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how to apply for section 8

Section 8 Requirements – How To Qualify For Section 8 Housing

Section 8 is a federal housing assistance program designed to help individuals and families with low income to afford a rental apartment.

Thus, how much money you make (your annual gross family income) will primarily determine whether or not you qualify for Section 8.

In addition to income, there are a number of other important eligibility criteria that we will review in detail below.

Assistance recipients typically pay 30% of their gross income toward rent and utilities, and the voucher covers the rest.

Income Eligibility Criteria

Many people ask us: How much money do I need to make to get a Section 8 Housing Voucher?

Section 8 financial eligibility is based on household size and gross annual income. Qualifying families must earn no more than 50% of the local median income. Each state sets its own income limits in order to qualify someone for low-income housing. To find out what the requirements are in your area, contact your local Public Housing Agency (PHA).

For example, the national median household income in 2018 is $59,055, so your income should not exceed $29,527 to be eligible for financial assistance to pay your rent. Each year, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development puts sets up new income limits that are slightly higher than the previous year’s, to account for inflation.

Housing Authority (HUD) income groups:

Low income group – your gross household income is 20% less than the median

Very low income group – your gross household income is 50% less than the median

Extremely low income – your gross household income is 70% less than then median

It is very important to understand that the number of people in your household will greatly impact how much income you need to have to qualify. Essentially, the more people you have, the higher your section 8 income limit will be.

See an example of how this works from Massachusetts income eligibility requirements for 2017-2018. These numbers are for Brockton, MA:

Income Category1 person2 ppl3 ppl4 ppl5 ppl6 ppl7 ppl8 ppl
Very Low29,00033,15037,30041,40044,75048,05051,35054,650
Extremely Low17,40019,90022,40024,85028,78032,96037,14041,320

Income Eligibility Recertification

Keep in mind that once you become eligible and receive rental assistance, you must continue to prove your eligibility every year. If you income goes up, you will be asked to pay more for rent, and the portion of your voucher assistance will be reduced. When you start earning over 80% of the local median income, you will no longer be eligible for Section 8 assistance.

Moreover, changes in household size also need to be immediately reported, as they also affect the amount of assistance you can receive. For example the birth of a child can increase your voucher. Similarly, if you need to have on older parent or child move in with you, your voucher portion will also be recalculated based on adding their income and the increase in household size.

What Types of Income Do You Need to Report on a Section 8 Application?

Rest assured that your PHA will leave no stone unturned to uncover all of your legal sources of income. To expedite your application and avoid being disqualified for fraud, its best to HONESTLY report and provide proof of all your sources of income.

This includes:

– Salary
– Overtime earnings
– Commissions and/or tips
– Pension
– Retirement fund
– Alimony
– Unemployment benefits
– Welfare benefits
– Child Support (indicate whether you are paying it, receiving it, how much, etc)
– Social Security benefits
– Rental property income
– Interest and dividends from investments and other assets
– Lottery winnings
– Disability benefits
– US veteran’s assistance

The housing authority may also request recent bank statements. The key to successfully obtaining a section 8 housing program voucher is submitting as much accurate information as possible.

Who gets priority?

HUD gives priority is given to the extremely low income group. In fact, at least 75% of all annual section 8 applications that have been accepted must be from this group. Again, this is individuals or families whose gross annual income is 70% less than the median local income.

However, there are also other circumstances that may make it easier for you to qualify, and to recieve your voucher faster than others. These include:

– Being homeless
– Currently residing in a shelter
– Having children
– Being a US army veteran
– Being a senior citizen (62 or older)
– Working more than 42 hours a week
– Being widowed
– Having a disability

List of Requirements for the Section 8 Application

Now, lets go over all the other criteria you and other household members must meet in order to qualify for Section 8.

1. Proof of US Citizenship

Only citizens and legal aliens who have a social security number are eligible to apply. You will need to provide your US passport or green card, along with social security number when applying. Have ready the latest photo identification proofs of all the family members that are 18 years or older and 62 years or younger. This can be a valid driver’s license, state ID, resident alien card, registration card, or US passport.

Here is more information from HUD on the types of immigration status that would make you eligible for Section 8.

If you have children (both who were born inside and outside the US) you will also need to provide their birth certificates.

Make sure that the names on all your legal documents completely match the names you put down in the application. This includes middle names. Very often, people’s applications get turned down and they need to reapply because of silly personal identification errors.

When filling out the application, you will be asked to sign an affidavit stating your legal status in this country, as well as that of each family member.

It is important to note that families who have members who do not have US citizenship or eligible immigrant status can still qualify for Section 8 assistance. However, the amount of the voucher will be calculated only based on the information from the US citizens and legal aliens in your household.

Proof of residency

You should be living in the city or county where you are planning to apply for housing. You will also need to provide proof of residency, such as mail from a current address, utility bills, etc.

You have lost these documents as a result of a natural disaster such as a flood, hurricane, tornado, etc, contact a local disaster relief center for help in obtaining proper paperwork.

For fastest result, its best to apply to all local PHAs in your areas, where you would be interested in living. Consider expanding your criteria for where you may want to live in order to increase your chances of getting the voucher.

Family Status

Your household must meet the criteria put forth by HUD whether you can be considered a family. We list the general guidelines here. However, local PHAs may have their own additional requirements.

– Household with or without children
– At least one individual is more than 62 years old
– one or more individuals have a documented disability
– being displaced from a home. This could be due to a legal action, property damage, destruction caused by a natural disaster
– a tenant who remains in a unit after all other members of the household left, and the family was getting Section 8
– a single individual who does not meet any of the above

Proof of income

Proof of residency such as utility bills

You will need to show documented income generated by all the earning family members in the household, including the head of the family. If you are employed (applies to every family member who is earning) then you will have to obtain a wage certificate from your employer. You need to have your tax returns, W-2 and/or 1099 forms, as well as proof of any other income you are getting.


You must be at least 18 years old to apply for Section 8. Moreover, there are special housing developments for senior citizens. So if you are over 62 and looking for rental assistance, you should apply to PHA’s geared toward helping secure housing for the elderly. There are also housing options available for the nearly elderly, those who are age 50-61. The applying head of household must meet the age criteria in order to qualify.

Criminal Record

There should be no criminal records pertaining to you within the past five years. First it used to be just one year, but recently it got extended to five years.

History of Eviction

If there is a documented incidence of anyone in your household being evicted from a property for drug – related crimes in the past 3 years, you will not be eligible for Section 8.

If a member of your household has been convicted of producing meth (methamphetamine drug) while living in public housing, you will also not be eligible.

It is also possible to loose your Section 8 voucher if you are found committing any drug related crime on the premises of your housing.


Provide information regarding any kind of disability in the family along with certified proof of the disability. In many counties, PHA’s require third party verification for the disability. This means you will need to bring paperwork from a doctor certifying about the condition. Other proof that may be required is Social Security Disability Benefits that are received by the individual. Depending on accessibility requirements, you may qualify for a bigger apartment, an extra room, etc.

How Long Can You Stay In Section 8?

The good news is that once you get your choice voucher, there is no time limit on how long you can stay. The goal of the program is to provide temporary rent assistance while families and individuals move on to better paying jobs and can afford to pay for housing on their own.

However, the reality is such that thousands of individuals and families continue to receive Section 8 for decades, because of ongoing financial hardship. So as long as you continue to qualify for Section 8, you will have no problem getting assistance every year.

Fierce Competition For Section 8 Vouchers

Today, across the US, there are many more families and individuals that qualify to receive Section 8, than actually get the vouchers. Research indicates that only around 25% of qualifying families get assistance.

There is a huge shortage of vouchers and intense competition to get one. Typically, section 8 waiting lists are extremely long, and it can take years for you to finally get assistance. As of now, the average wait time is at least 2-3 years. In areas where demand for subsidized housing is very high, the wait can be as long as 5-7 years.

It can take up to 2-3 months for the local housing authority to review your application, confirm your eligibility and place you on the waiting list. If you don’t hear back, its very important to keep checking in regarding the status of the application every few weeks.

Once you are on the list, call every 3-4 months to find out if you are still on there, and if you are moving up. There are many applications, bureaucracy can get crazy, and its easy to get lost in the shuffle. Keep copies of all the letters you receive from your local PA office. In case your application gets lost and you are kicked off the list, you can go back and show proof that you are eligible and have been waiting, so you can get back on.

Unfortunately, there are some instances where families are not able to get on the waiting list if they were not chosen through the random lottery, or the list simply closed because the demand was too high.

If the housing authorities where you wish to apply are not accepting new applications at this moment, call them to ask when the new enrollment window will open up again. Some lists can remain closed from 6 to 18 months or more, due to lack of funding.

Related: Section 8 waitlist do’s and don’ts