What does it mean if a waiting list has preferences?

A waiting list with preferences means that applicants who qualify for the identified preferences will receive assistance before applicants who do not. Applicants who do not qualify for the preferences will have a longer wait to receive assistance than those who do qualify. Generally, the head of household, co-head, or spouse must qualify for a preference for it to be applied.

Not all waiting lists have preferences, but if they do, applicants are required to submit proof of the preference.

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.

Please note: 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. If both preferences are applied, there may be a different weight for those who live locally and work locally.
  • Veteran- Honorably discharged from any branch of the United States Armed Forces.
  • Employed- Employeed for a specific number of hours, as defined by the housing office (usually at least 20-30 hours per week).
  • 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).
  • Other- A housing office may have additional preferences. If so, it is usually connected to a locally-administered assistance program. Contact the office you apply through to confirm the definition of 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. You can search our website for housing authority and apartment community contact information here.