The need for affordable housing is a serious concern to many. Why are "lotteries" used to decide who gets help?


You're right. The need for affordable housing is overwhelming. The need is so large, that Federal affordable funding programs for affordable housing fall well short of being capable of helping everyone.

When it comes to Section 8 waiting lists, they are usually many years long, meaning that it takes years to reach the bottom of the list. This is why these lists are often closed and not accepting new applicants.

Many housing authorities conduct "lotteries" to choose who gets added to the list instead of adding thousands of people that will never be reached. The housing authority will, for example, choose to add 500 people to a waiting list because they estimate it would take another 3 years to reach those 500 people. When they open the waiting list, they may get 5,000 applicants. If they added all of them, that 30 years worth of applicants. Obviously, that isn't feasible.

So, the lottery allows them to be fair by choosing randomly 500 from the total applicant base but still have a waiting list that is manageable.

It is unfortunate that housing authorities have to do it this way, but until more Federal funding is available, there would be no way to administer the Section 8 program otherwise.

More Waiting Lists FAQs from Low Income Households

  • Do I have to update my application information if there is a change?
  • What has to be included in my household income?
  • Can I apply to multiple waiting lists?
  • Why is the wait so long?
  • How long after submitting my application will I know about my status on the waiting list?