Section 8 Realities

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Federal housing assistance programs for those in need date back to the Great Depression, and have been changing and evolving ever since. One of the most significant evolutions came in the 1970s, based on a growing perception that the biggest housing problem facing low-income people was not substandard housing but the percentage of their income they had to spend on shelter. That study prompted Congress to pass the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974, which created the Section 8 Program. Section 8 established a system allowing a tenant to limit rent to approximately 30% of their income, with the remaining rent paid to the private landlord with federal dollars.

As of 2015, more than 5 million people in 2.1 million households were receiving housing choice voucher assistance.[1] This program provides rental assistance that is “tenant-based,” allowing a tenant to relocate from one home to another, each meeting or exceeding the minimum standard of quality. The provided monthly vouchers (with a maximum monthly worth of $2000) can also be applied towards purchasing a home. Each year the program contributes more than $17 billion toward home purchases.

Section 8 also provides property-based assistance programs. With these programs, a building owner will reserve some, and often all, of the available rental units for low-income families and tenants. The federal government pays the difference between what the low-income tenant contributes to rent and the total rent, itself. Leaving a subsidized property will result in a loss of all future access to the property-based subsidy.

Is Change Coming?

Many people are concerned that the outcome of the Presidential elections spells disaster for Section 8, while others are far more optimistic. It’s best to avoid both the fear-mongering and extremist delusions. Although a large part of President Trump’s campaign was devoted to rebuilding the American infrastructure, there was little comment on public housing. The newly appointed Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Ben Carson, who previously faced criticism for calling one particular plan a “mandated social-engineering scheme,” has assured people that he will not take rental assistance from the hands of the millions of people who rely on it. During his hearings, Senator Carson stated that it would be “cruel and unusual” to do away with this kind of assistance without already having a proper replacement in place.

Will that be the case?

Like it or not, the dull reality of the situation is that Senator Carson is inheriting a system of public housing facing serious problems. According to HUD, waiting lists have people numbering in the hundreds of thousands, all hoping to find a home. There’s also a whopping $25.6 billion budgetary shortfall for those seeking much-needed home repairs. Experts are saying it seems unlikely we’ll see any increase in funding from Congress for public housing, and the current proposed budget cuts HUD’s funding by over $6 billion.[2]Opinions about what’s “likely” or “unlikely” are still just opinions until events unfold into facts.

The raw truth is, even though the Obama administration proposed changes to Section 8 aimed at giving low-income families living in wealthier areas more money for their vouchers, overall funding has been diminishing for years. In 2016 The US Government allocated $1.9 billion for improvements in public housing, almost a billion dollars below the allocation in the year 2000.

This stark reality has many people concerned about potential funding cuts, but Senator Carson still states that he will support many HUD initiatives. Time will tell how this scenario unfolds. It is more helpful, however, to be positive and continue working towards the goal of improving your life. Housing assistance is still available for those who can demonstrate their need of it and have looked diligently at all the potential resources.

Qualifications for Section 8

Section 8 funding comes from the federal government, but local housing authorities manage approvals. Depending on your location, you may or may not need additional qualifications, but here are the basic requirements that renters must typically meet.

Income – Your annual income must fall below your area’s median. An income level of 30% of the median in your area, or lower, most certainly qualifies, as 75% of the authorities’ funding go to families in this category. Your income level doesn’t have to be this low. Earning 50% of your area’s median will qualify you for Section 8 assistance.

HUD’s website provides details of income levels by area.

Citizenship – Of course, a citizen of the United States qualifies, but most legal immigrants can also qualify. You, the applicant, will need to provide not only proof of citizenship or legal immigrant status for yourself, but also for each of your household members.

Lifestyle – You can expect a home interview from the housing authority, as the agent will want to get a feel for your lifestyle. You may not be approved if you’ve had past criminal or drug convictions.

How to Apply

First – Submit your application to the local authority or HUD office. Remember, you need to make your application in person, so be sure to bring documentation of your personal information and income.

Second – Complete the home interview. Depending on whatever policies your local housing authority has, the agent may come to your home, or they may ask you to come to their office.

Third – Provide the agents with all the necessary documentation. They’ll want to see pay stubs, bank statements, and documents covering any personal assets you may have. All copies must be recent. You might also be looking at having a credit check and background check conducted, which includes contacting previous landlords.

Fourth & Final – It’s time to go hunting for a private rental that will accept Section 8. Don’t forget; you must have a completed lease agreement with the property’s landlord before you move into any rental.

The Pros

Choose Your Neighborhood – Section 8 provides you with a wide selection of homes, so the old days of being sent to an area that’s far from your work, any schools, and your family, or an area that’s a bad neighborhood, are dead and gone.

Improve the Quality of Your Life – Let’s not sugar coat the statistics. Many of the facilities where you would traditionally find affordable homes have high rates of crime and various other neighborhood problems. Section 8 gives you the opportunity to relocate to a safer area with lower crime rates, better schools, and other benefits, a change of scene that could keep you and your family away from drugs, gangs, and violence.

Improve Your Income – You may have been spending most of your income on rent. The assistance provided by Section 8 can reduce that cost, leaving you with more income to devote to the essentials of food, clothing, and the future of your children.

The Cons

Waiting Times – Funding may be limited, leaving housing authorities, particularly in urban locations, with fewer funds than needed to take care of all applicants. This situation could put you on a long waiting list.

Continuous Review – You’ll not only go through an application process with the landlord and housing authority, but you’ll also have periodic reviews to undergo.

Stigma – People may judge you negatively. It’s a sad fact that you may feel judged by neighbors, but more importantly by your family and friends, which can be uncomfortable and stressful. Always remember, “Sticks and stones…”

Dependency – The point of these programs is to help you improve your situation, get a foothold, and make a better life for your family. The world is a mixed bag of all types, some of which may choose to depend on federal assistance rather than taking responsibility for their lives.

Final Word

Despite the list of cons, remember that nothing is perfect, and you can make your difficulties in life temporary. Section 8 has helped thousands of people obtain a decent home in a safe area. This program can put you in a house or apartment that would normally be beyond your financial reach. It can allow you to afford your living expenses and a savings account. Keeping out of debt and saving for the future are never bad ideas. The program is not perfect. Many people still have mixed feelings about Section 8, and many have had mixed experiences as well. There’s no doubt, though, that in the right circumstances this program can open up life-changing options for families. Whether it’s the right choice for you is something only you can know, but it is certainly an option worth considering.

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