There’s no way around it: the US is in the midst of an affordable housing crisis.
Even with a spotless record, it’s getting harder to find a place to live in this country.
Combine that with how food deserts impact the overall cost of living in the few places where rent is still low, and you have a crisis.
In times like these, even the solutions available to people with clean criminal records can seem distant and unattainable.
Fortunately, workarounds do exist, and many are available to people from all walks of life.
Affordable housing opportunities, utility assistance, and payment assistance are out there, even if they are hard to find.
What is Affordable Housing?
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (or HUD) defines affordable housing as any housing that can be obtained for less than 30% of a household’s total income.
Affordable housing is often referred to as subsidized housing.
A low-income household is defined as one that makes 80% or less of the median income for a given area.
So, a dwelling is considered “affordable” if it can be obtained for about 24% of that median income.
All of this is arbitrary and definitely doesn’t apply to everyone-there are always going to be other expenses-but it makes for a good standardized metric for lawmakers and your local housing authority.
However, the increased cost of transportation can often render a minor boost in affordability pointless.
If you’re spending everything you’d save in housing on getting to work, you’re not saving any money, you’re just pushing the cost around.
What are Affordable Housing Programs?
Types of Affordable Housing Programs
With affordable housing vouchers, HUD provides funds to local public housing authorities, which in turn hand out vouchers based on income levels.
The higher your income level, the longer you have to sit on the waiting list; low-income households get prioritized.
It should be noted, however, that the waiting list is still going to be long even if you’re at the lowest income level.
Section 42, otherwise known as the low-income Housing Credit Program, offers incentives for developers to include designated low-income housing in their regular developments.
As long as a certain number of units remain under the cost threshold, then the tax credits and incentives can still be claimed.
This acts as a kind of rent control to keep costs from getting too high.
Public housing is another option.
Though it’s being phased out in favor of Section 8, it’s owned by local public housing authorities (or PHAs) and is kept low-cost by the fact that it’s government-run.
Sometimes private investors get tax credits and incentives in exchange for providing equity to build and run things, but most built before 1980 will be owned by PHAs.
Finally, there’s social housing.
A newer concept in the US, social housing is usually run either by a non-profit entity or in conjunction with the state and is considered permanently affordable.
It’s also usually cooperative or democratic in the way it’s run, which means residents get more agency with regard to administrative decisions.
Specialized Housing Programs
There are a variety of different services for specialized housing depending on where you live and what your needs are.
Feel free to check this link and see if you qualify for anything in particular, but if you don’t have the time to browse on your own, here’s a short version:
- If you have a disability, you might qualify for what’s known as a Non-Elderly Disabled Voucher, or NED. This may allow you to skip the PHA waiting list if you qualify. There’s also Section 811, or Supportive Housing for Persons with Disabilities, which may be better for those who need more comprehensive care.
- For the elderly, there’s Section 202, or Supportive Housing for the Elderly. This is available for any severely low-income household with at least one person who is 62 or older at time of occupancy.
- If you’re a veteran, the VA has resources that can help you based on where you live and what your needs are. There are even two dedicated Armed Forces Retirement Homes out there; one is in Washington, DC, and the other is in Gulfport, MS.
Who Qualifies for Affordable Housing Programs?
Generally speaking, if you make less than 80% of the Area Median Income, or AMI, you’re considered to be “low-income.”
However, while this may allow you to qualify for assistance in an affordable housing program, it won’t get you priority on a waiting list.
The threshold for what’s considered “very low-income” is 50% of the AMI.
The threshold for “extremely low-income” is 30% of the AMI.
If you make less, you’re given more priority and qualify for more programs.
With that said, there are also preventative measures in place to keep people from losing their homes if they get a raise or start making too much money.
So don’t worry about whether or not getting a better job will lead to you losing your voucher and getting evicted; the HUD has already thought about that sort of thing.
If you don’t want to bother with housing costs that will constantly have to be adjusted based on how much you make, then income-restricted housing might be the answer.
Income-restricted housing is akin to rent-controlled housing, in that it will have a fixed low price based on the AMI.
There’s still a waiting list and you’ll still get priority if you make less-but it’s worth looking into.
For people who don’t want to spend as much time on a waiting list, you can tell your PHA that you’re looking at both income-restricted housing and affordable housing vouchers.
When you’re stuck in a cycle of liquid assets because of your housing situation, that time spent on a list is going to cost you more than settling for a less-than-ideal option.
These things can take years.
How to Find Affordable Rental Housing
Get Personalized Help with Your Search
The governmental processes meant to help with getting a roof over your head to vary wildly from state to state.
If you’re confused at any point during your search for a place to live, make sure to check with the HUD’s official resources for your state.
Affordable homeownership may seem impossible, but fair housing programs exist to ensure everyone has an opportunity to find a house or affordable apartment that meets their needs.
Check Out Affordable Housing Resources
Housing Choice Voucher Program (Formerly Section 8)
Section 8 is the nickname given to the Housing Choice Voucher Program, where participating landlords and developers get part of the cost of rent covered by government funds.
The other half is paid by the renter, and the amount that gets paid is dictated by how much the renter makes.
Based on your income, the voucher could cover all of the rent, or it could cover just a tiny portion of it.
You’ll have to check with the local PHA to figure out what you qualify for, as well as how long you’ll be waiting for what you do qualify for.
The number of vouchers has always been smaller than the number of eligible renters.
Housing Choice Voucher Eligibility
The eligibility for affordable housing is based on household income, assets, household composition, household size, and the area you live in.
You also have to either be a US citizen or a non-citizen with legal immigration status, and the household income generally shouldn’t exceed 50% of the area’s median income.
Once you qualify, your PHA will put you on a list, and you’ll be able to claim your voucher once your name is reached on that list.
How to Apply for a Housing Choice Voucher
To apply for a voucher, go to your state’s information page, then scroll to the link that says “Get Rental Help” and click it.
They should have a website, a phone number, and resources for PHAs in your area.
There’s also an email address that you can use in most cases.
State-Aided Public Housing
Public housing exists “to provide decent and safe rental housing for eligible low-income families” according to the HUD, with priority given to disabled people, the elderly, and families.
You also have to be either a US citizen or a legal immigrant to qualify.
Income limits for public housing vary; you may be eligible at 80% of the AMI in one area, while another area demands that you make no more than 50% of the AMI.
And again, there is also a waiting list.
Homelessness Prevention Resources
For more immediate assistance, here’s a link to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
This may or may not seem relevant to you at first, but it’s a compilation of hotlines and immediate resources that you can use to seek help regardless of your situation.
SAMHSA is a branch of the US Department of Health and Human Services, and a lot of the resources they offer can connect you to help right in your area.
Rental Assistance Options
Other rental assistance is often decided on a state-by-state basis, with regulations varying depending on where you live.
The HUD recommends looking up what sorts of rental assistance exist in your state, based on income and other factors.
COVID-19 Rental Assistance
Check what programs may exist on both a local and federal level.
Emergency Rental Assistance Program for Renters and Landlords
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or CFPB, offers emergency rental assistance based on where you live, with varying eligibility by state.
Finding affordable housing is no small task, but there are resources out there that can help you find what you’re looking for.
It’ll take a while, but you can still find an affordable place to live regardless of your income level.