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By Annette Maxon
Updated on Jul 8, 2022
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff, Staff Editor.
Section 8 housing vouchers are available to eligible families with an income of 50% or less than Houston’s median income. This program provides government funding to help pay monthly rent for low-income families, the elderly, and those with disabilities.
Section 8 has been around for decades but has become overwhelmed by the massive amount of demand. The program was established in the 1970s and offers federally-funded rent subsidies to help low-income, elderly, and disabled people afford decent housing.
With extremely long wait times, seemingly endless paperwork, and numerous hurdles, Section 8 may start to feel like an uphill battle. Sadly, these realities may discourage families from even applying.
That’s why Jerry, the go-to super app for car and renters insurance, created this simple guide to help you decode Houston’s affordable program. From the basics of what Section 8 is to the eligibility requirements and how to redeem your voucher, we’ll walk through everything you need to know about Section 8 housing in Houston.
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What is Section 8 housing?
In the simplest terms, Section 8 housing allows the government to help pay a portion of the rent for low-income families, the elderly, and those with disabilities. Introduced as part of the Housing and Community Development Act in 1974, Section 8 is one of the federal affordable housing options available.
Here’s a quick overview of the Section 8 housing program:
- Two types of vouchers are available for Section 8 tenants—housing choice vouchers or project-based vouchers
- If issued a housing choice voucher, the tenant can select any rental property that fits the voucher’s specific qualifications
- Project-based vouchers are only available at specific properties—these vouchers allow landlords to set aside specific units as low-income housing
- Depending on family size and composition, each voucher will be list a specific number of bedrooms—the tenants cannot redeem housing for a unit with more bedrooms than is listed on the voucher
- Landlords or the housing authority cannot ask a Section 8 tenant to pay more than 40% of their income in rent—the government pays the remaining rent amount directly to the landlord
Section 8 obligations
Three parties are involved in the Section 8 program—tenants, landlords, and local housing authorities. Though they’re all part of the same program, each has unique responsibilities. Here’s a look at what each party must handle:
|Provide accurate and complete documentation||Screen tenants||Determine applicants’ eligibility and issue vouchers|
|Find suitable housing and complete all required paperwork before the voucher expires||Comply with fair housing laws||Approve units, rental amounts, and leases|
|Pay rent promptly and attend all required appointments||Complete all necessary repairs and maintenance||Inspect subsidized units annually|
|Notify the housing authority of any changes in income or family composition||Provide housing authority with documentation of any notices to tenants, including eviction notices||Ensure that both tenants and landlords comply with program rules|
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Key Takeaway The Section 8 housing program offers great benefits for low-income families, the elderly, and those with disabilities—but be ready for major wait times and seemingly endless requirements.
What are the requirements for Section 8 housing in Houston?
For Texas’s largest city, the Houston Housing Authority runs the Section 8 program. But you must meet the requirements set by the federal government’s Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in addition to any set by the Housing Authority.
No matter where you are in Texas or the United States, HUD requires all applicants to be:
- Age 18 or older
- A U.S. citizen or documented immigrant
- Have not been evicted for a serious lease violation, especially if the violation involved drug use
- Have not been convicted for a sex offense
- Earn an income that is 50% or less of the area’s median income
Since your eligibility is determined heavily by how much money you make, here’s what HUD includes when calculating income:
- Business income
- Welfare assistance
- Social security benefits
- Alimony and child support
Know that this list does not contain everything—take a look here at HUD’s list of other types of income that may be included in your total income amount.
The median household income in Houston, Texas was $53,600 from 2016 to 2020. To qualify for Section 8 housing, your income must be 50% or less of this amount. Know that the income limits vary from family to family because of differences in family size and composition.
Here’s a look at the Houston income limits depending on the size of your family:
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However, family size isn’t the end all be all! If you have children, elderly family members, disabled family members, or are currently homeless, your application may be prioritized over others on the list.
How to apply for Section 8 housing in Houston
Get the application process started by applying for Section 8 through the Houston Housing Authority. Know that the Housing Authority only accepts applications when vouchers start becoming available, so you may need to wait a while before being able to apply.
Once you apply online you will be placed on the waiting list, where you’ll receive a lottery number. Keep this lottery number safe! Also, know that you may be waiting for some time—it’s common to stay on the waiting list for 12 months to five years.
Once your lottery ticket reaches the top of the waiting list, you’ll receive a packet in the mail from the Housing Authority. Don’t disregard this packet! Inside, you’ll find some paperwork to fill out, along with documentation, to review, fill out, and return to the Housing Authority by the given deadline.
As soon as the Housing Authority receives your completed packet, they’ll review it and verify the information you provided. If everything is accurate, you’ll receive another letter in the mail with the date and time for your briefing appointment.
Your briefing appointment is an opportunity for the Housing Authority to confirm your eligibility, have you complete some final paperwork, and run a criminal background check. If you pass the background check (i.e. no history of being a registered sex offender or having manufactured methamphetamines), you’ll receive your voucher.
Key Takeaway Since you’ll receive all updates from the Housing Authority by mail, it’s important to have an active mailing address—if you move while waiting, remember to update the Housing Authority with your new address.
How to find Section 8 housing in Houston
Once you have your voucher, it’s time to find a new home! It’s best to start your search asap since the voucher must be redeemed within 60 days of being issued.
If needed, you can submit an extension request if you are seeking a home that accommodates a disabled family member or have experienced something outside your control (i.e. serious illness or death in the family, natural disaster). Know that this request must be in writing.
Sometimes the hardest part of finding an apartment is choosing where to live—that’s why the Housing Authority created the City of Houston Super Neighborhood map to break down the demographics and land use (plus other relevant info) for each Houston neighborhood.
Once you pick the areas you want to be in, check out AffordableHousing.com for the largest database of available units in your area. Remember that the apartment you pick must meet both HUD and the Housing Authority’s standards for cleanliness and safety.
After searching online, viewing a few units, and settling on the one you like, it’s time to get it approved by the Housing Authority. Both the resident and the landlord must submit the following documents:
- Request for Tenancy Approval (RTA) Form
- A copy of the lease along with the HUD-prescribed Tenancy Addendum
- Landlord’s proof of ownership—the warranty deed and the management agreement, if applicable
- Landlord’s social security number and W-9 form
Be prepared to provide details in the RTA such as the apartment address, the number of bedrooms, the year of construction, amenities, and utilities included in the rent.
The Housing Authority will review the documents for your selected house and will request any changes to be made, if necessary. If no changes come up, then all three parties—the tenant, landlord, and Housing Authority—will sign the lease and you can move in!
Key Takeaway Between the voucher’s 60-day time limit and the extensive process needed to approve your requested rental, it’s best to start looking as soon as possible and to select two or three backup properties in case your first choice is not approved.
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What is the most Section 8 will pay?
It depends on your family’s composition, income, and other factors provided in your application. In general, Section 8 tenants are not allowed to pay more than 40% of their income in rent. So, Section 8 will cover as much as needed to keep you at this threshold. In Houston, participants generally spend only 30% to 40% of their income on rent.
How much is a 2 bedroom Section 8 voucher in Houston?
In general, $1,090 to $1,576 is typical for a 2 bedroom Section 8 voucher in Houston. However, the amount you are given depends on your family’s needs and voucher specifications.
Do I have to accept Section 8 in Texas?
No, Texas law does not require landlords to accept Section 8 vouchers.