 percent of their income, which is against Section 8 program guidelines.
As a writer since 2002, Rocco Pendola has published numerous academic and popular articles in addition to working as a freelance grant writer and researcher. His work has appeared on SFGate and Planetizen and in the journals "Environment & Behavior" and "Health and Place." Pendola has a Bachelor of Arts in urban studies from San Francisco State University.