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What does a waiting list preference mean?

Answer

If a waiting list has preferences, it means that priority placement is given to applicants who qualify for a specific preference category (such as elderly, disabled, or homeless). Applicants who do not qualify for the listed preferences will have a longer wait to receive assistance than those who do qualify. In most cases, the head of household, co-head, or spouse must qualify for a preference for it to be applied; and official documentation must be submitted to prove the household qualifies.

Not all waiting lists have preferences, and the specific preferences associated with a waiting list vary. The purpose of preferences is to assist demographics in the area who are in great need of housing assistance. For example, if an area has a large population of homeless persons, a waiting list in that area may have a preference for homeless applicants.

Usually, preferences are weighted, meaning that each preference is given a point value, and the total number of preferences points an applicant has determines their position on the waiting list. Applicants who do not qualify for any preferences are placed on the waiting list below all applicants who qualify for at least one preference. Housing offices are given great leeway in defining its specific preference requirements, and not all preferences are the same across the board. Always confirm the specific preference requirements with the housing office.

These are the most common preferences that may be found on an application, along with a definition of what the preference usually requires:

  • Elderly- 62 years or older.
  • Disabled-
    • Receive benefits for their disability as defined by 42 U.S.C. 423; and has a long-term physical, mental or emotional impairment that substantially hinders their ability to live independently; and the disability is of such a nature that the ability to live independently could be improved by more suitable housing conditions.
    • Or, has a developmental disability as defined by 42 U.S.C. 6001; including persons who have the disease or conditions of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS); but not including persons whose disability is based solely on drug or alcohol dependence; and the person has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.
  • Live/Work Locally- Live, work, or have been hired to work within the housing authority's jurisdiction, or the county it is located in. Offices have leeway in defining this specific preference, but in all instances, those who have been hired to work must be treated the same as those who currently work. The preference may only be for those who live locally, work locally, or both.
  • Veteran- Honorably discharged from any branch of the United States Armed Forces.
  • Active Military- Current service member of the United States Armed Forces.
  • Employed- Employed for a specific number of hours, as defined by the housing office (usually at least 20-30 hours per week). This preference is also given to households whose head of household or spouse is elderly is disabled.
  • Job Training/Education- Currently enrolled in a job training or education program.
  • Homeless- Offices have leeway in defining this preference, and the specific definition tends to vary greatly by each housing office. Some offices may require applicants to be currently living in a shelter, some do not consider persons who are living with friends or family homeless, and others have much lighter requirements. Because of this flexibility, contact the office you apply through to confirm the definition of the Homeless preference.
  • Involuntarily Displaced by Natural Disaster- Household was forced to move from their home as a result of a federally declared natural disaster such as a fire or flood.
  • Involuntarily Displaced by Government Action- Household was forced to move from their home as a result of a government action. This may include federal, state, or local government action by code enforcement, or if a housing authority cuts assistance to a household due to lack of funding.
  • Victim of Domestic Violence- Offices have leeway in defining this preference, and the specific definition tends to vary greatly by each housing office. Some may require legal documentation, or that the applicant currently lives in a shelter specifically for victims of domestic violence. The preference may also appear as "Displaced by Domestic Violence." Because of this flexibility, contact the office you apply through to confirm the definition of the Victim of Domestic Violence preference.
  • Families with Children- The household has at least one minor child younger than 18 years old.
  • Live in Substandard Housing- Examples of substandard housing may include a dilapidated structure, no operable indoor plumbing, inadequate or unsafe electrical foundation, inadequate or unsafe source of heat, no kitchen, and declared unfit for habitation by government agency.
  • Near Elderly- 50-61 years old. Offices have leeway in defining the qualifying age for this preference, and the specific age requirement tends to vary greatly by each housing office. Because of this flexibility, contact the office you apply through to confirm the age requirement of the Near Elderly preference.
  • Rent Burdened- Household pays more than 30% of its income on rent.
  • Extremely Low-Income Household- The household's income is at or below 30% of that area's Area Median Income (AMI).
  • Lease in Place- Currently have an active signed lease to live in a dwelling. (This preference may appear on a Housing Choice Voucher application.)
  • Terminated from Assistance Due to Lack of Funding- The household was terminated from a housing authority's affordable housing program only because the agency didn't have enough funding.
  • Current Housing Authority Residents- The household currently lives in a unit managed by the housing authority. This may give a preference to all participants of a specific housing program (like Public Housing), or for residents of a specific community only.
  • Living in/At Risk of Institutionalization- Resident (or at risk of becoming a resident) of a medical facility due to physical or mental dependency.
  • In Transitional Housing- Participant of a transitional housing program for homeless persons. The participant may be transitioning from a shelter, foster care, or on-the-street homelessness.
  • Youth Aging Out of Foster Care- Household member is exiting their foster care system because of they reached the cut-off age (usually 18 or 21 years old).
  • Money Follows The Person- Participant of the Money Follows the Person Medicaid program.
  • Other- A housing office may have additional preferences. Sometimes these are connected to a locally-administered assistance program. Contact the housing office you apply to, and ask to confirm the definition of any other preferences.

Preferences are not the only factor in determining a household's position on the waiting list. After preference points are sorted, applicants are placed on the waiting list either by random lottery, or date and time the application is received by the office.

Here are some examples of how an application may be sorted by preferences:

Example 1- A waiting list gives 5 points to elderly applicants, 3 points to veterans, 1 point to local applicants, and places applicants on the waiting list by date and time:

  1. Applicant A is elderly and local, and submitted their application on January 1st at 12:00 pm.
  2. Applicant B is a veteran, and submitted their application on January 1st at 11:00 am.

Applicant A would receive 6 points, and Applicant B would receive 3 points. Even though Applicant B submitted their application first, Applicant A would be placed in a higher tier on the waiting list because they have more preference points.

Example 2- A waiting list gives 5 points to elderly applicants, 3 points to veterans, 1 point to local applicants, and places applicants on the waiting list by date and time:

  1. Applicant A is elderly and local, and submitted their application on January 1st at 12:00 pm.
  2. Applicant B is elderly and local, and submitted their application on January 1st at 11:00 am.

Applicant A and B would both receive 6 points. Both would be placed on the same tier, but because Applicant B submitted their application first, they would be placed higher on the waiting list than Applicant A.

Example 3- A waiting list gives 5 points to elderly applicants, 3 points to veterans, 1 point to local applicants, and places applicants on the waiting list by random lottery:

  1. Applicant A is elderly and local, and submitted their application on January 1st at 12:00 pm.
  2. Applicant B is elderly and local, and submitted their application on January 1st at 11:00 am.

Applicant A and B would both receive 6 points. Waiting list selection is by lottery, so it does not matter when either application was submitted. Both applicants would be placed on the same tier, but because they both have the same number of preference points, each applicant has an equal chance of being placed higher on the waiting list than the other.

Example 4- A waiting list gives 5 points to elderly applicants, 3 points to veterans, 1 point to local applicants, and places applicants on the waiting list by random lottery:

  1. Applicant A is elderly and local, and submitted their application on January 1st at 12:00 pm.
  2. Applicant B is elderly and local, and submitted their application on January 1st at 11:00 am.
  3. Applicant C is a veteran, and submitted their application on January 1st at 10:00 am.

Applicant A and B would both receive 6 points. Applicant C would receive 3 points. Waiting list selection is by lottery, so it does not matter when either application was submitted. Applicants A and B would be placed on a higher tier than Applicant C. Because Applicants A and B both have the same number of preference points, each applicant has an equal chance of being placed on the waiting list higher than the other. Because Applicant C has fewer preference points, they will be placed on the waiting list on a lower tier than Applicants A and B.

Example 5- A waiting list gives 5 points to elderly applicants, 3 points to veterans, 1 point to local applicants, and places applicants on the waiting list by random lottery:

  1. Applicant A is elderly and local, and submitted their application on January 1st at 12:00 pm.
  2. Applicant B does not qualify for any preferences, and submitted their application on January 1st at 11:00 am.

Applicant A would receive 6 points, and Applicant B would receive 0 points. Waiting list selection is by lottery, so it does not matter when either application was submitted. Even though Applicant B submitted their application first, and Applicant A would be placed on a higher tier because of their preference points.

Contact the housing office you apply through for more information about preferences.

More FAQs from Low Income Households

  • What has to be included in my household income?
  • Since Section 8 vouchers are so difficult to get, is there a place to find other housing programs that set rent based on your income?
  • The housing office I applied through told me I didn't qualify to receive assistance, and I don't know why. What could have made me ineligible?
  • Who qualifies for affordable housing assistance?
  • Can I apply to multiple waiting lists?