How to Get Public Assistance for Housing

Government-subsidized housing is a form of public assistance. It provides affordable and decent housing to the needy in the form of certificates and vouchers. The Department of Housing and Urban Development funds the country's main sources of housing assistance, which are run by state and local housing agencies. Recipients have to meet income requirements and likely will encounter long waiting lists for government-subsidized housing.

Housing for Families, Elderly and Disabled Individuals

You must meet certain eligibility criteria to get into publicly-assisted housing. Housing agencies decide how to allocate government funds within their jurisdictions. In general, recipients are families or households that demonstrate financial need and an inability to find safe, decent and affordable housing on their limited means. Individuals may also receive pubic assistance if they are elderly or mentally or physically disabled.

The Application Process

The application process starts with local public housing authorities -- agencies throughout the states that administer HUD funds at the local level. Each authority manages its housing programs independently, therefore, certain criteria may vary by agency. Applicants can apply with multiple housing agencies to improve chances of getting government-subsidized housing. The process generally entails:

  • An application to get on a waiting list.
  • A lottery or other agency-designated process for selecting applicants from the waiting list.
  • Formal application, income, asset and background review by the public housing authority.
  • An interview and verification process.
  • A meeting, known as a briefing, to inform recipients of housing-program guidelines and renting policies.

Finding a Home

HUD funds three major forms of publicly-assisted housing:

  • Public housing is owned and operated by public housing agencies. The agency assigns recipients to specific public housing -- the recipient doesn't choose. 
  • Section 8 allows recipients to use a voucher or certificate at rental housing of their choice. For that reason, the assistance is also known as a Housing Choice Voucher or Certificate. Section 8 housing is privately owned, not government-owned. 
  • Project-based Section 8 involves privately owned properties that partner with housing agencies. The publicly funded properties receive a government subsidy for providing low-income housing. 

The public housing authority pays a portion of the rent to private landlords, while renters pay the housing authority directly for public housing. Recipients of these three forms of assistance generally pay a maximum of 30 percent of their income in rent.

Welfare Recipients Can Qualify, Too

Welfare and housing assistance programs often work hand-in-hand to help low-income recipients. The two systems are separate but may operate simultaneously. For example, a welfare recipient can obtain government-subsidized housing by using welfare benefits and payments received to qualify for housing assistance. A welfare program can also dictate the maximum amount of rent a recipient is allowed to pay for housing.