New Guide Helps in Navigating the Section 8 Maze

special needs housingOne of the greatest challenges for many individuals with disabilities is finding a safe, clean, and affordable place to live.  Housing assistance is available to people with disabilities, as well as to low-income families and the elderly, through subsidies that are provided by the federal Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program, or Section 8, as it is more commonly known.  But understanding the program can be difficult because it is administered by hundreds of different public housing agencies (PHAs) across all 50 states, and is governed by both federal laws and regulations and local policies that vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. 

The Technical Assistance Collaborative (TAC) recently published “Section 8 Made Simple – Special Edition,” a guide that can help applicants and their advocates understand this complicated program.  Knowing a little about the program and some of its features that address issues people with special needs may face can help you decide if you’d like to learn more.

How Section 8 Works

There are three separate programs within the HCV program: tenant-based rental assistance, project-based rental assistance, and homeownership assistance.  The most widely used of the three is tenant-based rental assistance.  In that program, low-income tenants use vouchers or subsidies to rent housing that meets the HCV program requirements.  Tenants who receive a voucher for rent assistance choose their own housing.  After the unit is approved and the tenant moves in, the landlord will receive two payments each month: one from the household that is roughly 30 to 40 percent of its income, and one from the federally-approved PHA covering the remainder of the rent due.

Eligibility for the Program

One chapter in the TAC guide explains eligibility for the HCV program. For an applicant to be eligible, her income must be at or below 50 percent of the area median income, and the applicant must be a U.S. citizen or a non-citizen with eligible immigration status.  Those who receive federal disability benefits such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) likely qualify based on income.  Meeting these eligibility requirements does not automatically qualify a household for assistance, however.  PHAs may screen applicants who meet these threshold criteria on various other factors that can result in the denial of assistance. Those other factors might include things like criminal and credit history and are set by local, not federal, policy, creating inconsistences between programs. 

Accommodations May Help People with Disabilities

People with disabilities, a group that the program defines as including the chronically homeless, are protected by Fair Housing laws that require PHAs to ensure equal participation in the HCV program.  A PHA’s policies and procedures must make a “reasonable accommodation” for those with a disability.  For example, if an applicant with a disability requests assistance with completing the application process, the PHA must provide it. Many of the HCV policies that have been made as reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities are listed in Chapter 4 of the TAC guide.

There frequently are waiting lists of people hoping to receive assistance, so it is important to know that some PHAs give preferences to special populations, such as those with disabilities and veterans. And, as the TAC guide explains, a few special-purpose HCVs target specific populations. Some PHAs issue NED vouchers to assist non-elderly people with disabilities.  NED2 vouchers help people transition from nursing homes to community-based living.  Family Unification Program (FUP) vouchers are aimed at helping families for whom inadequate housing is a primary factor in placement of children in out-of-home care or preventing children from being reunited with family members.  For FUP, lack of adequate housing includes those living in housing not accessible to a child with a disability.  An applicant should be sure to inquire from each PHA that it contacts what preferences or policies may address his or her particular needs.

“Section 8 Made Simple” can help you navigate this vital program's maze of rules and regulations. Many more details and important information are contained in the TAC booklet. 

To download the chapters and resources of “Section 8 Made Simple,” click here.  

For more about Section 8 and special needs trusts, click here.

Article Last Modified: 10/06/2016