Affordable Housing Online is monitoring the federal government's response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak. As of March 13, 2020, Public Housing Agencies across the nation are closing their doors to the public. Most offices are still running and will communicate by phone, email, or mail. Some offices have drop boxes installed outside, so documents can still be hand-delivered. Visit the housing authority's website for the latest on its current operations, if one is available. If there is no information online, contact the housing authority directly. Due to a high volume of calls and modified office hours in most areas, expect a long wait time (days or weeks) for a response. To find your local PHA's contact info, browse by state here.

An extensive list of coronavirus resources for low-income households can be found here.

Frequently Asked Housing Policy, Landlords, and Tenants Questions

How many bedrooms am I eligible for?

Generally, up to two people are placed in a bedroom, and adults have separate bedrooms than children.

Allocating bedrooms for children can get complicated, as each housing authority's policy differs. If two children are of the same sex, they normally will be given a room together. However, if two children are of opposite sex, they will likely only be granted separate bedrooms if they have reached a specific age (usually more than 5 years old). If the children are under the specified age limit, they must live in one bedroom together until they reach that age. Again, each housing authority policy differs, so contact the office in your area of interest to find out its specific policy. You can use the search bar on the top of this page to search for housing authority contact information.

Here are some examples of bedroom allocation depending on family composition:

  • 1 Adult (1 BR)
  • 2 Adults (1 BR)
  • 2 Adults, 1 Child (2 BR)
  • 2 Adults, 2 Same-Sex Children (2 BR)
  • 2 Adults, 2 Opposite-Sex Children Over Age Limit (3 BR)
  • 2 Adults, 2 Opposite-Sex Children Under Age Limit, 1 Child Over Age Limit (3 BR)
  • 3 Adults, 4 Same-Sex Children (4 BR)

How much would my rent be?

For Section 8, Public Housing, and other affordable housing subsidy programs, your monthly rent payment is generally 30% of the household's monthly gross income, but there are other factors that can determine your rent.

Affordable properties that participate in programs without rental subsidies, such as Low-Income Housing Tax Credit properties, offer a flat monthly rent that is below the market rate. For example, an affordable housing property may charge all tenants $500 for a 1-bedroom unit in an area where the Fair Market Rent (FMR) for a 1-bedroom unit is $700.

In regards to the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program, it is important to find a unit that is below or near the FMR rate of that area. For example, if you find a 3-bedroom unit going for $1,400 a month, but the FMR of a 3-bedroom unit is $1,100, you may be required by the housing authority to cover that extra $300. If the monthly rent is over the FMR by just a small amount (tens of dollars) the housing authority may allow you to still rent it without paying extra money. However, there is no guarantee that you would be granted by this accommodation.

Can I be evicted if my HUD apartment is sold?

If a Project Based Section 8 apartment community is sold and the new owner decides not to renew the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) contract with HUD, they can permanently relocate residents. However, under the federal Uniform Relocation Act (URA), Project-Based Section 8 tenants receive certain protections including relocation advisory services, extended relocation notice requirements, moving expense reimbursement and substantial payments to cover the increased costs of replacement housing.

According to Relocation Assistance To Tenants Displaced From Their Homes (HUD-1042-CPD), HUD booklet for displaced tenants, if a tenant is notified they will be displaced, "it is important that you do not move before you learn what you must do to receive the relocation payments and other assistance to which you are entitled."

The benefits displaced tenants are entitled to are:

  • Extended move out notice. You are not required to move without at least 90 days advance written notice. The written notice must identify at least one comparable rental property available to you and the earliest date by which you must move.
  • Relocation advisory services. Counseling services that include referrals to comparable replacement housing, inspection of replacement housing to ensure it meets established standards, claim for preparation assistance, and other counseling to minimize the cost and impact of the move.
  • Moving Expense Payment. Payment of actual moving expense and/or a fixed moving expense and dislocation allowance.
  • Allowance for Replacement Housing. To provide a renter with the financial resources needed to find replacement housing, the tenant is entitled to relocation assistance payments to buy or rent replacement housing. The URA entitles displaced renters to rental assistance for a 42 month period following displacement. The amount of monthly assistance is determined by subtracting 30% of a low-income tenant's monthly income from the monthly rent payment for the replacement housing. For example, if a displaced Section 8 tenant earns $500 per month and replacement housing costs $800 per month, for 42 months, the tenant would receive $650 per month for 42 months, $800 (the new rent) minus $150 (30% of monthly income).

To receive these benefits, a displaced tenant must file a claim.

Relocation regulations and the benefits tenants are entitled to are complicated. Many purchasers of Project-Based Section 8 properties are either inexperienced with the program and its requirements or choose to ignore them. Often, a new owner tries to just evict everyone upon assuming ownership without following the Uniform Relocation Act, which is unlawful.

If you find yourself in a situation where you are being displaced, it is very important that you do not move until you identify what your rights are.

HUD has a great overview of the URA and even provides Regional Relocation Specialists (directory) that can assist tenants in danger of relocation.

Can I smoke in my apartment?

Under HUD regulations, smoking cigarettes, cigars or pipes will not be allowed in apartments, public areas or within 25 feet of Public Housing buildings. At this time the smoking ban does not apply to e-cigarettes, nor to HUD properties that participate in housing programs other than Public Housing.

You may or may not be able to smoke in your affordable housing unit; depending on the policy of the housing authority, property management company, or landlord that manages your unit.

  • Public Housing residents may not smoke on premises as of July 31, 2018. More information about that ruling can be found here.
  • If you are a Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher tenant, that policy is set by your landlord. The smoking policy should be identified on your lease.
  • For other housing programs, some housing agencies let its residents smoke, while others do not. The smoking policy should be identified on your lease for these programs, as well.

If a housing agency does have a no-smoking policy, there may be designated smoking areas outside. Also, it's important to note that no-smoking policies do not mean that residents who smoke will be evicted. But they will be not be allowed to smoke on premise.

Contact the housing authority, property management company, or landlord that manages your unit to confirm the smoking policy. You can use the search bar at the top of this page to search for housing authority and apartment community contact information.

Do HUD offices close while a government shutdown is in effect?

If the United States government has shut down, most Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offices will remain open. A government shutdown sometimes happens in the U.S. if Congress and the President do not reach an agreement on required budget legislation to fund government operations.

For our full coverage of the 2018-19 Government Shutdown visit our 2019 Government Shutdown Timeline.

There are several managing offices within HUD, which all have varying operations during a shutdown. And it's important for tenants and landlords to know what services are available to them during a shutdown. Here's details on the most noteworthy HUD offices that has direct relations with tenants and landlords:

  • Office of Public and Indian Housing (PIH)

HUD’s Description: The Office of Public and Indian Housing (PIH) ensures safe, decent, and affordable housing, creates opportunities for residents' self-sufficiency and economic independence, and assures the fiscal integrity of all program participants.

What does it do? Basically, the PIH runs the Housing Choice Voucher and Public Housing Programs for HUD at the federal level.

Is it closed during a shutdown? No. The PIH has excepted activities which are not disrupted by a government shutdown. These activities include keeping the Public Housing Authorities up and running, and ensuring the PHA’s have access to draw down needed funds (including reserved funds, at least for the month of the shutdown). PIH also ensures their PIH website used by Housing Authorities for reporting, is kept online and running as it should.

  • Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO)

HUD’s Description: The Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) is to eliminate housing discrimination, promote economic opportunity, and achieve diverse, inclusive communities by leading the nation in the enforcement, administration, development, and public understanding of federal fair housing policies and laws.

What does it do? The FHEO investigates fair housing complaints, conducts compliance reviews, ensures civil rights in HUD programs and manages fair housing grants.

Is it closed during a shutdown? Partially. The FHEO has excepted activities which are not disrupted by a government shutdown. These activities include keeping funding distributed to grantees for investigation of complaints. FHEO may also recall staff during a shutdown, if needed to pursue prompt judicial action, issue warrants, or to respond to requests from the Department of Justice regarding civil rights matters. FHEO will keep a limited number of staff at work to maintain the running of their computer systems.

  • Office of Housing (Housing)

HUD’s description: The Office of Housing plays a vital role for the nation's homebuyers, homeowners, renters, and communities through its nationally administered programs. It includes the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), the largest mortgage insurer in the world.

What does it do? The Office of Housing operates HUD’s mortgage insurance and mortgages through the Federal Housing Authority (FHA), manages HUD's Project-Based Rental Assistance and other rental assistance programs, and supports Housing for the Elderly and for Persons with Disabilities programs.

Is it closed during a shutdown? No, it’s mostly open. The Office of Housing has excepted activities which are not disrupted by a government shutdown. These activities include fulfilling obligations associated with Housing’s Project-Based Rental Assistance programs. Housing will also continue to respond to issues relating to the "imminent threat to the safety of the residents," or to the protection of property in HUD-insured or assisted multifamily projects.

  • Office of the Inspector General (OIG)

HUD’s Description: The primary mission of the OIG is to investigate and audit HUD programs and operations, and to respond to irregularities or violations of law or regulation in HUD programs and operations, especially as they might relate to protecting HUD funds.

What Does It Do? The Office of Inspector General (OIG) prevents and detects fraud, waste, and abuse in the programs and operations of HUD. The OIG conducts independent investigations, audits, and evaluations of HUD programs. The OIG also keeps the HUD Secretary and the Congress fully informed about HUD program deficiencies and weaknesses while also identifying best practices.

Is It Closed During a Shut Down? Yes, partially. The OIG will keep the minimum number of employees necessary to address emergency situations and to prevent the potential mismanagement of HUD’s financial assets.

How Much Are Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers Worth

Under the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program, most tenants will pay 30% of their monthly income. The Public Housing Authority that issued and approved the voucher will pay the landlord the remainder of the rent and utility costs.

In cases where the market rate rent of a unit exceeds the payment standard set by the Public Housing Authority, tenants may be required to pay up to 40% of their monthly income. However, by law, contributions towards rent from a tenant may not be more than 40% of their monthly income.

What is HUD?

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, commonly abbreviated as HUD, is the main agency that oversees federal affordable housing and community development programs. It was created as a cabinet-level department in 1965 as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty.

Since 2017, Ben Carson has served as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under the Trump Administration. The position was last held by Julian Castro from 2014 until 2017.

Housing Opportunity and Rental Assistance

HUD administers affordable housing programs that help low-income households pay for rent. Through these programs, HUD may also offer supportive services, utility cost reimbursements, self-sufficiency planning, and job training for eligible households. The Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher, Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance, and Public Housing are HUD’s primary affordable housing programs.

HUD also funds housing for populations with special needs. These programs include the Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly, Section 811 Supportive Housing for Persons with Disabilities, and Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA) programs. HUD also administers grants to help persons experiencing homelessness, including shelters, transitional housing, and services.

Community Development

HUD provides funding to states, counties, and cities for public infrastructure and economic development. Some of these programs can be used to build or rehabilitate affordable housing including the Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) and the HOME Investment Partnerships Program (HOME). Through the Office of Public and Indian Housing, HUD provides block grants to tribes for housing and community development through the Indian Housing Block Grant and Indian Community Development Block Grant programs.

Affordable Homeownership

HUD assists homebuyers through the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). FHA-insured mortgages have helped millions of first-time homebuyers purchase homes. HUD also oversees lead paint and hazard removal programs, and standards for manufactured housing.

Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity

HUD is charged with enforcing the Fair Housing Act to address housing discrimination through the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. HUD also administers funds to rebuild communities after natural disasters through the Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Relief program.

Our Head of Household died. Can we still receive assistance?

In the unfortunate event that the Head of Household has died, housing authorities should already have a policy on how to move forward, whether the household is currently receiving housing assistance, or still on a waiting list. Policy varies by each housing authority, but these are the general results based on our research:

If currently living in an affordable housing unit, and at least one household member is of age and legally able to execute a lease, that person may sign a new lease to update the family composition.

If currently on a waiting list, and at least one household member is of age and legally able to execute a lease, that person may become the new head of household.

A housing authority may also allow an adult who was not previously on the lease to become the new Head of Household. This usually occurs when the only remaining members of the household are minors, and is a complex policy.

If children are the only remaining household members, HUD suggests the housing authority should allow a temporary guardian to reside in the unit until the courts appoint a permanent guardian. Furthermore, the housing authority may add the new guardian as the new head of household.

In this event, the housing authority will require proof of death.

As we said earlier, this is a complex subject housing authority policy that varies by each office. Just because a housing authority "may" adopt a specific policy, it does not mean it is required to do so. Please contact the housing office that manages your unit for more information about its specific policy.

If your name comes up on a waiting list, but you still owe money to a landlord, do you lose your spot?

You will not lose your spot on the Section 8 waiting list due to a debt, unless that debt is to a housing authority. Housing authorities don't usually require a credit check (though they do require a criminal background check) for the Housing Choice Voucher program.

However, you should make sure that your payment agreement with the landlord is well documented on paper. Make sure to save all of your payment receipts. If there is a public record of that debt to a landlord, you should ask them to remove the record when you pay it in full.

Please confirm this information with your the housing authority you applied through. To find contact information, search our website for your area.

What are the requirements to be a Section 8 landlord? Are housing quality standards uniform throughout the country?

This page on HUD's website is a good place to start to learn about being a landlord. The housing quality standards for the Section 8 program are uniform across the country however, since they are interpreted and enforced by thousands of different housing authorities and inspectors, there are large discrepancies in standards from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. To view HUD's standard quality standards, go here. You should be prepared for different interpretation by different housing authorities and even different inspectors within the same housing authority.

Must a landlord allow me to have a comfort animal if my doctor has said I need one?

Though in most cases Federal law requires landlords to allow service animals, animals that perform certain tasks for disabled persons, comfort animals are not necessarily covered.

Comfort animals provide love or affection but don't actually do tasks for the resident. It depends on the property and management company and their individual policies. Many will accept a letter from a medical professional as evidence that the animal is needed but some will not. Contact the housing office that manages your unit for more information. You can search our website for housing authority and apartment community contact information here.

Is a resident of the housing authority allowed to serve on its board of directors?

Yes, in fact, having at least one resident on the housing authority's board is required by law, with a few exceptions.

According to CFR 24, Subtitle B, Chapter IX, Part 964, Subpart E; there are a few scenarios in which a housing authority is not required to have a resident on its board of directors (sometime also referred to as the board of commissioners):

  • If the housing authority is located in a state that requires the members of its board to work full time with salary pay.
  • If the housing authority does not have a governing board.
A housing authority may also be exempt from this requirement if it has less than 300 Public Housing units, but only if it meets one of the following conditions:

  1. The housing authority has published a notice to the resident advisory board to inform residents of the opportunity, and there was no response by a resident in 30 days. This notice must be published yearly.
  2. The housing authority only offers the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program, and not the Public Housing program.

If your income increases, are you still eligible for affordable housing?

That depends on if your income still qualifies for the income limit. If it is still under the limit, then yes, you are still eligible.

Applicants are required to keep application information up to date, and if there are any changes, such as income or contact information, it must be reported to the housing authority. It is equally important to keep contact information up to date. If you are on a waiting list, and a housing office send a notice that does not get a response, your application may be terminated.

Contact the housing office you apply through to find out both its income limit, and its policy on how to update application information. You can search our website for housing authority and apartment community contact information here.

When inspecting the house, what do the inspectors have a right to check? Do they have a right to look in your cupboards, refrigerators or even your stove or oven? Or is that an invasion of privacy?

When an inspector comes to assess your unit, they are making sure the house is in good physical condition. Inspectors look at the structure of the unit, whether there is mold or other contaminants, and if there are insects or other animals invading the unit. What an inspector checks has to be related to these factors. They will not open your purse, cupboards, or other personal items, unless it has something to do with the above factors.

Contact the housing authority that manages your unit for further clarification on what may or may not be inspected. You can search our website for housing authority contact information.

My mother no longer needs assistance anymore, but it would help me and my children. Would she be able to pass it down to us?

If your mother applied as the Head of Household, and you were on the application as a household member, it is unlikely that she can take her name off and name you as the new Head of Household. Generally, you may only pass assistance down if the Head of Household has passed away.

However, all housing offices are run differently, and there may be a rule at that specific office that allows this. Contact the housing office that manages your rental assistance for more information.

Isn't affordable housing supposed to be income based? The property manager said they were affordable housing, but charges all tenants the same monthly rent.

Not all affordable housing programs are operated by having the tenant pay a portion of their income as rent. There are affordable housing programs, such as Low-Income Housing Tax Credit properties, that offer reduced monthly rent. It is likely that the property you are referring to is one of these properties. Your rent is still below the market rate.

Are there any affordable houses available, rather than apartments?

Technically yes, there are houses that are available, but only for participants of the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program.

The Section 8 HCV program allows you to live in a HUD-approved unit of your choice. The unit can be either a house or apartment. You may not live in any unit you choose, since it must be inspected and approved by the housing authority that manages your voucher.

You can find more information on where you can use a Section 8 Voucher in our guide here.

Can a family member be the landlord of a Section 8 household?

Generally, no a family member cannot be the landlord of a Section 8 household, unless the tenant is disabled and requests a reasonable accommodation.

A relative by blood or marriage may only be the landlord of a Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher household if the tenant is disabled, they require a specially-modified unit, and such a unit is only available from a relative.

When requesting a reasonable accommodation for this service, the landlord must provide proof that they do not currently live in the unit.

As each housing authority's policy varies, please confirm this with the housing authority that serves your area. You can use the search bar above to search for housing authority and apartment community contact information.

For more information on where you can use a Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher, read our guide here.

Can a Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher household live in a unit with other people?

Yes, a Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher household may live in a unit with other people, but only if very specific circumstances are met.

Generally, your Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher must be tied to the lease for a rental property. So, all residents of the unit must go through the application process, and the voucher must be used for the entire unit, and not just one room.

However, HUD's Code of Federal Regulations (982.615) states that there are circumstances that allows a HCV household to reside in a shared house or apartment. This is referred to as shared housing. According to HUD's Housing Choice Voucher Program Guidebook, "Shared housing is a single housing unit occupied by an assisted family and another resident or residents."

A HCV household may reside in shared housing under one of the following circumstances:

  1. A household with one or more elderly, near-elderly, or disabled person who requires a live-in aid to provide supportive services may request a reasonable accommodation for a live-in aide to reside in the unit. The unit must be in accordance with CFR 24 Part 8. The housing authority may refuse the request or withdraw approval if the live-in aid commits fraud or any other criminal act in connection with any federal housing program, commits dug or violence-related criminal activity, or owes money to a housing authority.
  2. Other persons who do, or do not have a tenant-based subsidy may reside in a shared housing unit.*
  3. The owner of the unit may enter into a HAP contract with the housing authority, and reside in the unit. However, the housing assistance may not be paid on behalf of the owner, and the owner may not be related to any tenants by blood or marriage.*

*The circumstance in which these accommodations would be approved varies by each housing authority. For example, the Hawaii Public Housing Authority recognizes that there is a lack of affordable housing options in its jurisdiction of Honolulu County. So as long as the voucher holder finds a unit that passes inspection and meets the payment standard, and the landlord is not related to the tenants, the housing authority would approve a shared housing request.

Contact the housing authority that manages your voucher for more information. You can search for housing authority contact information in the search bar on the top of this page.

I'm a Section 8 landlord and my tenant caused major damage to the unit. What recourse do I have against the tenant?

If a tenant caused major damage to the unit, the lease agreement should have bound the tenant to certain obligations to maintain the unit. Assuming that the lease agreement was between the owner and the tenant, the owner should have plenty of legal protection.

We would recommend you contact an attorney to get more specific, actionable advice.

I'm in affordable housing now, but must move for medical reasons. But, my landlord won't let me out of my lease. What can I do?

If you must move from your unit for medial reasons, but your landlord will not let your out of your lease, your recourse depends on the state your live in. Landlord-tenant law is different in every state. Some states are more friendly to landlords, and others to renters.

First, try asking for some compassion from the landlord, given what you are going through. If the landlord doesn't behave like a human, then you may need to enlist legal counsel.

We can't speak to what the law says in your state, but in many cases, extenuating circumstances may allow him to terminate the lease.

If you are unable to come up with an agreement with your landlord, you may want to seek legal advice. There are legal aid offices in every state that help low-income persons. You can search for a legal aid office near you here.

Can a landlord charge you market value for a security deposit?

There is no market rate value of a security deposit. The security deposit amount is the landlord's decision, but many states have a law that sets a maximum amount (usually two month's rent).

Check your state's law on the maximum amount a landlord can charge you for a security deposit.

What is the Foster Youth to Independence initiative?

Foster Youth to Independence (FYI) is an initiative to provide housing assistance and supportive services to at-risk young adults aging out of foster care. The FYI initiative was announced in July 2019 as a result of a meeting between HUD Secretary Ben Carson and the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities (FSHO) Coalition led by ACTION Ohio and the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare.

Under this initiative, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will provide additional funding to public housing authorities (PHAs) to prevent homelessness in young adults aged 18 to 25.

The FYI initiative is similar to a provision in the existing Family Unification Program (FUP). As a result, PHAs participating in the FUP are not eligible for the Foster Youth to Independence initiative. The FYI initiative gives HUD the authority to strategically allocate funding to rural and under-served communities.

Details on eligibility and policy procedures for the FYI initiative were issued by HUD in Notice PIH 2019-20(HA).