There are housing programs in the United States that can provide affordable housing for all immigrants, including those that are undocumented. This guide will explain what federal affordable housing programs are open to immigrants, provide the eligibility requirements for these programs and describe other resources that can help immigrant households find an apartments they can afford.
The federal government makes housing affordable to low-income renters in several ways. Some affordable housing properties have federal subsidies directly attached to the apartments so that tenants eligible to live there pay 30% of their income for rent. The federal government also helps low-income renters afford apartments in the private rental market by providing vouchers allowing tenants to pay 30% of their income to rent from a private landlord, with the government paying the remainder up to the established local Fair Market Rent (FMR). Finally, the federal government has programs that reduce the cost to build affordable apartments and in return the owners agree to set rents at a level that is affordable to low-income renters in their area.
Housing authorities and other owners of federally funded affordable apartment communities are not required to report your immigration status to immigration authorities at the Department of Homeland Security when you apply for assistance. However, your immigration status can be affected by not accurately reporting it when you apply for housing that receives restricted federal funds. You will also need to have a Social Security number when applying for federal housing programs, except for those people in your household who are not claiming eligible immigrant status.
Federal housing programs are either restricted, or unrestricted. Restricted means that at least one person in your household must be either a citizen or an eligible noncitizen. Unrestricted means that anyone can apply regardless of their immigration status. Restricted programs can have different documentation requirements, and the immigrant composition of a household can affect how much housing subsidy it receives in some of these restricted programs.
As long as at least one member of the household is a citizen or eligible noncitizen, the entire household may apply to restricted programs. The eligible person may not have to be the head of the household, depending on the housing program.
Eligible noncitizens include the following:
Lawful permanent residents
Any noncitizen living in the U.S. under legally recognized and lawfully recorded permanent residence. Also known as a “Green Card holder.”
Persons admitted for permanent residence by the U.S. Attorney General and eligible for citizenship.
Refugees or asylees
Foreign nationals in the U.S. who are unable or unwilling to return to their countries of origin because of fear of persecution.
Foreign nationals granted permanent resident status on a conditional basis ho must petition to remove the conditions of their immigration status within two years from initial approval. Examples include a spouse of a U.S. citizen or foreign investor.
Inadmissible foreign nationals allowed to leave an immigration inspection facility although not formally admitted to the U.S. Usually granted for humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit.
A Withholding from Removal granted by a judge to a foreign national slated to be returned to his or her country of origin. Granted on the basis of likelihood of persecution upon return.
Persons granted 1986 amnesty status
Under the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act persons who resided illegally in the U.S. prior to 1982 and meet certain conditions.
Victims of trafficking, or relatives of such a victim.
Legalized status obtained by meeting requirements of 2000 Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act.
Residents of the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Palau or Guam
If you are unsure about what your exact immigration status may be, you should speak with an immigration attorney.
Public Housing, Project-Based Section 8 and the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher programs allow families that are considered ‘mixed families’ to be eligible for assistance. Mixed households are those that include members who are not citizens and do not have appropriate immigration status, to be eligible for assistance. However, HUD also adjusts the amount of rent the tenant pays based on the number of people in the household who are eligible immigrants. These HUD programs do not require that the head of the household be a citizen or eligible immigrant. These programs also adjust the amount of rent the tenant pays based on the number of people in the household who are eligible immigrants. This is called prorated assistance or prorated rent.
For more information about these programs, including how to apply click the following links:
If you live in a rural area, there may be low-income apartment communities funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). USDA programs can also serve mixed households, but the head of the household must be a citizen or lawful permanent resident. Rent subsidy is not pro-rated based on the number of other household members who are not eligible immigrants.
Three programs, the Section 514 and Section 516 Farm Labor Housing programs, and Section 521 Rural Rental Assistance have restrictions based on immigration status. The Section 516 program provides subsidized loans to farmers and community nonprofit organizations to build affordable housing for farm workers, with the Section 516 program providing grants to community organizations building these low-income rental communities. Tenants must be employed in farm labor in order to live in these apartments. Households must have incomes below 80% of Area Median Income to qualify for this housing. The head of the household must be a U.S. citizen or a Lawful Permanent Resident. A Lawful Permanent Resident is a non-citizen who has been authorized to live and work in the U.S. on a permanent basis. The permanent resident card they receive is often called a “green card.”
Section 521 rental assistance can be attached to projects with different funding sources, as long as they are located in a rural area. The head of the household must be a citizen or a lawful permanent resident. Tenants pay 30% of their adjusted monthly income or 10% of their gross monthly income for rent. There is no proration of rent for mixed households like there is with HUD programs. You can earn up to 80% of the Area Median Income (AMI) to live in an apartment with Section 521 rental assistance. If Section 521 rental assistance is being used in a property whose funding would otherwise allow undocumented households, such as USDA's Section 515 program, the stricter rental assistance eligibility rules would apply and the head of the household would have to be a citizen or lawful permanent resident.
For more information on how to apply for these programs, visit the USDA Rural Development Multi-Family Housing Rentals page here, and contact the property for assistance.
There are federal programs that do not require you to share documentation of your citizenship or immigration status in order to apply. Because these programs do not require documentation of citizenship, you should also not need to provide a Social Security number.
Some properties built with these programs may also have used funding from other federal programs that do have immigration status restrictions. In that case, persons who are not eligible noncitizens cannot apply. Because a property can have a mix of funding sources, it is best to ask the housing office what programs funded the project.
HUD 221(d)(3), 221(d)(4) and 231 programs. These programs support financing of affordable housing communities serving moderate income households, the elderly and disabled. For background information about the 221(d)(3) and 221(d)(4) programs visit the HUD program page here, and for more information about the 231 program visit the HUD program page here.
811 Housing for Disabled. This program supports housing for disabled people. It provides both interest-free capital advances and operating subsidies to nonprofit developers and project rental assistance to state housing agencies. For information on how to apply, use the search bar at the top of any of Affordable Housing Online’s pages to search for your city, county, or state. Look at the communities shown with the “Section 811” program tag in the gray box, and click the property name to learn more. You may call the toll free phone number provided on the page or submit the online information request form. If these methods of contact are not available on the community’s page, visit the property for more information.
Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA). This program supports housing for people living with HIV and AIDS. The support can include rental assistance, chemical dependency treatment, mental health services, job training and placement help and assistance with daily living. For more information about HOPWA visit the HUD program page here.
McKinney Homeless Programs. These are programs administered by HUD that serve shelter needs of homeless individuals and families. They primarily support shelter development and operating costs. The programs include Emergency Shelter Grants (ESG), Supportive Housing Program, Supplemental Assistance to Facilities to Assist the Homeless and the Single Family Property Disposition Initiative. One program that supports the rehabilitation and operation of single-room occupancy (SRO) units for homeless people, the Section 8 Moderate Rehab for SRO program, has the same immigration status restrictions as HUD Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance described below. A good description of the McKinney Homeless Programs is provided by the National Alliance to End Homelessness here.
Shelter Plus Care. A HUD program supporting the development and operation of housing to help people and families transition out of homelessness. These properties include services to help move people to more stable housing situations. Visit HUD’s program page for Shelter Plus Care information here.
HOME Rental Assistance. HOME is a block grant program, with HUD overseeing funds that are sent to state and city housing agencies to support a wide range of affordable housing needs. One use of these funds is for rental assistance. HOME rental assistance is always used in properties primarily developed with other sources. Some of these funding sources may have eligibility restrictions related to immigration status. You should check with the housing office or manager about other funding associated with the property that may have these kinds of restrictions. For more information, visit HUD’s HOME Rental Assistance page here.
Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) properties. LIHTC provides tax credits to investors that invest capital in properties that serve low-income households. These properties in many cases include other federal funding sources with immigrant status restrictions, at least for specified apartments in the property. You should check with the housing office or manager about other funding associated with the property that may have these kinds of restrictions. For more information about how the LIHTC program works, see Affordable Housing Online's LIHTC Guide.
USDA Section 515 Rural Rental Housing. Section 515 is a program run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that provides low-interest loans to developers building properties providing apartments to low-income households in rural areas. Although proof of immigration status is not required to apply for a Section 515 apartment, these properties often have other federal subsidies, such as Section 521 Rural Rental Assistance or Section 8 Project-Based Assistance, that have immigrant status restrictions. You should check with the housing office or manager about other funding associated with the property that may have these kinds of restrictions. For information on how to apply, use the search bar at the top of any of Affordable Housing Online’s pages to search for your city, county, or state. Look at the communities shown with the “Section 515” program tag in the gray box, and click the property name to learn more. You may call the toll free phone number provided on the page or submit the online information request form. If these methods of contact are not available on the community’s page, visit the property for more information.
In addition, many states have rental programs that serve all people, including undocumented immigrants. To find out which programs run by your state are eligible for all immigrants, you should talk with an immigration attorney, the local legal services office or state housing agency.
Persons who have difficulty reading, writing, speaking or understanding English have rights to access services when they apply for a number of programs. This is called Limited English Proficiency (LEP). These services include:
Housing assistance from a HUD-funded agency or provider
Assistance from state or local government for a rehabilitation grant for their home
Filing a housing discrimination complaint with the local Fair Housing Assistance Program grantee
Supportive services to become first-time homebuyers
Housing related social services, training or other assistance from HUD.
Agencies receiving federal housing funds must offer a mix of services to help LEP persons apply for their programs. Common services LEP persons should be able to receive when they apply for housing assistance include:
Interpreters in person or on the phone
Bilingual staff or staff interpreters
Translating documents such as consent and complaint forms, intake forms, notices advising LEP persons of free language assistance, leases, tenant rules and applications for programs or activities.
Translating notices of rights, denial, loss or decreases in benefits or services, notices of eviction and other related hearings.
The right to interpreters and translated documents depends on a number of factors. In some cases, there could be some delay in accessing translation services. The size of the LEP community served or encountered by the program impacts the need for translation services, as does the frequency of contact with LEP persons. Availability of translation services is also related to the importance of the program, activity or service. The availability of resources and program costs also affect timely access to interpreters and translated documents.
If you have a complaint related to LEP access services, you can contact the federal Office of Civil Rights. The complaint form is available in both English and Spanish. Go online here, or call (888) 848-5306 for assistance.