Section 8, or the Housing Choice Voucher Program, requires applicants to earn less than 50% of the median income for their family size and be U.S. citizens. Homeless, veteran, disabled, and elderly applicants tend to receive priority.
Washington, DC, is expensive. To help with these high rent prices, the federal government offers subsidized rent through Section 8 vouchers. More than 13,000 DC residents benefit from Section 8 vouchers, but there are about 90,000 residents that would qualify. For these people, navigating the application process and when it is available can be frustrating, confusing, and tedious.
To help you understand Section 8 housing in Washington, DC, the team at
Jerry has compiled the most essential information, including how to apply and where to find an apartment once you’re approved.
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What is Section 8 housing?
Section 8 housing, now known as the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV)Program, is a federal initiative focused on providing rent assistance for low-income families, the elderly, and those with disabilities. Through the program, eligible candidates can apply for vouchers that reduce their rent, creating a contract between the tenant, landlord, and federal government.
The government will cover a portion of the rent, up to a limit, but under Section 8, the tenant cannot pay more than 40% of their monthly income towards rent.
The actual limit of the voucher will depend on the “payment standard” for the area the tenant lives. Payment standards are calculated using the state of the market in the region, based on the cost of renting a moderately priced apartment appropriate for the family size. The voucher limit will cover the payment standard or the monthly rent minus 30% of the tenant’s income, whichever is less.
Here are some quick points about Section 8 housing:
Applicants apply for either housing choice vouchers or project based vouchers.
Though funding is provided through a federal initiative, applicants submit their applications to the local housing authority.
Housing choice vouchers allow tenants to live in any unit that meets the requirements and passes an inspection.
Project based vouchers are vouchers that landlords can attach to specific units of a property so that tenants of that unit receive subsidized rent.
Vouchers are assigned based on income, but also family size and composition.
Tenants that receive a housing choice voucher cannot be required to pay more than 40% of their monthly income on rent.
Section 8 obligations
Tenants, landlords, and local housing authorities all carry obligations under Section 8.
Complete the application with proper documentation
Determine eligibility and issue vouchers
Find applicable housing and submit all required paperwork before the voucher expires
Comply with fair housing laws
Approve units and rental agreements
Ensure the unit remains in good condition
Conduct annual inspections of subsidized units
Notify the housing authority of any relevant changes
Notify the housing authority of any notices to the tenant, including eviction notices
Ensure all parties comply with the program rules
Key Takeaway There are several steps in applying for and receiving Section 8 assistance, so expect the process to take time and paperwork.
What are the requirements for Section 8 housing in Washington, DC?
The District of Columbia Housing Authority (DCHA) administers the HCV and Public Housing Programs. The HCV program is run under the guidance of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Eligibility for Section 8 is mostly based on income, family size and composition, and citizenship.
To qualify for Section 8 housing in Washington, DC, applicants have to earn less than 50% of the median household income relative to their family size. Between 2016 and 2020, the overall median household income in Washington, DC, was $90,842.
The HUD includes the following in income calculations:
Alimony and child support
Here is a link to the HUD's list of income inclusions and exclusions. The table below contains more detailed estimates of income limits based on family size.
Very low income (30%) limits
In addition to income, all applicants must also be at least 18 years old, and at least one member of the family must be a U.S. citizen or documented immigrant.
How to apply for Section 8 housing in Washington, DC
The DCHA has three affordable housing initiatives. While you can apply for any of them, they all require different application forms and separate waiting lists:
Public Housing Program: This is separate from Section 8. It consists of rental units owned by DCHA that they rent out at a subsidized price. As of writing, there are 56 properties owned by DCHA under this program.
Housing Choice Voucher Program: These are the Section 8 vouchers, and this application portal is for housing choice vouchers only.
Moderate Rehabilitation Program: This is similar to the Housing Choice vouchers mentioned above. These vouchers are attached to units owned by private landlords. Tenants who receive these vouchers cannot carry them to other units once they move.
Here we will focus our attention on applications for the Housing Choice Voucher Program or Section 8 vouchers.
The first step is to obtain an application form by either downloading it from the
DCHA website or calling the DCHA at (202) 535-1000 and requesting them to mail a form to you. Forms can be submitted
online, by mail, or in person.
To apply in person, you need to make an appointment with the Client Placement Division by calling the DCHA at (202) 535-1000.
Unfortunately, applications are only accepted when the waitlist is open. Waitlists are long, and applications frequently are on the waitlist for up to 10 years.
Movement along the waitlist is dependent on each applicant's situation, with preference given to applicants that are homeless, veterans, disabled, or elderly.
If your application is accepted for the waitlist, and when it eventually makes it to the top, the DCHA will send you a notice and request an interview. You will be required to bring documentation to the interview to prove you still qualify.
It typically takes 30-45 days to complete the eligibility process.
How to find Section 8 housing in Washington, DC
Once you receive a voucher, you will have to find suitable housing before the voucher expires, typically within 90 days.
Document everything during your housing search, like rental applications and meetings with landlords. If you need to apply for an extension for your housing search, you'll want proof detailing your search.
Once you have found a home that meets the program requirements, send the lease and any applicable documentation to DCHA.
Before finalizing tenancy, the unit will need an inspection to ensure it meets all health and safety requirements. Like normal rental agreements, the landlord is responsible for keeping the unit in good condition.
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