Each Thursday, Dave Layfield, our founder and resident affordable housing expert, does a live video chat with our users at 1:00 pm ET on Facebook. He usually spends an hour answering users’ questions about affordable housing assistance. Most of the time, he has the answer, but if he is unable to answer the question at the time, he will research the question after the chat and we will reach out to the user.
Following are the questions and Dave’s answers from the live video chat of Thursday, June 30, 2016. We have embedded the recording of the video chat for you to watch, and provided a transcript below.
If you have a question for Dave, join next week’s Facebook event to be reminded when Dave goes live!
Hey it’s Dave Layfield with Affordable Housing Online, and it’s Thursday, June 30th, and this is my weekly video talk show Housing Talk with Dave where I answer all of your housing questions.
If you’ve not been on, to my web show before, I sit here for about an hour and take user questions about affordable housing opportunities, Section 8, waiting lists, questions, voucher questions, any technical questions that you may have as a renter about how to get housing, how to keep housing, how to overcome any obstacles you’re experiencing in obtaining housing. As a housing expert I can usually answer your questions, and if I’m unable to get you a good answer will research it and get back to you.
I am the founder of a website called Affordable Housing Online. If you’ve not been to our website before please go there now. AffordableHousingOnline.com, and we are a resource site that provides all sorts of information about all of the housing opportunities available in your area. All you have to do in that search box on the homepage is type in your city and state our your county and state and we’re gonna give you all the information that you need to find available housing opportunities, including federally subsidized apartment properties, whether they be from HUD or USDA World Development, or whether they’re tax credit properties that are privately owned, we have a very good list of housing opportunities like that. And then we also maintain a list of all the housing authorities in the country, you know, information about each housing authority, about their programs, their public housing programs, their Section 8 housing choice voucher programs.
And information on the waiting list, both public waiting list and voucher waiting list. We have the only complete list of Section 8 waiting list openings across the country. We have over five hundred, and we have a team of people here that spend their days scouring the Internet, looking at newspaper sites, looking for public notices and housing authority sites trying to cobble together a very good list of Section 8 waiting list openings, and we do have the best list available in the country. It’s updated every single day. I’d recommend if you’re interested in applying for the housing choice voucher program that you come to our website every day and see what new we have to offer.
Okay, so we had a few questions that came in prior to me going live. Looks like we’ve got one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight questions, and if you have a question for me post it in the comments below and I will get to them at the end after I answer the first eight questions that came in prior. Again, hit me with any question you have and I will make an attempt to answer it, and if I’m unable to then we’ll do some research and get back to you.
So I’m gonna go ahead and just jump in with the first question. First question: can a person with a non drug related criminal record apply for housing? Yes. You can if it’s non-drug related and non-violent crime related, you can apply for public housing and the housing choice voucher program. There’s nothing that stops you from actually applying, but you wouldn’t, you know, your application would be rejected because it doesn’t meet the basic qualifications, but if you don’t have a violent criminal background or a drug related criminal background then you can qualify for public housing and the voucher program, and then there’s a whole set of other apartment communities that are federally subsidized that are owned by private organizations, whether it be non-profits or private landlords.
And the same thing goes there, however a private landlord has a little more leeway in establishing their ideal tenant profile, and they may, you know, a private landlord may decide that there are certain other types of crimes that they would reject a potential applicant based upon. So that’s really quite, based on one landlord to the next it could be different. But with public housing and the voucher program it’s pretty standard. HUD has issued a fairly standard regimen of what types of crimes would disqualify you.
At the same time, housing authorities do have a tiny bit of leeway from housing authority to housing authority to customize the criminal standards that HUD prescribes. So you really ought to be talking to the actual housing authority you wanna apply to if you’re talking about applying for public housing or Section 8. Just ask them and don’t be afraid to tell them about your specific, you know, the specific criminal record that you might have. Tell them, you know, what’s on there and how old it is, and be able to talk about that intelligently. There’s no point in hiding it, they’re gonna find it eventually anyway.
So we have, and earlier this year we actually did see some clarification come from HUD civil rights division which talks about actually loosening some of the criminal history practices when qualifying potential residents, that sometimes applying certain criminal background requirements can actually result in something called “disparate impact discrimination” where if a certain protected class of people, and a protected class is race, ethnicity, sex male female, age, you know, there’s all the federal protected classes under the Civil Rights Act, it’s possible that a certain type of criminal background requirement could unduly impact an entire protected class. And HUD cautions practitioners, housing practitioners against employing criminal background techniques, check techniques that would perhaps discriminate against one group.
And there was some guidance issued by HUD early this year which some would consider policies, criminal background policies to be softened a bit. So Nate, if you would, post a link to the story we did a month or two ago about criminal background checks. We get this question often and we’ve got an article for you that you can get some more information on. Alright I’ll head on to the next question.
Now, let’s see: does a disabled child qualify for disabled status? In respect to housing. I think this question comes from a user that has a disabled child, and basically wants to know if that child can get the same housing benefits that say a disabled head of household can get. And the answer to that is no. So, not always. So for example: on a Section 8 waiting list you can qualify for a preference on the waiting list and be ranked higher on the list that don’t have a preference if the head of household is disabled. Usually that preference isn’t for households that contain one person who’s disabled, but a household who is headed by a disabled person. Well, to be a head of household you have to be at least eighteen years of age, and of course a disabled child couldn’t meet that requirement.
So, if you’re gonna apply for a Section 8 housing choice waiting list, you couldn’t apply if you, the parent, were not disabled and your child was. On the other hand if you’re applying for a handicapped accessible unit and a federally subsidized property, only one household member would have to be disabled in order to qualify for that unit. And in fact if the property can’t find anyone who is disabled that wants to rent the unit, they can actually rent that unit to someone who isn’t disabled. Excuse me. So I hope that answers your question.
Okay, next question: why is it that if you don’t meet any of the crazy requirements you can’t get an apartment? So I typed that question into the teleprompter word for word just because I think it captures the sentiment of many renters when trying to be approved for affordable housing. So I know that it probably seems like some of their requirements are crazy. You know, you have to have a credit check and you have to have a credit score of this, and you can’t have any evictions, and you can’t have any overdue credit cards or whatever. You might look at criminal background check or job requirements or other stuff that you know, reference checks and interviews with previous landlords.
I know those things seem like crazy requirements, but landlords and housing authorities who might be providing you with housing subsidies like Section 8 want to know that you’re going to use the housing resource properly, that you’re going to live in the house and take care of it and pay your rent on time and be a good neighbor to everyone else who lives nearby, and the only way to really ascertain the quality of a potential renter applicant is to do things like credit checks and criminal background checks and interviews with previous landlords. So I know it seems crazy some of these requirements, but really it’s about preserving the quality of life for the folks who live there already and to make sure that that housing can remain a valuable asset for other renters in the future. Because if a landlord rents to a renter who tears things up, then you know they can’t maintain their property in good status for the next person. So hopefully that answered your question.
Okay, I had a voucher awhile back but couldn’t find housing before it expired. How can I get back on Section 8? And that’s funny, it’s actually an asterisk, here let me change that. Okay. So how can I get back on Section 8 after I lost my voucher because time ran out?
This is a question we get every single week, I talk about it very frequently, and it happens to many, many people. In some locations as many as half to two thirds of the people who receive a Section 8 voucher never, ever, ever get to use it because they can’t find an apartment rental or a landlord willing to accept a voucher in that first sixty to one hundred and twenty days that are provided by the housing authority to find housing. And unfortunately there is no way to get it back once you’ve lost it. You know, if you’re still within that grace period you can certainly ask for an extension, but once it’s gone, it’s gone. You’re gonna have to actually go back and get on the Section 8 waiting list all over again. And that is, that means you’re gonna be waiting for years again perhaps.
So it’s imperative, imperative, this is really important, that you find a rental when you have that voucher in hand. You have to be out there beating the streets every single day looking for a landlord that will rent you an apartment in that sixty to one hundred and twenty day period depending on the housing authority and the time they’ve set. You need to keep a log of all of your calls, all of your visits to landlords, to properties, and so that you can show the housing authority when you do ask for an extension later on: hey I’ve called ten properties a day for the last two weeks. You know, I’ve called a hundred and forty different rentals trying to find one. I have been working on this. Please give me a thirty day or a sixty day extension. So just make sure that you’re being diligent and you’re keeping a record of all of your work.
And you just have to keep trying, because you certainly don’t wanna wait two or three years to get a voucher and then lose it and then have to wait again two or three years.
Another thing is keep tabs on where you are on the waiting list. Call the housing authority every six months and ask them to tell you where you are. How many people are in front of you? Is there an estimate of how many people per month do they process through waiting lists? Sometimes the housing authority will tell you that, sometimes they won’t. And then when you sense that you’re getting to the top of the list, even before they’ve called you, you really start looking then. Start beating the bushes. Try and understand where you might find a rental. Be prepared so that you don’t lose that voucher. Alright so I hope that answered your question. Alright.
Are the disabled helped first? Well yes and no. So there are plenty of housing programs in America that are exclusively for disabled people or have a preference to serve disabled people. So for example section 8-11 is a housing program, and this program is actual buildings, right, that is just for people with disabilities. The USDA Section 5-15 program, which builds, built, they don’t really build many Section 5-15 projects anymore, but there are many out there that are exclusively for seniors or disabled persons. And a family couldn’t live there unless they were disabled. So yeah, in that case, people with disabilities are helped first.
I talked earlier about Section 8 waiting lists that have disability preferences, right? So there are many housing authorities that have a waiting list preference for a head of household who has a disability, and yes they would be helped first before anyone else. So it’s a fairly difficult question to answer because sometimes they’re helped first and other times they’re waiting in the queue just like everyone else. So, alright.
If a person on the waiting list is about to be homeless, do they just need to wait until their number is called? So unfortunately the Section 8 program is not an emergency housing program, which means that whether you’re homeless or not, for the most part, whether you’re homeless or not doesn’t have an impact on when you’re going to be served.
Now, there are some housing authorities, very few, but there are some housing authorities that have a preference for persons who are homeless or facing potential homelessness, and that may bump you up the list. But you’re still usually competing against hundreds of other people that are suffering the same situation, so you can’t count on at least the Section 8 waiting list to solve an emergency problem like impending homelessness.
Now, Nate if you would post a link to that homeless shelter directory I think that we always link to from HUD. If you are facing homelessness do not depend on your number being called on one of these waiting lists because it’s not gonna solve the problem fast enough for you, and you really should be looking for other alternatives. And then of course you can go to Affordable Housing Online and see if there are other opportunities there, other properties in your area.
Okay, next question: if I apply for public housing, is that Section 8? That’s a good question. Simple question, but it’s a good question. A lot of folks don’t necessarily know the difference between public housing and Section 8. It’s the same, when it comes to paying your rent, its’ the same thing. So you’re going to pay thirty percent of your income for rent, whether it’s a voucher that you’re using to go out and rent an individual home that’s owned by a mom and pop, or if it’s public housing and it’s in a building with two hundred other apartments, and it’s owned by a housing authority, your rent is going to be determined based on your income in both situations, and it’s thirty percent of your income. So let’s say you earn a thousand dollars a month at your full-time job, then your rent’s three hundred bucks. And that rent’s gonna be three hundred bucks at public housing, that rent’s gonna be three hundred bucks with the voucher program.
However, with public housing you can’t take that subsidy with you if you move. If you decided that you don’t wanna live in that building with two hundred other families and you wanna move somewhere else into the neighborhood into a single family home or a smaller apartment building you can’t take that subsidy with you. That subsidy stays and is used for the next person. Whereas in Section 8 you get to take that around town or around the country with you as long as you want. So it kinda works the same but it isn’t exactly the same.
As far as the type and style and quality of the actual housing, the public housing portfolio across America is varied. There are some housing authorities that have really, really nice public housing communities that are well maintained and they’re great neighborhoods, and then there are fairly notorious public housing properties that aren’t in great neighborhoods and that aren’t well maintained. And the nation’s public housing portfolio runs the gamut of quality.
The same thing goes for Section 8. Many Section 8 voucher holders do get relegated to renting homes in areas that aren’t as nice, or in homes that aren’t as up to date. But you do have the option to take it with you. You know, Section 8 voucher is portable. You can take it to another rental somewhere across town or it can move to another city. So you do have that option to kind of upgrade your neighborhood, upgrade the type of housing you’re in. So there are some differences and most people would say that having a voucher is better than living in public housing because of the choices it grants.
Okay, last question that came in before we started, and this one is troubling and I’ll talk about why. How can someone living in public housing in one state have Section 8 in another. Are they linked by computer? So what this user is asking is how can someone who’s receiving, that’s living in a public housing community let’s say in Kansas, they live in a public housing apartment in Kansas, but they are on Section 8, they have a voucher to rent a house in Tennessee. Well, not only is that not allowed, that’s fraud. They can’t do that. That is against the law. They’re receiving housing subsidy from two different programs at the same time, basically maintaining two different residences, and that’s defrauding the taxpayer.
Are they linked by computer is the follow-up question there, and the answer is unfortunately no, not always. So every housing authority, there’s four thousand of them in America, more than four thousand, every housing authority has a different system. And just because a tenant’s in one housing authority’s system doesn’t mean that another housing authority can see, excuse me, can see that tenant in the other housing authority’s system. So no, they’re not necessarily linked by computer, especially if they’re not even nearby, if they’re in two different states.
So it would be nice if HUD and housing authorities had an integrated network, and I’m sure they’re working on something, but I’m not aware of any way right now for some central database of subsidy recipients that can be cross-referenced. With that being said, I think it’s your responsibility as a citizen, as a taxpayer, and you know a fellow housing advocate that would like to see as many people helped as possible to report this person. Because this person is taking up housing resources that another family could be using. They’re taking up housing resources for two families when they’re just one family. And so Nate if you would post a link to the HUD fraud hotline where this user can report this particular situation to HUD anonymously, and they can investigate and make sure this doesn’t happen.
Okay, so that’s the end of all the pre-determined questions. I’m gonna jump screens over here and see what Nate’s posted for me. A few questions had come in since I started talking about twenty five minutes ago, so I’m gonna go ahead and jump into those. I won’t post them up on the screen, takes awhile to enter all of those so I’ll just clear that, and let me get a sip here. My great metal insulated metal water bottle that my wife gave me for Father’s Day. It comes in handy.
Okay, Noel asked: I applied for so many waiting lists that you posted and got denied for all of them. Is it because of preferences? So if, and you ask about preferences, I’m assuming that the biggest preference you’re concerned about is the local residency preference, and if the waiting list that you applied to have local residency preferences that is probably the main reason why you’re not being added to the waiting list, because there’s so many local residents in need if they get applicants from outside the area that don’t meet that preference those applicants almost never make it to the top of the filter. But there’s another potential culprit there, and that is just the sheer number of people who are applying. So if a housing authority says in a waiting list publication we are going to select five hundred people, or we’re gonna select a thousand people who apply during this one week period to be added to a waiting list. Okay, great. So let’s say they’re gonna add five hundred names to the waiting list. Well if ten thousand people apply, that means that only one out of twenty people will be chosen randomly to be added to the waiting list. Which means that if all the waiting list openings have a similar statistic, that means that you’re gonna have to apply to twenty waiting lists before you get added to one. So it’s possible, you know, it’s just a numbers game. It’s possible that you just haven’t applied to enough. I don’t know, you say you’ve applied to so many waiting lists, I don’t know how many that is. But again it could be that, or it could be local residency preferences.
If you’re not a resident and there is a local residency preference and you have a limited amount of time or resources to apply you might skip those first and come back and apply for them later, because they really are the ones that you’re least likely to get a call from. And you might want to, even for a smaller housing authority, a smaller program; you might wanna apply to them first if they don’t have a local residency preference.
Okay, Lisa asks: why can’t two people be on each other’s applications for housing choice voucher? I put someone on mine, then they were not able to apply because they were on my application. Well that’s because once you put somebody on the application, that’s a household. You’re housed under one roof. So that person doesn’t need, according to the system, that person doesn’t need housing because they’re sharing housing with you. So you know our system is set up so we use our resources as optimally as possible, and we certainly don’t want to have to have two housing subsidies for one family. So you know if this person isn’t a family member and it’s a roommate you might consider applying separately and not as one household. But once you do apply as a household that person isn’t gonna be able to apply for themselves.
Okay, Jennifer, Jennier actually, I don’t know if there’s a missing F in there: if I was terminated from the Section 8 program with my voucher from back in 2004, could I be qualified now to reapply? I was terminated because my children weren’t living with me at the time and I was in the wrong size of house.
Okay, so that’s, what your voucher was terminated for is kind of a no-no. Your rent, the amount of money you paid in the tenant contribution was based on your family size, the number of people in your household, the amount of money you had to pay was based upon that. I’m sorry, the amount you had to pay was based on your income, but your qualification, whether or not you qualified based on how much money you earned was based upon how many people were living with you. If your children weren’t technically living with you, you didn’t have custody with them, they weren’t living there, then you, and you said they were, then you very well could not have been properly income qualified, and they look at that as an offence, you know, that is worth taking your voucher away for.
So the question is can you get back on, can you reapply? And this happened 2004, so twelve years ago, I would say in almost every single case you should be able to apply again. I’m not aware of any policy that says you couldn’t reapply, and if the question comes up you just have to own up to what happened, you know, explain that perhaps you didn’t know the rules, didn’t understand exactly because your children weren’t living with you that you had completed the paperwork incorrectly, or if you did know and just did it then you should also just own up to that and ask for forgiveness. So I would recommend that you specifically talk to the housing authority you’re interested in applying to to make sure that there’s no, that they don’t have any kind of internal policy that prevents it. But for the most part I think that you’re fine.
Okay, so next question comes from Lashentrel. I hope that I pronounced your name correctly. I have a Section 8 voucher and couldn’t find a place. The lady told me I had to put in an extension before the expiration date two weeks in advance. I did that but was never offered an extension. Why?
So remember if you ever watch my show I talk about his every other time when folks are in danger of losing their voucher: make sure that you are keeping a log of all the calls you’re making to landlords. Make sure that your housing search is well documented. It could be that when you asked for an extension you didn’t give them a good reason to give them an extension. If they didn’t believe you were actually looking for housing and you didn’t convince them of that, then they may say this person didn’t try, we’re just gonna move on to someone else who will. Not saying that’s what happened, but you have to be, when you’re asking for an extension like that you have to be diligent, you have to do your homework.
And so you should ask them why you weren’t given an extension. I would think they would write you a letter saying they weren’t gonna give you an extension and tell you why, and if they haven’t done that then they should do that and you should ask them. You should call your counselor there and say look I needed an extension, why didn’t you give me an extension? Communication with the housing authority is really important. I know that, you know, renters can be timid and afraid to talk to someone at the housing authority, but their job is to help you. Their job is there to counsel people to help serve their affordable housing needs, so I would just recommend that you talk to them.
Okay, looks like I have one more question, unless Nate says otherwise I have this one last question I’m gonna get to and then we’ll end the talk from today, and it comes from Ariel. I’m looking to purchase a townhome, small house, or condo. How do I even go about starting this process? I’ve been pointed to so many directions.
So Affordable Housing Online is specifically a rental housing opportunity directory and I specifically I’m a housing expert who works in rental housing opportunities. I know a little bit about home ownership but not that much. However, HUD funds a network of housing counseling agencies across the country that help people like you that are looking for home ownership opportunities. Nate, if you would, post a link to HUD’s directory of housing counseling agencies. I know we did it last week or the week before, and go to that HUD directory of housing counseling agencies and look in your area for an agency who does home, it’s called home ownership counseling, it may also be called first time home buyer training our counseling, and there’s usually free certificate programs where they actually go to evening classes and they teach you how mortgages work and how to apply and you know what about your credit is important. These are all free, and they end up giving you a certificate at the end of the day that you can then take to a mortgage broker. They’ll even many times introduce you to a mortgage broker. They will walk you through the process, help you fill out the application, help you communicate with the mortgage company. So just check out the HUD housing counseling agencies.
Okay, looks like I’ve got, I’ve answered all the questions. I did it pretty efficiently today in thirty five minutes. Unless anybody has any further questions, I will talk to you all next Thursday at one o’clock right here on Facebook Live.