The Seven Main Things You Need to Qualify for Section 8


( – The Section 8 program dates back to 1974, originally developed by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The program provides subsidies designed to prevent low-income recipients from needing to spend more than 30% of their income for both their utility and rental costs. While the program will pay anything over the 30% limit, after adjusting your income based on calculation criteria, each state does have an established cap based on family size and other factors.

The unfortunate reality is that not everyone who applies for Section 8 Housing Assistance via HUD and their local housing agency will receive assistance. The program receives a limited amount of funds and many families are placed on a wait list which in some areas can be years long. Families then receive a housing choice voucher (HCV) they can present to landlords as partial rent payment.

Qualifying for Housing Assistance via Section 8

There are seven main qualification categories when it comes to applying for Section 8. They include a person or family’s:

  1. Residency status
  2. Legal citizenship status
  3. Family status
  4. Income level and history
  5. Disability status
  6. Past eviction history
  7. Criminal history

Let’s take a closer look at what each means to you, and what you may need to provide to your local housing authority in order to submit an application.

Your Local Residency Status

The first thing you need to do is determine where your local Public Housing Authority (PHA) is located. Don’t bother wasting your time applying in an area outside of the one where you currently reside. You can’t qualify for Section 8 Housing Assistance and use it as an opportunity to relocate.

Not sure who to call in your state or county? Visit the HUD website for PHA contact information around the country. Be prepared to show proof of residency with your valid ID as well as a utility bill or some other form of official communication that has been mailed to your current home address. Junk mail doesn’t count.

Your Citizenship Status

Only legal US citizens may apply for Housing Choice Vouchers under Section 8. Natural born citizens will need to show their social security card or some other official form of identification (like a passport). Immigrants will need to show their Green Card. You must be able to provide a birth certificate for any child living in the house.

Applications are also required to sign an official form certifying that all household members are legal citizens. It’s important to be honest. Having household members who are not eligible is not a deal breaker, but may simply limit your voucher amount.

Your Family Status

For the purposes of Section 8, HUD has very specific criteria for defining what is or is not a family. While these are federal criteria, state and local authorities are allowed to add additional qualification guidelines as they see fit. In general, though, a family includes:

  • Those who have been displaced due to a natural disaster or other qualifying emergency
  • Households with at least one person over the age of 62
  • Households with more than one person (it doesn’t matter if there are children or not)
  • Households where at least one person is formally considered disabled
  • A household member who is now living alone after others who were also on Section 8 leave
  • Single household members who do not fall into any other category

Income Rules

The greater the number of people in your home, the greater the income you can bring in and still qualify for Section 8. That said, the program is designed for low-income families, which are split into subsets known as extremely low, very low, or simply low income.

HUD considers the median income for the area where the applicant lives. Someone who only earns 30% of the established median is considered extremely low income. Potential applicants can use HUD’s query tool online to determine what the income limits are for the area in which they live. It’s important to note that since funds are limited, those in the lowest income brackets tend to have first priority.

Disability Status

One potential exception to the prioritization standard is whether or not a household member has a qualifying disability. Applicants will need to show proof that they receive SSDI and/or other evidence proving their medical need. In addition to priority placement, disability status may also qualify a family for a larger residence in order to accommodate the needs created by the disability itself.

Your Criminal History

Most PHAs will automatically disqualify any applicant with a recent criminal record. It’s important you contact your local office to determine their eligibility criteria. Some insist there be no criminal activity within a certain recent timeframe (ie. 5 years), while others will not accept you at all.

Anyone who has ever been convicted of making methamphetamines, or who is a registered sex offender, is automatically disqualified. You will also be denied if a household member is an active drug user.

Past Eviction History

Your past eviction history and criminal history go hand in hand. Those who have been evicted because of financial struggles aren’t automatically disqualified from Section 8. What does matter is how you left your situation with your past landlord, whether or not you caused damage, or whether or not you were evicted due to any form of criminal activity. You absolutely must be willing to follow regular landlord/tenant laws and lease regulations.

The goal of the Section 8 program is to ensure as many families as possible have safe housing. Keep the lines of communication open with your PHA, even after you receive a voucher and find a landlord willing to accept it. It is important you are honest about any income changes so that your voucher can be adjusted accordingly, whether that’s up or down.

If in doubt, reach out to your PHA. They’ll help you determine whether or not your household qualifies. You may be surprised.

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