The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development provides millions of low-income housing units across the nation through its Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program. HUD does not own Section 8 units -- private landlords can opt to include their rentals in the program -- but the agency distributes the subsidies that help eligible households pay their rent.
Section 8 participants receive Housing Choice Vouchers that represent a payment, sent directly to a property's owner, equal to the amount of rent that exceeds 30 to 40 percent of a family's income. HUD restricts program access to families with household incomes at or below 50 percent of their county or metropolitan area's median income. To ensure that local housing agencies deliver benefits to the families who need them most, HUD requires them to distribute a minimum of 75 percent of their vouchers to families with earnings at or below 30 percent of their area's median.
The maximum income Section 8 will accept into a program varies from place to place. While the aforementioned 50-percent threshold holds universally, cost of living essentially dictates local numbers. As household size increases, regardless of location, HUD's income limits rise. HUD sets its income limits annually based on American Community Survey data. The limits apply to other HUD programs, including its public housing initiative.
A family of four living in the Seattle, Washington metropolitan area can make up to $42,800 -- 50 percent of the area's median income -- and still qualify for Section 8 benefits. Their chances increase if their income falls at or below $25,700, equal to 30 percent of Seattle's median. Move to one of the several less affluent counties in Washington State and a family earning $27,700 sits at 50 percent of their area's median, highlighting the discrepancy that can exist between places.
HUD does not rely on a family's word when it comes to their income. Before a housing agency issues a voucher, it must verify household income. Federal regulations require Section 8 applicants to comply with a housing agency's request for documentation. At the time of application and annually thereafter, HUD asks for items such as paycheck stubs and tax returns to confirm Section 8 income eligibility.