How To Apply For A Section 8 Voucher

Photo of a person filling out a paper application on a desk with a pen. Photo by Adobe Stock.

Before starting an application for a Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher, it’s important to first know what to expect. This can help eliminate some of the stress that may come while applying for a voucher.

Applications must be submitted to a locally-based housing office called a Public Housing Agency (known as a housing authority). These federal offices are overseen by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

HUD gives its housing authorities a wide range of flexibility to set rules for a waiting list opening. Because of this, application requirements can vary in different parts of the country.

This is what low-income renters must do to apply for Section 8 housing:

  1. Find an open waiting list.


    To apply for Section 8 HCV rental assistance in an area, the program’s waiting list must be open for applications. Housing authorities regularly open and close waiting lists nationwide throughout the year.

    There are some areas with a waiting list that stays open for a long period of time. But in most areas of the country, waiting list openings are rare. It may take months or years for a waiting list to reopen. So, when looking for housing in a certain area, it’s important to stay on top of the latest waiting list openings.

    Housing Tip: The latest Section 8 waiting list openings are listed on Affordable Housing Online here.

    When a waiting list opens, housing authorities release a public notice to announce the application period. A public notice may be published locally (such as in a newspaper), or published online (either on a website or social media).

    After finding an open waiting list, it’s important to apply as soon as possible. Waiting lists are not guaranteed to stay open.

  2. Complete the pre-application.


    While a waiting list is open, an application must be submitted directly to the managing housing authority. This document is officially called the ‘preliminary application’ (or pre-application), but some offices keep it simple by just calling it an application.

    Applicants are not required to live in the area to apply to most waiting lists. This means that a renter in California may apply for a waiting list opening in New York. Sometimes there are local restrictions, but it is rare.

    Section 8 applications are most commonly available online, by mail, or at an in-person location; but other means such as by email and phone may be used.

    Some applications may be difficult to complete for persons with disabilities. If a disabled applicant needs help with the application, they can submit a reasonable accommodation request to the housing authority.

    Housing Tip: Do not pay for an application. It is against HUD policy for housing authorities to charge for a Section 8 application. If anyone is charging a fee for an application, they are either violating federal law, or a scammer.

    Most applications require the applicant to provide their:

    • First and last name
    • Date of birth
    • Social Security Number or Alien ID
    • Total gross income of all household members (with exceptions).

    An application may also have additional sections, including:

    • Current mailing and/or email address
    • Phone number
    • Gender
    • Disability status
    • Race and ethnicity
    • Housing history
    • Criminal history
    • Proof of income
    • Preference verification

    When complete, the application must be submitted directly to the managing housing authority. Applications will only be accepted following the directions on the public notice. For example, if the application must be completed online only, paper applications will not be available, or accepted.

    Once the application is submitted, the housing authority will review it for waiting list placement.

  3. Wait for the application to be processed.


    While the office reviews applications, it may take up to a couple of weeks or months to get a response.

    This timeframe depends on size of the waiting list opening, and the housing authority’s available resources. Usually, online applications are processed more quickly than paper applications.

    If the application meets the preliminary qualifications, the household may be placed on the waiting list.

    Due to the high demand for Section 8 housing, not all applicants who qualify for the waiting list may be placed on it; even if all requirements are met. Many waiting lists are open for only a brief period of time, and there are limited spots available.

    However, waiting list placement is different if the waiting list is open indefinitely (meaning that there is no scheduled close date). Because there are still open spots, households that meet the preliminary qualifications should be placed on these waiting lists.

    When an application is placed on the waiting list, it is sorted one of two ways:

    • Date and time the application is received by the housing authority.
    • Random lottery selection.

    Preferences factor into waiting list placement, as well, but not all waiting lists have preferences. Applicants who do not qualify for preferences may have a longer wait to receive assistance.

    After sorting the waiting list, the housing authority will send confirmation to applicants.

  4. Get confirmation of waiting list placement.


    To contact households, the housing authority will use information provided by the applicant in the application.

    This is why it is important to give the housing authority valid, and accessible contact information. If a notice from the housing authority is undeliverable or left unread, the household may be taken off the waiting list.

    Housing Tip: Applicants who were not placed on the waiting list may not get any notice from the housing office. Some housing authorities only reach out to those who were placed on the waiting list.

    Being placed on a waiting list is a great accomplishment, but it does not yet guarantee that the household will receive rental assistance.

    Applicants who do not pay attention to the next part of the process risk losing their spot on the waiting list.

  5. Stay in contact with the housing authority.


    Depending on the area, it may take a housing authority months or years to get through all households on the waiting list. While waiting, applicants may get a notice that requires a response to stay on the waiting list.

    To stay on a waiting list, keep contact information up to date, and reply to all notices that require a response.

    While waiting for a voucher, housing authorities allow applicants to check their status on a waiting list. Some housing authorities will tell applicants their exact spot on the waiting list, but others will only confirm if the household is still on the waiting list.

    Once an application reaches the top of the waiting list, the household will get a notice from the housing authority. But there is one final eligibility screening before getting a voucher.Photo of woman in front of mail box checking her mail. Photo by Adobe Stock.

  6. Attend the eligibility interview.


    The last requirement to get a Section 8 voucher is to complete the final application during an in-person meeting with the housing authority.

    Housing authorities will either require all household members, all adult household members, or only the applicant to be present. The required members must attend the interview at the scheduled date and time, so plan accordingly if the location is far away from home.

    When the interview is over, the housing authority will determine if the household is qualified to receive a Section 8 voucher.

    If the household meets all requirements, they will be given a voucher.

    However, if the household is denied, there is still one last chance to get a voucher.Photo of a father and daughter attending an interview with an administrator in an office. Photo by Adobe Stock.

  7. Request an informal review (if denied).


    If the household is denied after the eligibility interview, contact the housing authority to request an Informal Review.

    An Informal Review is a hearing process for applicants who have been denied admission into the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program.

    To prepare for this review, know that a housing authority must deny an application if anyone in the household:

    • Has been evicted from HUD or federally assisted housing within a certain amount of years (usually 3-5) for drug related criminal activity.
    • Has been convicted of the manufacture of methamphetamine on the premises of HUD or other federally assisted housing.
    • Is registered as a lifetime sex offender.

    If the household is denied again, the only further option is to continue applying to other waiting lists.

    But, if the re-evaluation determines that the household is qualified, they will be given a voucher.Photo of a woman sitting in an office with an administrator for an interview. Photo by Adobe Stock.

What Next?

With a voucher in hand, the next step is to find a unit before it expires.

Continue Reading – How To Find A Section 8 Unit (Coming Soon)