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Can Felons Get Public Housing?

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Finding a place to live after release from prison is another of the challenges felons face in addition to finding a job. Finding housing may not be easy to do. This can create a lot of anxiety and fear of where they might live and how to find a place. The options might seem limited.

In this brief we will address the housing issue and try to shed some light on the situation and offer some reassurance and workable solutions.


What is HUD?

Prior to the 1970s low-income families were mostly on their own for finding housing.

In 1974, the federal government enacted the eighth section to the Housing Act of 1937, which was established to improve the quality of low-income housing. The law from 1937 also provided for government loans to a Public Housing Authority to assist families in being able to afford rental units by paying 50% of the rent with families picking up the rest of the rent.

Housing and Urban Development is the public housing department that was created by the federal government as part of the Housing Act of 1937 to offer safe rentals for low-income individuals and families.

Approximately 1.2 million households fall under the category of public housing units. There are approximately 3300 separate housing agencies across the country.

This federal department of Housing and Urban Development authority uses a voucher system to provide assistance with housing to low income families. This is known as Section 8 housing

Section 8 is a federally funded rental program in all states. In this program, a household must budget 30% of its monthly income for rent. 

The government will determine a fair price for housing in the area. Vouchers will make up the difference for landlords who accept applicants. 

The Public Housing Authority (PHA) is the governing body that oversees public housing in each community and county that offers public housing for low-income families. Each PHA establishes its own set of guidelines for maintaining the particular rental properties in that area.

Section 8 Housing Disqualifications

Felons often ask if they can qualify for Section 8 housing. There’s not a simple answer for most felons as very strict guidelines are in place. Of course, not everyone will qualify regardless of whether they have a felony on their record or not. 

It will be even more challenging for those with a criminal record, just like everything is.

Certain factors can make a difference regarding the outcome of any HUD application. For felons, it will depend on a number of factors, including the type of felony conviction.

Public housing for felons is possible, depending on the felony offense. However, certain convictions can disqualify applicants. There are two types of felony convictions that automatically disqualify applicants from receiving Section 8 housing vouchers. 

These include:

  • Any crime that requires lifelong registration as a sex offender
  • Manufacturing methamphetamine in federally funded housing

Most applications are dealt with on a case-by-case basis. This is because simply using criminal convictions as the selection criteria is considered to be discrimination. 

So many felons fall into the low-income group that to unilaterally exclude all of them discriminates against that class or group. This is the exact definition of discrimination.

HUD uses certain guidelines to determine if someone with any type of felony conviction is eligible. These regulations include:

  • A felony must be older than five years, but some areas have a 10-year limit requirement.
  • Being convicted of certain violent crimes, certain kinds of fraud, or drug trafficking applicants may be disqualified.

Certain other factors can serve to disqualify an applicant, including:

  • There may also be a disqualification based on a documented and untreated history of drug or alcohol abuse.
  • If there is a personal family history of poor relationships with neighbors that includes verbal or physical assaults, this can also be a disqualifying factor.
  • Someone with a history of defaulting on rent payments may also be disqualified.

Typically, the housing authority tends to exclude individuals it thinks “will risk the health and safety of other tenants.” The housing authority may overlook criminal convictions for anyone who presents evidence they’ve changed since the conviction. To find out the laws in your local public housing authority, contact an attorney familiar with housing laws.

Does HUD Run Background Checks on Section 8 Applicants?

All applicants for Section 8 housing, regardless of any criminal background, must go through a screening process as part of the application.

 A criminal background check will be run to determine the extent of any criminal history and the seriousness of all crimes for which an applicant has been convicted, both felonies and misdemeanors.  You can run a background check on yourself by clicking here if you want to see what will show up before applying.

In addition to running a background check on an individual applicant, others living at the home will be included also. The Public Housing Authority (PHA) will run a criminal background check on the following individuals:

  • Applicant
  • Everyone currently residing with the applicant
  • Everyone 16 or older living with you
  • Any biological parent of all children that will be living in the household even if the parents do not plan to live with you.

Can a Felon Live With Someone Currently in Section 8 Housing?

Someone that is currently living in Section 8 housing may know someone who is a convicted felon and want him or her to live with them in their housing arrangement. This could be a family member or friend. 

The current tenant that has no criminal history is obligated to report this to the PHA. Failure to report someone with a felony who is living with them in Section 8 housing can cause termination of those housing rights.

If you have a family member or friend who is a convicted felon, there are strict guidelines for having them live with you. This includes asking permission from your landlord and the local Public Housing Authority.

Can a Felon Visit Someone in Section 8 Housing?

There may be times that a felon who is not residing in Section 8 housing wants to visit a family member or friend who does live in public housing. The question is whether that is allowed and what the stipulations might be for that visit.

Just going to see a Section 8 resident is not an issue if the felon does not stay there beyond that day’s visit. Even staying overnight is an issue, one that is not to be taken lightly.

For a felon to be able to stay over, the resident must obtain prior approval from the landlord and the local PHA. This request must clearly indicate that the potential guest has a felony conviction. Also, the exact nature of the felony offense must be included in the request.

Can You Get Section 8 Housing With no Income?

Some worry that they need to have a job and a certain level of income to qualify for low-cost housing. Even if you are unemployed and have no income, it is possible to qualify for Section 8 housing. 

This is because the rules indicate that your income must be less than 50% of the median income in your area. Therefore, having no income would qualify under this guideline.

Who is Given Priority in Section 8 Housing?

Public housing is limited to individuals or families with low incomes. Eligibility will be determined based on gross annual income. Lower income limits are set at the 80th percentile, and extremely low incomes can be set at 50% of the median income of any metro area.  

Income limits can differ from one area to another. This will allow someone to qualify in one particular area but not in another.

Typically, when someone completes an application for Section 8, their name goes on a waiting list. However, there are some circumstances that will effectively move someone up the list.

Applicants with a serious need for housing can receive priority under certain conditions, including the following:

  • Homeless or living in a shelter
  • Serious medical emergency
  • Current apartment is condemned
  • Paying more than 50% of total income for rent
  • Facing a domestic violence situation
  • Being evicted for no fault of your own
  • Being a local resident

How to Apply For HUD

Getting approval for HUD housing is not easy. In fact, a lot of paperwork will be required in the application process. The following information is required as part of the application:

  • Standard application
  • Proof of citizenship or legal status in the U.S.
  • Birth certificate
  • Social Security Number
  • Pay stubs least three months but six months in certain areas
  • Bank statements
  • Criminal background check
  • Credit score check
  • Tax forms
  • Statement from government agencies regarding benefits such as well for or food stamps
  • Proof of current residence
  • List of all addresses in the past five years

After submitting the application, there will also be a personal interview with the Public Housing Authority. This can provide an opportunity for felons to present their case as to why they should be considered for low-income housing. 

It will be important to present all evidence that could help with the situation. This could include information regarding completion of a drug or alcohol program for those with addiction issues.

There are local housing search agencies and community action programs with workers to help with the application process. It is also recommended to apply in different areas, as each PHA presides over various local regions. This would increase the chances for approval.

How Long is the Application Process?

As you can see from the amount of information required in the application, it is not a short process to go through. There are many steps involved. The application process can be quite long. 

Actually, gaining approval can take as long as two to four years in some areas. These are typically areas that are in high demand for housing. Less competitive areas can still take from 6 to 12 months.

Regardless of the area in which someone applies, it is important to check every three months to make sure you are still on the list. It might also be a good idea to move to a less competitive area to decrease the waiting time.  Smaller towns may also reduce the wait over larger communities.

What is the Choice Housing Voucher?

The choice housing voucher program is the federal government program that assists low-income families along with the elderly and those who are disabled afford safe and sanitary private housing. Choice housing vouchers are administered by the local PHA. Each PHA receives funding directly from HUD.

As part of this program a choice housing voucher is used that is a document issued to individuals and families that have been approved for low-income housing. This voucher must be presented to a landlord upon requesting rental from them.

Eligibility for a housing voucher is determined by the PHA according to the annual gross income and size of the family. A family’s income may not exceed 50% of the median income level for the community or county that the family wants to live in. The PHA will verify all income and financial information for the family.

How Does the Choice Housing Voucher Work?

Following approval for the program, a choice housing voucher is issued to each applicant. When you receive a voucher, you can begin looking for an apartment or other dwelling with a landlord that participates in the Section 8 program. 

Someone participating in the program can choose any housing that meets the program’s requirements and not just units that are in the housing project.

A subsidy for housing is paid to the landlord by the PHA for the participating family. The family pays the difference between the actual rent charged by the landlord and the amount the program subsidizes, which is typically 30% of your gross monthly income.

Once a family decides on a housing unit, they must apply to the landlord to be accepted to live there. The application process will involve an interview with a landlord before signing the lease, which is a 12-month lease. 

All landlords conduct their own criminal background check and check references provided by the applicant. A landlord may turn you down because of a felony conviction. Therefore, be honest about your past and how you have changed. Be ready to provide strong references. 

Can You Get Section 8 Housing With a Warrant Out For Your Arrest?

Someone applying for Section 8 housing can be turned down for a felony conviction. The PHA cannot deny admission on the basis of an arrest or an arrest warrant. An arrest or an arrest warrant indicates that a person is suspected of a crime, though this has not been proven in court.

For those in the situation of having a warrant out or even charges pending, certain criteria will apply, including:

  • Anyone who was denied admission or ejected from Section 8 housing because of criminal activity must be provided with the grounds for denial or termination.
  • An individual will have the opportunity to dispute the accuracy and relevance of any documents used by the housing authority to deny admission or to evict. 

If you already live in public housing and you or someone in your house was arrested, you may face eviction. This is called termination of tenancy.

The PHA is allowed to deny approval or evict anyone who:

  • Illegally uses drugs
  • Abuses alcohol
  • Lies on applications about drug and alcohol abuse
  • Is involved in criminal activity that threatens others safety
  • Is avoiding prosecution or custody after being convicted of a felony
  • Is violating a condition or of probation or parole

The entire household may be evicted if:

  • You are anyone in your household is involved in drug-related criminal activity
  • Someone who is under control and engages in drug-related activity

Before being evicted, the housing authority must consider the circumstances of the case. 

If anyone in your household is arrested, the housing for only that person who has been arrested will be evicted rather than the entire family. 

Can You Get Section 8 With a Misdemeanor?

Most landlords get information about someone’s criminal record from credit reports that are subject to federal and state rules of the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

For someone who does not have a felony conviction, but may have a misdemeanor, the Public Housing Authority must show the applicant’s criminal record contains items that show the applicant is likely to pose a danger to the safety of other residents or staff. 

The applicant has the burden of showing that their criminal records are no longer an issue or that there are mitigating circumstances, such as a commitment to rehabilitation, having a clean probation record, steady employment, or involvement in the social services program.

Can You Get Section 8 With a Drug Charge?

Whether a felon can qualify for Section 8 housing will depend on the type of conviction and the area where the person resides. To get Section 8 vouchers, applicants must meet the standards set by that PHA. Some areas will look at what type of crime that was committed and also when it occurred. Drug-related crimes carry more weight than smaller crimes.

Each jurisdiction sets its own rules regarding the assistance and public housing for convicted felons. Certain areas ban individuals with drug-related crimes from receiving Section 8 vouchers.  It’s best to check with the Housing of Urban Development office near you to see what rules are in place.  

Can You Get Section 8 With an Assault Charge?

Local agencies preside over Section 8 in their areas with specific rules for applicants there. In addition to the sex offender registry and methamphetamine production disqualifications, some public housing authorities may exclude individuals of having violent crimes from being in the program.

While there is no set standard, assault charges on someone’s record will be viewed more negatively than nonviolent crimes.  It’s best to check with the Housing of Urban Development office near you to see what rules are in place.  

Can a Sex Offender Get Section 8 Housing?

No, registered sex offenders will not be able to qualify for Section 8 housing. This is because the PHA does not want any residents who would pose a safety or security risk to others in the low-income housing. 

Even if you are rehabilitated, they are not willing to accept you into the program.

Can You Lose Section 8 if You Marry a Felon?

Someone who is qualified for Section 8 housing may be living alone. Even so, they may be in a relationship with someone who has a felony conviction. Let’s say that these two people decide to get married. 

The decision to marry might be a challenging one if the couple chooses to move in to the Section 8 housing. If that is the choice, the felon must be approved by the PHA prior to the move-in. 

To not get prior permission will result in the eviction of the resident and the new spouse.

Have you been trying to get into public housing?  How long has the process taken you? Any advice for others looking?  Let us know in the comments below!

5 thoughts on “Can Felons Get Public Housing?”

  1. Having read this I believed it was rather informative. I appreciate you finding the time and effort to put this information together. I once again find myself personally spending a lot of time both reading and commenting. But so what, it was still worth it!

  2. What if any help for sex offenders in Indiana I just got out.does ten year register disqualifiy any housing authority assistances?

  3. I am a registered sex offender in Pennsylvania, When I got out, I managed to find a place called Just for Jesus Homeless Outreach. They were nice enough to house me until I got a place of my own. The only catch was that I had to attend their religious programs while I was there. It wasn’t a big deal to me, since I was already Christian. I managed to find a place through Section 8, just before they cut off sex offenders. I keep in touch with Just for Jesus, helping out other felons like me. For the past couple of years, HUD (at least in PA) started up a program called “Shelter Plus,” which does allow felons to find a place to live. I don’t know if anyone here is in Pennsylvania, but if they are, this might help.

  4. I have a friend who is willing to work he is about to be in the cold with no home or job, he is just out and is strong clear headed and doing what he is supposed to be doing . He needs a chance. I likke him and believe in him. He is talented and can do many jobs.


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