The Housing Choice Voucher program, which is more commonly called Section 8, helps low-income families procure safe and affordable housing. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funds the federal government’s rent assistance program, which is administered by local public housing agencies. As of March 2019, this program helps 5 million low-income families. Families must meet specific income guidelines to qualify for Section 8 housing assistance.
Although HUD sets income levels for qualifying for Section 8 housing, these levels change from state to state, and they also depend on family size.
Income Qualifications for Section 8
Each public housing agency sets its own eligibility requirements for the Housing Choice Voucher program based on the income limits established by HUD for their area. HUD adjusts its income limits according to family size, so the larger the family, the larger the income limits. The income limits vary from county to county; however, the standard program eligibility baseline is set at 50 percent of the local area’s median income. For example, a family of four in DeKalb County, Illinois cannot make more than $29,971, which is 50 percent of the county’s median income of $59,942, to qualify for assistance under the program.
Annual Income for Section 8
A family’s annual income includes alimony or child support, annuity payments, business income, disability or death benefits, gifts, gross wages, insurance proceeds, real or personal property net income, retirement or pension funds, severance pay, Social Security, unemployment benefits, welfare assistance and workers’ compensation.
Each family member must submit proof of income, such as paystubs or tax returns, to the public housing agency for income verification. The family’s annual income cannot exceed the median income limits set by HUD. The extremely low income limit is 30 percent, the very low income limit is 50 percent and the low income limit is 80 percent.
Fair Market Rent
The local housing market sets the fair market rent, which is the going rent for a moderately priced home. HUD uses this figure to calculate the payment standard, which it sets at between approximately 80 to 100 percent of the fair market rent. Under the Housing Choice Voucher program, a family pays 30 percent of its adjusted monthly gross income towards rent and utilities, and the public housing agency pays the difference. Under the budget cuts, families could see an increase in housing costs. For example, a 10 percent reduction in the payment standard could lead to a $100 a month rent increase, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Public Housing Local Guidelines
By law, public housing agencies must set aside 75 percent of its housing vouchers for extremely low income households. Families in DeKalb County, Illinois with incomes at or below $17,982, which is 30 percent of the county’s median income ($59,942), automatically qualify for assistance. Because of budget restrictions, however, only one in four families receive assistance, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Some states, such as Illinois, have placed a moratorium on Housing Choice Voucher program applications. States that still accept voucher applications can initiate local preferences, which reflect that particular community’s housing needs, and allow families who meet these preferences to move ahead of others on the waiting list.
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development: Housing Choice Vouchers Fact Sheet
- GoSection8: What is Section 8?
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development: Chapter 5: Eligibility and Denial of Assistance
- Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: National and State Housing Fact Sheets & Data
- Department of Numbers: DeKalb County Illinois Household Income
- Jupiterimages/Polka Dot/Getty Images