How The Section 8 Wait List Works & How To Bypass Them

image showing a man waiting with his hood pulled up and head down - featured image for Section 8 wait list post

Section 8 is a program run by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

The service provides housing assistance for people in need to help them pay rent.

To qualify, the government considers applications and awards money based on need.

When you’re accepted by the Section 8 program, you get a housing choice voucher from HUD that you give to your landlord along with the rest of your rent.

The landlord then returns the housing choice voucher to HUD to get the money.

The housing assistance payment you get from Section 8 depends on the fair market value of your rent and your income.

However, in order to qualify for the program, not only you need to meet certain criteria, but you also need to ensure your landlord accepts Section 8.

Keep reading to learn more about how to enroll in the program and the many ways you can bypass it.

What Is the Waitlist on Section 8?

HUD has a Section 8 waitlist because more people are applying for assistance than they can accommodate.

The department doesn’t have the funds or available housing for as many people as need help.

Therefore, applications go to the waiting list so once something is open, people can get the assistance they need.

How Long Is the Section 8 Waiting List?

The Section 8 waiting list can be very long, with an average time of three years before the agency finds adequate placement for applicants.

If you have all your paperwork together, you have a better chance of moving up the waiting list.

This means you need to have:

  • Proof of low income
  • State-issued ID
  • Proof of citizenship
  • No prior drug or criminal convictions
  • Special circumstances like age, disability, homeless, etc.

Many families wait for years to get affordable housing through Section 8.

It’s estimated that only 25% of eligible households ever get the assistance they need.

What’s the Average Wait to Receive Benefits Towards Section 8 Housing?

It can take up to two years to receive housing choice voucher program benefits.

Waiting lists are long, so call every two or three months to check your status and update your information if anything has changed.

While you’re waiting, you may have access to another type of housing choice voucher to help ease the burden of rent.

You can better your chances by applying to the Public Housing Authority (PHA) in different areas.

Since agencies open and close their waitlists periodically, you’ll have more opportunities to get Section 8 assistance if you’re on more lists.

Section 8 Waitlist Status Check

Once you’ve applied for Section 8, you want to keep track of your position on the waitlist.

Knowing where you rank can help you plan to find public housing and move in.

image showing stacks of papers to illustrate the waitlist on Section 8 housing

How Can I See What Number I Am?

You can go to the applicant portal on waitlistcheck.com and keep track of your status online.

Input your year of birth and Social Security number and the site will access your application through the housing authority.

Keep in mind that your waitlist position can fluctuate over time.

If someone applies who qualifies for emergency assistance or has more priority preferences than you, your number may drop.

It can be discouraging, but stay proactive and keep calling to check your status.

How to Track Your Status

Anytime you need to check your waitlist status, you can call your local PHA.

HUD has a list of all PHAs on their website so you can find the direct contact number.

Sometimes the receptionist has this information, but you might have to speak to your case manager.

In addition to checking the status, applicants should also contact the PHA if any information changes.

A failure to do so might slow the process once you finally get approval.

Why Is the Waiting List for Section 8 Assistance So Long?

There are so many people needing Section 8 assistance that the waiting list is incredibly long.

Over 5.2 million households use Section 8, and over half of those people are children, seniors, or people with disabilities.

But more people need reasonable accommodation than can get it.

Four out of 10 people with low incomes end up spending over half of their monthly income on rent.

If you look at the guidelines, these people should be eligible for Section 8, but they can’t afford to wait for rental assistance.

HUD defines affordable housing as anything that costs less than 30% of your income.

Rent in the United States keeps increasing, but the job wages aren’t keeping up to bridge the gap.

As a result, more than 23 million people are spending over half of their income on housing and possibly going without food or other necessities.

Applicants have to fill out a lot of paperwork to prove that they need housing assistance.

Even after your information is on file, you might get pushed down the waiting list depending on others’ needs.

For example, the elderly and people with disabilities always go to the top of the list.

How to Get Priority on Section 8 Waiting Lists

There are a few ways to get priority on Section 8 waiting lists.

The six qualities below are the most common ones that help people get off the waiting list.

People who have more than one of these preferences rank higher on the list and are more likely to get housing quickly.

If you found out you might have to wait three to five years for Section 8, consider seeing if these options apply.

1. Be Homeless

People currently experiencing homelessness will move to the top of a waiting list.

Because they don’t have a home at all, Section 8 will start looking for adequate placement right away.

Check with your PHA to clarify the definition of homelessness—sometimes it includes staying with family or friends.

2. Live In a Shelter When Applying

Living in a shelter is another way to move to the top of the Section 8 waiting list.

HUD’s goal is to get everyone into secure housing, so they prioritize people living in a shelter.

3. Have Very, Very Low Income

Section 8 is a program to help low income families get fair housing when they can’t afford it on their own.

Therefore, if you have a low income, you’ll move up higher on the waiting list.

The income limits are dependent on family size as well.

HUD divides income levels into low income, very low income, and extremely low income.

These amounts vary from state to state.

The general guidelines are:

  • Low income is 80% of the location’s median income
  • Very low income is 50% of the location’s median income
  • Extremely low income is 30% of the location’s median income

4. Have a Disability

Having a disability is one of the two most common ways to get off of the waiting list for Section 8.

But everyone living in the property doesn’t have to have a disability, so it might be possible to move to the top of the waiting list if just one person in your household qualifies.

Some buildings that cater to the elderly population also accept younger people with disabilities.

It’s worth calling around to see what affordable housing options are available to you while you wait for Section 8 approval.

5. Be Over the Age of 62

After having a disability, being a senior is the other highest weighted preference for people to get off the waiting list for Section 8 housing.

This population is vulnerable, and HUD wants to ensure they have a safe place to live.

6. Be a Veteran

After serving your country, you’ll get priority on the Section 8 wait list.

It’s difficult to transition from military to civilian life, and HUD knows that having affordable housing is a big step in this change.

Is There a Way to Get Emergency Section 8 Housing?

It’s possible to get emergency Section 8 housing as long as you still meet the general requirements.

That means you need to have a low income and live in the area where you’re applying.

Otherwise, the emergency qualifications make you a priority.

People automatically eligible for emergency Section 8 housing include:

  • Senior citizens
  • People with mental and physical disabilities
  • Veterans and service members
  • People displaced from other public housing
  • People fleeing domestic abuse

In some cases, people who had their homes destroyed by natural disasters can also get emergency Section 8 housing.

However, FEMA usually steps in for widespread disasters.

How to Bypass Section 8 Waiting Lists

Even if you’re unable to get emergency Section 8 housing, there are ways to bypass the waiting lists.

Check out the tips below and see what can help you find a home.

stock image showing an approved stamp on paper for how to bypass Section 8 wait list

1. Call Housing Authorities

Applying to Section 8 is just part of the work you need to put in.

While you’re waiting, you can be proactive by calling the housing authority yourself.

Ask if they have open waiting lists or know of any agencies accepting new applications.

Just by asking, you might get added to the top of the list.

2. Use a Social Worker

A social worker can help you bypass the waiting list.

Because social workers know the buildings used by PHAs, they know when there’s a vacancy.

They can put in a good word for you, which means a lot coming from someone in their field.

Using a social worker doesn’t have to cost money.

Many government agencies provide social workers’ services for free.

Consider asking your doctor to refer you to a social worker.

Legal aid programs can also connect you with someone.

Community agencies that help with low-income issues and homelessness will know who can help as well.

3. Network Within the Community

Many communities have resources to help people with homelessness, hunger, and domestic violence.

Your situation might fit into some of their parameters, so it’s worth networking to see who can help while you wait on rental assistance.

If you don’t know how to access these resources on your own, talk to your doctor, a social worker, or even visit the local library for help.

Other Ways to Get Low Income Housing without Section 8 Assistance

Being persistent pays off when searching for suitable housing.

Call buildings in your area and ask if they charge rent according to 30% of your income.

Some don’t, but you might find that some will consider it.

You can also contact housing services that cater to the elderly or people with disabilities.

If someone in your household fits these categories, you might be able to get housing at a reduced rate even without Section 8 approval.

Wrapping Up

Getting rental assistance can take years if you’re on the waiting list.

These tips can help you figure out what to highlight on your application so you’ll get higher priority.

But you don’t have to sit back and wait—be proactive in your search for affordable housing with the information you just learned.

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