If you are applying for public housing, also known as Section 8, it is important to understand the qualifications and disqualifications.
This will help you determine if you are likely to qualify and what steps you need to take next.
In this article, we will discuss some of the most common things related to what disqualifies from public housing and how those get in the way of application approval.
Keep in mind that each case is unique, so please contact your local housing authority for more information.
Qualifications for Public Housing
Because there is such a significant need for subsidized housing, HUD has fairly strict qualifications in place.
They want to ensure that the people with the greatest need have access to this housing assistance.
A Public Housing Authority (PHA) must ensure each applicant meets four basic requirements in order to get a housing choice voucher.
The applicants must qualify as a family.
HUD defines a family in broad ways.
You can be an individual, a group of people living together without children, elderly families, or disabled families.
If the applicants aren’t United States citizens, they need to have immigration papers supporting a legal status.
You have to submit your Social Security number to verify your identity.
The household can’t exceed a certain annual income.
These limits vary according to your location, but the official definition is that your income is 80% of the area’s median income.
Having 50% of the local median income classifies you as very low income.
HUD defines affordable housing as anything that costs less than 30% of your monthly income.
Over 23 million Americans pay more than half their wages to rent.
This expense drastically decreases their annual income and means they have to go without food or medicine.
If you’re paying this much in rent, you’ll most likely suit the annual income requirements.
Preferences and Restrictions
HUD gives preference to any applicant in the most need of subsidized housing.
This preference applies to people who are homeless or living in shelters.
Children, the elderly, and people with disabilities are also given priority.
Certain restrictions are in place for assisted housing.
Anyone whose income is above the poverty level won’t get housing assistance.
The PHA runs a background check on every member of the applicant’s household.
HUD will restrict their application if anyone is a sex offender, on illegal drugs, or involved in criminal activity.
What Disqualifies From Public Housing?
Having a history of criminal activity doesn’t necessarily restrict you from housing assistance.
However, certain items on your background check can disqualify you from getting Section 8 housing.
People who have previously lived in public housing won’t necessarily get approved for a new residence.
If HUD evicted you from assisted housing for a drug-related crime in the past three to five years, you’re no longer eligible for these benefits.
There is a way around this, though.
The PHA can lift your housing voucher ban if you complete a drug treatment program.
Having a criminal background doesn’t restrict you from getting rental assistance.
If you’re a registered sex offender in any state, you’ll get rejected by the PHA.
A conviction for making meth also prevents you from living in public housing.
The PHA considers some crimes on a case-by-case basis.
You won’t necessarily be rejected if you have drug-related or even violent crimes.
You’ll have a chance to plead your case depending on the specific charges and how long ago they occurred.
Can Convicted Felons Live in Public Housing?
Many felons face prejudice when applying for rentals, but convicted felons can still live in low-income housing.
Requirements vary from state to state, but HUD denies sex offenders across the nation.
Most PHAs look at the past five years of a criminal record, so older felonies might not impact their decision.
Everything on your application for public assistance must be true.
If the PHA or HUD find out that you’ve provided false information to get housing, they’ll disqualify you.
They verify all your information with state and federal agencies, as well as run a background check, so they’ll find any instances of fraud.
What Does the Public Housing Screening Process Entail?
Even if you meet the basic requirements outlined above, most PHAs further screen all applicants.
These screenings delve into your background check, criminal record, rental history, and previous applications with HUD.
Factors a PHA can screen for include:
- Non-payment of rent or utilities
- Poor maintenance of previous rentals
- Drug-related crimes that can impact the property
- Eviction history regarding public housing
- Proof of fraud relating to federal documents
Not all PHAs will screen applicants against these factors, but they must screen everyone uniformly if they screen one applicant.
You’ll know if your PHA screens extensively because they require more paperwork for permission.
If the PHA finds you unsuitable for assisted housing, you most likely won’t be eligible for a housing choice voucher for the following three years.
Common Reasons People Get Denied Public Housing
The most common reasons people get denied Section 8 housing include their criminal record and credit history.
Denied Public Housing Due to Criminal Record
Most PHAs will only deny someone Section 8 housing due to a criminal record if the crime is a sex offense, drug-related, and happened in the past three years.
You most likely won’t get denied for convictions five years or older. If you are, you can appeal.
With roughly one-third of the population having a criminal record, HUD has changed guidelines slightly.
They initiated a second chance option, so convicted criminals could have access to affordable housing.
A PHA can’t deny you housing based on your criminal record alone.
Unfortunately, these denials don’t only apply to the applicant listed as the head of the household.
Everyone who will live in public housing needs to pass a background check.
Denied Public Housing Because of Credit
On the positive side, a PHA won’t deny you public housing because of your credit score.
HUD only checks your income levels and any assets you own.
While the government won’t deny you due to your credit score, the landlord can.
So you might get access to public housing assistance but not find a rental home that will accept you.
However, most landlords who accept the Housing Choice Voucher program funds will give you a bit of leeway with your credit history.
They’ll most likely look into your payment history instead of wanting a specific credit score.
What to Do if You Get Denied
Some agencies suggest you run a background check before even applying, so you know what you’re up against.
Having time to prepare a rebuttal will help streamline the appeals process.
Every PHA has a formal process for appeals.
You have a right to know why they denied your application.
The PHA must put it in writing, so you’ll get a letter that you can refer to and compile evidence against.
For example, if they denied you because of a criminal background, you can get recommendations from your parole officer and boss to show how you’ve changed since the conviction.
You have the right to an informal hearing and can gather character witnesses to vouch for you.
You have to use a third party to verify your income for credit-related denials.
That means proof should come from your employer, financial institution, or federal credit bureau.
You can also request legal help with your appeal.
Other Low-Income Housing Rules to Keep In Mind
HUD has a whole guidebook relating to public housing, from the application and screening process to what you need to do to stay in the home.
Some of the most important rules to remember include:
- Live in the unit
- Report any change in family status or income
- Get approval for new roommates/residents
- No guest stays longer than 14 days
- Pay rent on time
Each of these rules is to keep everyone safe and legal, not to impose strict standards on the property.
If you’re not living in the unit, it should go to another family in need.
Since the government oversees public housing, they must approve everyone living there, covering the roommates and guests rule.
Changes in family status and income can affect your ability to pay rent on time.
Some changes might also impact your eligibility for public housing, so you need to keep everything updated.
Exceeding the income limit yet staying in public housing prevents another family in need from having a safe and affordable place to live.
How Long Does It Take to Get Approved for Section 8?
HUD approves Section 8 applicants in 60 to 90 days.
However, at that point, you might find yourself on a waiting list until adequate housing is available.
People can stay on the waiting list for as long as two years.
Can You Get Section 8 Without a Job?
Yes, HUD adheres to certain income limits when they’re approving applicants.
Making no money certainly qualifies as being low-income.
They mostly look for people who earn over a certain amount.
Do You Lose Section 8 if You Get Evicted?
Yes, if you’re evicted from HUD housing, you lose the chance to get future assistance.
Evictions are something they look for in your background check, so they’ll know if it’s happened in your past.
Most people with low income are eligible for subsidized housing.
History of specific criminal activity will disqualify you, such as violent crimes in the past three years or a sexual offense.
If you think you’re disqualified from public housing, find out how to appeal and plead your case.