The federal government provides low-income housing in the form of public housing and housing vouchers. To qualify, you typically cannot earn more than 80 percent of the median income for households of the same size in your area. However, just because you qualify doesn't mean the process is quick. You must submit an application, pass an eligibility interview and then wait on a rental unit or housing voucher to become available. From start to finish, you may have to wait several months or longer to move into a new home.
Public Housing Authority
Locate your state's public housing agency, or PHA. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development provides a list of locations on its website. Select your state of residence. A list of all PHAs in your state will appear, along with contact information for each. This includes the PHA's office address, phone and fax numbers, email address and low-income housing programs it administers -- subsidized housing, Section 8 housing vouchers, or both.
To qualify for low-income housing provided by a PHA, you must be low-income, elderly or disabled. Rental units available vary between locations and can range from multi-unit apartments to free-standing homes. To apply, submit an application to your local PHA. Visit your local PHA to obtain an application in person, or call and have one mailed to you. Many PHAs, such as the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, also make applications available online. Depending on the PHA, you may have to wait for its open enrollment period.
Information requested on the application typically includes your name, address and phone number as well as the name, Social Security number, date and place of birth, income, and disability-- if any -- of all household members. Return your application by mail or in person to the PHA. The PHA will schedule you for an interview to confirm eligibility. If you qualify, the PHA will place you on a waiting list until a rental unit becomes available and you can move in.
Housing Choice Vouchers
Depending on where you live, Housing Choice Vouchers may also be available. Instead of living in public housing, you locate your own housing in the private market, which can be an apartment, townhouse or single family home. The PHA then pays a portion of your rent in the form of a housing subsidy -- the voucher. You pay the balance left over after the subsidy amount is deducted from the rent.
To apply, request placement on the wait list. Wait list applications can only be submitted when the list is open, which many PHAs announce on their websites. After you submit your application and the wait list closes, the PHA will conduct a random lottery. If your name is drawn, the PHA will notify you by mail and add your name to the voucher wait list. When a voucher becomes available, the PHA will schedule you for an interview. If found eligible, you will be issued a voucher and can begin your housing search.
Your annual gross income must fall at or below very low income or lower income to qualify for low-income housing or housing voucher program. HUD defines very low income as at or below 50 percent of the median income for a household of the same size in your residential area. Lower income is defined as at or below 80 percent of the median income for a similar-sized household in the area. Income limits are updated each year and can be found on HUD's website. You must also be a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident to qualify for housing assistance. Seniors and disabled renters also must meet these income and citizenship requirements.
During your housing interview, you must confirm your eligibility with documentation. To verify income, bring in paycheck stubs, tax returns and bank statements. To verify your identity, age and citizenship status, bring in such documents as your passport, birth certificate, state driver's license or identification card, Social Security card, and green card if you're a lawful permanent resident. If you have a disability, bring in medical documents and a physician letter confirming your condition. If other people live in your household, they will have to bring in these documents as well.
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development: Public Housing
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development: Housing Choice Voucher Program Fact Sheet
- Atlanta Housing Authority: Housing Choice
- Miami-Dade Housing Authority: Waiting List
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development: HUD's Public Housing Program
Based on the West Coast, Mary Jane Freeman has been writing professionally since 1994, specializing in the topics of business and law. Freeman's work has appeared in a variety of publications, including LegalZoom, Essence, Reuters and Chicago Sun-Times. Freeman holds a Master of Science in public policy and management and Juris Doctor. Freeman is self-employed and works as a policy analyst and legal consultant.