Section 8 Housing Assistance

Section 8 Housing Assistance

Section 8, the nation’s largest federal rental assistance program, assists over 5 million people in 2.3 million low-income households ― helping these families afford decent, stable housing and avoid homelessness.

Section 8 of the United States Housing Act of 1937 provides financial support and aid to hundreds of families but it has its roots in the times of the Great Depression.

In the year 1937, the Congress Government of the United States passed the U.S Housing Act, which sparked off the beginning of federal housing assistance in the country.

Over the years the Housing Act was amended several times to adapt to the changing economic climate and the needs and requirements of the people.

It was in the year 1974 that Housing Choice Voucher Program — often simply known as Section 8, was created and since then it has become the dominant form of federal housing assistance.

What is Section 8 in America? #

Section 8 program is federally funded but run by a network of about 2,170 state and local housing agencies that helps low-income families afford decent and safe housing. 1

Section 8 comes in the form of subsidies. Through the voucher system, the recipient searches for an apartment in private market and pays about 30—40% of their income for rent, while the rest is paid with federal money. 2

Who qualifies for Section 8? #

Groups targeted by Section 8 include low-income families with children, the elderly and people with disabilities who spent a large chunk of their meagre earnings on housing.

Priority is given to extremely low-income families with children, those with household earnings less than 30% of an area’s median income or the poverty line, whichever is higher. 3

What is Fair Market Rent (FMR)? #

The amount of subsidy that the federal government will pay under the housing choice voucher program (Section 8) is predetermined by the “Fair Market Rent” (FMR) values for each county in the country.

The Fair Market Rent is the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s estimate of the amount needed to cover the rent and utility costs of a modest housing unit in a given local area.

Every year, HUD compiles a list of the Fair Market Rents for over 2,500 metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties.

For example, the FMR for one-bedroom unit in Clarke County, VA is about $1,600 while the same unit in Knox County, IL is appraised at $600.

How do I apply online for Section 8? #

If you are interested in applying for a voucher, you contact either the local PHA serving your community or the Office of Public Housing within your local HUD office.

However, since the demand for housing assistance often exceeds the limited resources available to HUD and the local housing agencies, long waiting periods (of three to six years) are not uncommon.

How long is the waiting list for Section 8? #

The Section 8 program has historically been oversubscribed and waiting lists can run into the years. And yet there is no guarantee that you will ever receive a spot on the waiting list.

Wait times vary across the country but average close to two and a half years nationally. Averages by state range from 6 months in Texas, nine months in Nebraska and West Virginia to five years in Alabama. 4

In New York, the wait times vary depending on a combination of factors, including your place on the list, established preferences, your income, and voucher availability.

In general, waiting lists for Section 8 are longer than public housing. However, unlike public housing, if you get a voucher, you can use it anywhere in the state.

For further information about Section 8 voucher program, including eligibility requirements for both tenants and landlords’ residences, can be found from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.


  1. CBPP, Policy Basics: The Housing Choice Voucher Program.
  2. A family with a voucher generally must contribute the higher of 30 percent of its income or a “minimum rent” of up to $50 for rent and utilities.
  3. To view the current State Extremely Low (30%), Very Low (50%) and Low (80%) Income Limits, please click here.
  4. CBPP, Families Wait Years for Housing Vouchers Due to Inadequate Funding.
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