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Section 8 Program Fact Sheet


The Section 8 rental voucher and rental certificate programs are the federal government's major programs for assisting very low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled to rent decent, safe and sanitary housing in the private market. Since the rental assistance is provided on behalf of the family or individual, participants are able to find and lease privately owned housing, including single-family homes, townhouses and apartments. The participant is free to choose any housing that meets the requirements of the program and is not limited to units located in subsidized housing projects.

Section 8 rental vouchers and rental certificates are administered locally by public and Indian housing agencies (HAs). The HAs receive Federal funds from the HUD to administer the Section 8 programs. A family issued a rental voucher or certificate and is responsible for funding and selecting a suitable rental unit of its choice, which may include its present unit. Rental units must meet minimum standards of health and safety, as determined by the HA. A rental subsidy is paid directly by the HA to the landlord on behalf of the participating family. The family then pays the difference between the actual rent charged by the landlord and the amount subsidized by the program.


Eligibility for a rental voucher or certificate is determined by the HA based on the total annual gross income and family size and is limited to U.S. citizens and specified categories of non-citizens who have eligible immigration status. In general, the family's income may not exceed 50% of the median income for the county or metropolitan area in which the family chooses to live. Median income levels are published by HUD and vary by location. The HA serving your community can provide you with the income limits for your area and family size.

During the application process, the HA will collect information on family income, assets and family composition. The HA will verify this information with other local agencies, your employer, and bank and will use the information to determine program eligibility and the amount of the rental assistance payment.

If the HA determines that your family is eligible, it will put your name on a waiting list, unless it is able to assist you immediately. Once your name is reached on the waiting list, the HA will contact you and issue to you a rental voucher or certificate.


If you are interested in applying for a rental voucher or a certificate, contact your local HA. For further assistance, please contact the HUD Office nearest to you.


Since the demand for housing assistance often exceeds the limited resources available to HUD and the local housing agencies, long waiting periods are common. In fact, an HA may close its waiting list when it has more families on the list than can be assisted in the near future.

In selecting a family from its waiting list, an HA may give preference to a family who is:

  1. homeless or living in substandard housing,
  2. paying more than 50% of its income for rent, or
  3. involuntarily displaced.

Families who qualify for these preferences will move ahead of other families on the list who do not qualify for any preference. Each HA has the discretion to establish other additional preferences to reflect other needs of its particular community.


The Section 8 rental voucher and rental certificate programs each place the choice of housing in the hands of the individual family. A very low-income family who has been selected by the HA to participate is encouraged to consider several housing choices to secure the best rental housing for its needs.

The rental unit must meet an acceptable level of health and safety before the HA can approve payments to landlords under the rental voucher and certificate programs. When the rental voucher or certificate holder finds a unit that it wishes to occupy and reaches an agreement with the landlord over the lease terms, the HA must inspect the dwelling and review the lease for approval. A rental voucher or certificate holder is also advised of the unit size for which it is eligible, based on family size and composition, and the applicable rent levels.

Under the rental certificate program, the rent for the unit usually may not exceed a maximum rent, determined by the HA, based on HUD standards established for each county and metropolitan area. The maximum rents are adjusted on a periodic basis to keep pace with increased costs of rent and utilities. Most rental certificate holders must lease a unit in which the total rent including utilities does not exceed the maximum rent. The rental certificate holder generally pays 30% of its monthly adjusted income towards the rent and utilities.

In the rental voucher program, the HA determines a payment standard which is used to calculate the amount of rental assistance a family will receive, but does not affect the amount of rent a landlord may charge or the family may pay. A family which receives a rental voucher can select a unit which rents below or above the payment standard. The rental voucher family must pay more than 30% of its monthly adjusted gross income for rent and utilities if the unit rent is greater than the payment standard. However, the family would pay less than 30% of its monthly adjusted gross income if the total rent was less than the payment standard.


In the rental certificate program, a family generally pays either 30% of its monthly adjusted gross income, 10% of its monthly gross income, or its welfare rent payment toward rent, whichever is greater. The family's share of the rent is calculated by the HA, but the family pays that amount to the landlord. In turn, the HA pays the remainder of the rent directly to the landlord. The family's rent share changes when its income or family circumstances change, while the HA rental assistance varies according to the actual rent.

Under the rental voucher program, a family may choose a unit that rents for more than the payment standard and may pay more or less than 30% of its monthly adjusted gross income for rent. The HA calculates the maximum amount of rental assistance allowable, which is the difference between the payments standard and 30% of the family's monthly adjusted gross income, and pays rental assistance. The amount of rental assistance paid by the HA changes with the payment standard while the amount the tenant pays varies with the actual rent. For example, if a family locates a unit that rents below the payment standard, the family would pay less than 30% of its monthly adjusted gross income for rent. On the other hand, if a family decides to rent a unit above the payment standard, it would pay over 30% of its monthly adjusted gross income for rent. The family's rent share also changes when its income or family circumstances change.


A family's housing needs change over time with changes in family size, job locations, and for other reasons. The rental voucher and rental certificate programs are designed to allow families to move without the loss of rental assistance. Moves are permissible as long as the family notifies the HA ahead of time, terminates its existing lease within the appropriate provisions, and finds acceptable alternate housing.

Under both the rental voucher and certificate programs, new rental voucher- and certificate-holders may choose a unit anywhere in the United States if the family lived within the jurisdiction of the HA issuing the rental voucher or certificate when the family applied for assistance. Those new rental voucher- and certificate holders not living within the jurisdiction of the HA at the time the family applies for rental assistance must initially lease a unit within that jurisdiction for the first twelve months of assistance. A family that wishes to move to another HA's jurisdiction must consult with the HA that currently administers it rental assistance to verify the procedures for moving.


Once an HA approves an eligible family's lease and housing unit, the family and the landlord sign a lease and, at the same time, the landlord and the HA sign a housing assistance contract which runs for the same term as the lease. This means that everyone -- tenant, landlord and HA -- has obligations and responsibilities within the rental voucher and certificate programs.

  • Tenant's Role: When a family selects a housing unit, and the HA approves the unit and lease, the family signs a lease with the landlord for at least one year. The tenant may be required to pay a security deposit to the landlord. After the first year the landlord may initiate a new lease or allow the family to remain in the unit on a month-to-month lease.
    hen the family is settled in a new home, the family is expected to comply with the lease and the program requirements, pay its share of rent on time, maintain the unit in good condition and notify the HA of any changes in income or family composition.
  • Landlord's Role: The role of the landlord in the rental voucher and certificate programs is to provide decent, safe, and sanitary housing to a tenant at a reasonable rent. The dwelling unit must pass the programs's housing standards and be maintained up to those standards as long as the owner receives housing assistance payments. In addition, the landlord is expected to provide the services agreed to as part of the lease signed with the tenant and the contract signed with the HA.
  • Housing Authority's Role: The HA administers the rental voucher and certificate programs locally. The HA provides a family with the rental assistance that enables the family to seek out suitable housing and the HA enters into a contract with the landlord to provide rental assistance payments on behalf of the family. If the landlord fails to meet his/her obligations under the lease, the HA has the right to terminate assistance payments.
  • HUD's Role: To cover the cost of the program, HUD provides funds to allow HAs to make housing assistance payments on behalf of the families and HUD pays the HA a fee for the costs of administering the program. When additional funds become available to assist new families, HUD invites HAs to submit applications for funds for additional rental vouchers and certificates. Applications are then reviewed and funds awarded to the selected HAs on a competitive basis.


For additional information about the rental voucher and certificate programs, contact either the local HA serving your community or the Office of Public Housing within your local HUD office. There may be a long wait for assistance under the rental voucher and certificate programs. If the HA also administers the public housing or Indian housing programs, applicants for the Section 8 program may also ask to be placed on the waiting list for the public or Indian housing program. HUD also administers other subsidized programs and you may obtain a list of projects in your area from the Office of Housing in the HUD office located in your state. Under the HUD administered programs families apply directly to the owner or management agent of the subsidized property.

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