The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) created Section 8 to offer housing assistance to low-income households in America.
But unfortunately, many of those who most need housing assistance have a felony background.
But are felons eligible for Section 8 housing assistance?
We discuss the ins and outs of Section 8 housing and what could render an ex-felon eligible or ineligible below.
Can You Get Section 8 with a Felony?
The short answer is, maybe.
Most felonies will allow the offender to become eligible to apply for Section 8 housing eventually.
However, there may be a requisite time period such as five — or even ten — years that the applicant must allow passing between the committed felony and application.
Once the applicant has allowed the necessary time to elapse, they may become eligible to apply for Section 8 housing once again.
However, there are certain felonies that, once committed, disqualify an applicant for Section 8 housing permanently.
Federal law disallows public housing authorities to provide housing assistance to people who have committed these felonies.
How to Get a Section 8 Voucher with a Felony
If you have a previous felony and you are applying for a Section 8 voucher, there are a few guidelines that you should follow to make your application more likely to succeed.
Before applying for housing assistance, it’s best to start by locating your Public Housing Authority, or PHA.
Once you have located the local Public Housing Authority, it’s essential to read over the application guidelines thoroughly to determine if you are eligible to apply for housing assistance.
If the policies seem unclear, or if your situation falls into a “grey area,” then you may wish to consult with a Public Housing Authority or locate pro bono legal aid in your area for advice.
Next, you should obtain a local Section 8 housing choice voucher application.
You will want to examine the application thoroughly and gather all the required information.
Be prepared to offer proof of your total household income and current housing situation.
Felonies and Section 8 Housing: The Basics
If you have a prior felony, you may be worried about your Section 8 housing assistance eligibility.
Understanding how your felony may affect your Section 8 housing application is crucial.
There may be measures you can take to make your application more likely to succeed.
Section 8 Criminal Background Check
When you submit a Section 8 Public Housing Authority application, it’s essential to understand that the PHA will run a thorough background check on you and every member of your listed household.
It is always advisable to disclose all previous felonies of every member of your household.
If it appears that you attempted to cover up a felony, the Public Housing Authority is unlikely to be forgiving.
The background check is guaranteed to turn up any existing felonies.
A better tactic is to be honest and explain how the ex-felon has rehabilitated and taken steps to become a contributing member of society.
Felonies that Disqualify an Individual from Section 8
Although most felonies will not disqualify a Section 8 applicant, there are three felonies that federal law bans from receiving Public Housing assistance.
These felonies are excluded as they indicate an increased risk to other Section 8 housing applicants and potential neighbors.
The two felonies that ban offenders from Section 8 for life are:
- Those who are on the lifetime sex offender registration
- Those who have been convicted of producing methamphetamine on federally funded housing property
Additionally, one may be excluded from Section 8 housing if they are currently using illegal drugs — even if they have never been convicted of an offense.
Public Housing Authorities conduct substance testing to ensure beneficiaries are not abusing drugs.
Failing a substance test will result in the denial of all housing assistance.
However, your local Public Housing Authority may have additional regulations.
Many PHAs have created unique local policies that may ban people from receiving housing assistance for different offenses.
It is important to research your local PHA, as the local regulations can vary — although other restrictions are often linked to alcohol, drug, and criminal history.
HUD Rules for Felons
While most applicants with prior felonies are eligible for public housing assistance, it’s vital to understand HUD rules and regulations for those who have been convicted of a felony.
- Generally, you are welcome to apply for housing assistance five years after committing a felony. However, the wait may be as high as ten years before becoming eligible for a Section 8 voucher in some areas.
- There will be a criminal background check — don’t try to hide your felony, as it will be disclosed regardless, and lying won’t make you look better.
- There will be a substance test — those individuals who are abusing drugs and/or alcohol will not be eligible for housing assistance.
Additionally, according to 24 CFR § 982.553 – Denial of Admission and termination of assistance for criminals and alcohol abusers, PHAs are granted the discretion to refuse housing to applicants with felonies for three reasons:
- The applicant has previously been evicted from public housing due to drug-related criminal activity within the past three years
- The applicant has previously engaged in disruptive alcohol or drug use at any point in the past (with no time restrictions)
- The applicant has previously engaged in any of the following:
- Drug-related criminal activity, or
- Violent criminal activity, or
- Any other criminal activity that the Public Housing Authority deems to “threaten the health, safety, or right to peaceful enjoyment of the premises by other residents.”
The last caveat is broad enough to operate as a catch-all for many otherwise appropriate applicants and, unfortunately, may open the door to discrimination.
Can a Felon Live with Someone on Section 8?
Perhaps you have already secured Section 8 housing for yourself and your family, but now a friend or relative with a prior felony conviction is interested in staying with you either short-term or long-term.
Is this allowed, or could you lose your housing voucher for allowing a felon to stay in your home?
If the person intends to stay long-term, they must be added to the lease, and a background check will be conducted.
If they committed a felony that requires a sex offender registry, they would not be allowed onto your lease as they are ineligible for Section 8 housing benefits.
If they received a felony for producing methamphetamine on federally funded housing property, they will not be allowed onto your lease as they are not eligible for Section 8.
If the person has a prior felony and has not yet completed their sentence and/or their probationary period, then they will not pass the background check or be admitted onto your lease.
If the person has engaged in activity that gives the PHA the discretion to refuse housing based on prior behavior, they may or may not be admitted onto your lease.
If the person in question wishes to stay at your home for less than 14 days (and no more than 21 days in any 12-month period), then it is best to check with your local Public Housing Authority to discover all relevant rules for your potential house guest.
Again, you should openly disclose any past felony convictions rather than risk losing housing benefits for yourself and your family.
Section 8 rules are stringent.
Even if you break the rules accidentally, you may forfeit your housing assistance benefits.
How to Apply for Section 8 Housing with a Felony
How Long Does the Application Process Take?
Depending upon your local PHA, the application process may take up to four years in some areas, or only two months in other locations, due to waitlists.
What is a Section Voucher?
A section voucher, also known as The Housing Choice Voucher Program or the Section 8 Voucher Program, is the most extensive federal low-income housing assistance program in the U.S.
The program provides section vouchers to families who otherwise would be paying a disproportionate amount of their monthly income toward rent, which contributes to keeping them in a cycle of poverty.
The voucher is administered on the federal level by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
It is run locally by agencies called Public Housing Authorities (PHAs).
More than 2 million households receive public housing assistance from this program.
Before receiving Section 8 approval, it’s essential to gather all of the relevant information you will need for your application.
Documents Required to Apply for Section 8 Housing
You will need to gather specific documents, such as:
- Birth certificate
- Social Security number
- Proof of citizenship or your legal status
- Pay stubs
- Bank statements
- Criminal background check
- Credit score check
- Previous tax forms
- Statement from government agencies regarding other social benefits (welfare, etc.)
- Proof of current residence
- Addresses and contact details for anywhere you lived in the past five years.
Other Section 8 Qualifications
It is also essential to consider the income of everyone you will list on your family application.
This means that if you have a son or daughter who works weekends, you must calculate their income into the equation.
Therefore, some applicants must be careful not to exceed salary limits.
Other Rules for Public Housing Authority Applicants
General rules that all Section 8 tenants must follow (regardless of felony status) may include:
- Tenants must live in the unit
- Tenants must pay rent promptly
- Tenants must pay a security deposit
- Tenants must report any family status changes
- Tenants must report any income changes
- Tenants must follow all terms of their lease
- Tenants may not allow guests to stay longer than 14 days
- Tenants must request approval before admitting a roommate
- Tenants must allow Public Housing Authority inspections
- Tenants must not engage in any illegal activity
Of course, your local PHA may have additional rules, so it’s best to check directly with your local Public Housing Authority for an extensive list of rules and regulations relating to Section 8 Housing.
Applying for Section 8 Housing
Once you have gathered the requisite documents, you should apply for Section 8 housing and be prepared to wait.
The average wait time is two-to-four years.
How to Increase Your Chances of Section 8 Voucher
The best thing you can do is to prove that you have changed and been rehabilitated since your conviction, that you have become a positive member of the community, and that you pose no threat to the neighborhood.
You may accomplish this by attending specialty classes, workshops, drug counseling, or Certificates of Relief from Disabilities and Certificates of Good Conduct.
Frequently Asked Questions
The rules of Section 8 are numerous and strict.
Unfortunately, this often leads many people to have questions.
Can You Be Denied an Apartment for a Felony Record?
Yes, it is possible to be denied an apartment because of a felony, but most felonies leave the offender eligible for public housing.
Do Felonies Go Away?
Most felonies will remain on your criminal record for life.
However, if you are eligible to have a felony expunged, then it can be removed, and the conviction can be sealed from public view.
We know that navigating topics like public housing assistance can be complex — especially if you have a prior felony conviction.
However, it’s vital to know your rights and how your information will be considered when applying for housing.
Being properly informed is the first step to Section 8 voucher approval.