As with most initiatives involving a government subsidy, HUD's Section 8 Housing Voucher Program uses income at its main eligibility criterion. In Pennsylvania, each housing agency that administers Section 8 benefits can only process applications from families who fall into two of HUD's three primary low-income categories. HUD structures the program so that families with the lowest incomes see the best chance of securing benefits.
HUD aims to ensure that an area's neediest families receive Section 8 assistance. As a 2010 National Low Income Housing Coalition analysis shows, there is not a county in the country where a full-time worker earning the prevailing minimum wage can afford the market rate rent on even a one bedroom apartment. Section 8 subsidies help close this gap between fair market rents and what low-wage earners can afford to pay in rent, based on the standard that household should spend no more than 30 percent of its income on rent. HUD only accepts Section 8 applications from families with household incomes at or below 50 percent of their area's median income.
HUD establishes income limits annually that regulate access to the Section 8 program. Families that fall into two of HUD's three main categories qualify for Section 8 rental assistance. HUD considers a family with combined household earnings at or below 50 percent of their area's median income "very low-income." HUD labels households at or below 30 percent of their area's median "extremely low-income." While families at or below 80 percent of their area's median -- classified as "low-income" -- qualify for public housing benefits, HUD does not permit entrance into Section 8 at this level.
Specific income figures vary by household size and location throughout Pennsylvania. For example, 50 percent of the median income for a family of four in the Erie Metropolitan Area equals $28,550, as of 2010. This number drops to $25,700 and rises to $30,850 for two-person and four-person households, respectively. In the Philadelphia Metropolitan Area, meanwhile, 50 percent of the median income for four people is $39,150, as of 2010.
HUD directs local housing agencies to ration 75 percent of its Section 8 vouchers for families in the "extremely low-income" category. This mandate helps ensure that the program serves the poorest applicants. In Erie, for instance, 30 percent of the median income for a family of four equals $17,150; in Philadelphia, this number increases to $23,500.