Low Income Guidelines for Housing in Arizona

Whether housing assistance comes in the form of rental or ownership initiatives, most providers use income as the primary qualifier. In Arizona, several state and local agencies provide programs that require applicants to earn household income that is considerably below their area's median. As is generally the case nationwide, Arizona's housing assistance plans use income limits set annually by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).


The purpose of most low-income housing programs is to enable families to meet the nationally accepted standard of housing affordability. As the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) reports, renters should spend no more than 30 percent of their earnings on rent and utilities. If they commit more, the concern is that they will not have enough cash left over to meet other key expenses, such as food and transportation.


Most housing assistance programs in Arizona, such as Tucson's Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program, adhere to HUD's income limits. Each year, HUD sets area-specific income limits based on data from the American Community Survey. HUD splits these figures, which change with household size, into three commonly-used categories. HUD considers families whose income is at or below 80 percent of their area's median income "low-income." HUD classifies households with earnings at or below 50 percent of the median "very low-income." And HUD labels families at or below 30 percent of the median "extremely low-income."


Housing assistance programs generally only accept applicants whose earnings fall below a certain income level. Section 8 programs across Arizona, for example, limit Section 8 assistance to very low- and extremely low-income families. To qualify for Section 8 assistance in Tucson, for instance, a family of four cannot earn more than $29,500 -- 50 percent of the Tucson metropolitan area's median income.


NLIHC data reveals considerable need for housing assistance across Arizona, particularly among those with the lowest incomes. Arizona's minimum wage, as of 2010, is $7.25, enough to afford, using the nationally accepted affordability standard, $377 in rent. The 2010 statewide fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $884, a 37 percent increase from 2000. To afford that level of a rent, a full-time worker needs to take in $17.00 an hour. The average renter household in Arizona earns $13.74 an hour.


Across the state, level of need varies. In the Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale metro area, for example, the typical two-bedroom outpaces the state average at $726, as of 2010. This rent requires a full-time hourly wage of $17.67 for affordability. HUD programs generally allow local agencies to place preference on groups they deem an area's neediest. As the HUD Housing Choice Voucher points out, these preferences often include homelessness or families who spend more than half of what they make on housing. HUD requires housing authorities to distribute 75 percent of their Section 8 subsidies to extremely low-income renters. Other programs use similar stipulations to ensure the families who need assistance the most receive it.