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What Happens After Applying to a Public Waiting List?

  1. Wait for the housing office to process applications.
  2. Confirm your waiting list status.
  3. Estimate your wait time.
  4. Stay in contact with the housing office.
  5. Attend final in-person eligibility interview.
  6. Move Into Offered Unit.

Step 1: Wait for the housing office to process applications.

Once your application has been submitted, it generally takes between a couple of weeks and a couple of months for offices to process applications. This depends on the resources available to review applications. Usually, online applications are processed more quickly than paper applications. The application or public notice about the waiting list opening may have information on when waiting list status will be available, and how to find out your status.

Step 2: Confirm your waiting list status.

Usually, the housing office will confirm waiting list placement by mailing letters to applicants, or allowing applicants to log in to an online portal. Some offices that mail letters to applicants will only notify those who have been placed on the waiting list. Applicants that do not receive a letter by the given date were not placed on the waiting list.

Applicants will be placed on the waiting list either by date and time the application is received by the housing office, or by random lottery.

If placed on the waiting list, keep a record of the office you applied through, along with any other relevant information (including login credentials, a confirmation number, or your position on the waiting list). Without this documentation, it is easy to lose track of offices you have applied through.

There could be a number of reasons why a housing office did not place an applicant on the waiting list. Many applicants get rejected because of the high demand for housing assistance, despite being eligible for the program. For example, if a housing office is placing 1,000 applicants on the waiting list by date and time, and 2,500 people apply, those who submit the application late may be denied because all spots were filled before the office got to their application. Or, if a housing office is placing a number of applicants on the waiting list by random lottery, an applicant may be denied because they were not chosen by the lottery system. If you were not placed on the waiting list, the housing authority is required to provide the reason why, along with information about requesting an informal review.

Step 3: Estimate your wait time.

Once you are on a waiting list, your wait time varies greatly depending on the office you applied through. Because of the high demand of affordable housing, and comparatively low supply, it is not rare to be on a waiting list for several years. Generally, large metropolitan areas have long waiting lists, while lower populated areas have shorter waiting lists.

Contact the housing office you applied through to find out if a representative can estimate the current length of the waiting list. If the office cannot make an estimate, ask how you can access its Annual Plan. This document, which is updated yearly, may have information about the current number of households on the waiting list, and the office's annual turnover rate.

You can use simple math to estimate the length of the waiting list based on these numbers. For example, if there are 1,000 households on the waiting list, and the annual turnover rate is 200 households, calculate (1,000 ÷ 200), which is 5. It would take that office about five years to serve all households on that waiting list. However, not all housing authorities provide both pieces of information on their Annual Plan. This calculation does not take factors into consideration such as annual waiting list purges and adjusted turnover rates, so it should be used as a rough estimate.

Step 4: Stay in contact with the housing office.

Find out how to periodically check your waiting list status with an office. Usually, this will either be done online, by phone, or at the office. Some offices are unable to provide your specific position on the waiting list, but will confirm if you are still on the waiting list.

If any of your application information changes (such as contact information, income, and household members), contact the housing office immediately. In the case that the office sends a notice that does not get returned, or if application information is out of date, your application may be terminated from the waiting list. Contact the office you applied through to find out how to officially update application information.

Reply immediately to notices sent to you that require a response. Housing offices periodically send notices to all persons on the waiting list, asking if they would like to remain on the waiting list. Applicants who do not respond within the given time frame will be terminated from the waiting list. This is known as purging, and is done to process applicants as efficiently as possible. Follow the specific instructions on the notice, or your application may be terminated.

Step 5: Attend final in-person eligibility interview.

Once you reach the top of the waiting list, the office will require a final, in-person eligibility interview. The office will either require all household members, all adult household members, or only the applicant to be present. The in-person interview is required, and you must attend at the scheduled date and time, so if you apply to a waiting list not close to your home, plan accordingly.

Step 6: Move Into Offered Unit.

After being approved for the Public Housing program, you will be able to move into the unit the housing authority has approved for you. You will not be able to move from this unit and keep the rental assistance.

Housing authorities will examine the income of Public Housing participants every two years. The household’s average income for the last two years must be below the area’s 120% Area Median Income (AMI) income limit. If a household is over-income, they will not be required to move out. But, they must either pay Fair Market Rent (FMR) for the unit, or the subsidy amount that the housing authority received from HUD for the unit.