To receive assistance under the Section 8 housing program, you must first apply and be considered eligible by a public housing authority (PHA). Then, you will be placed on a housing authority Section 8 waiting list. Depending on the state, Section 8 waiting lists may take years to reopen. It may also take years for applicants to reach the top. As one of the most popular federal programs, the number of Section 8 applicants exceed the program’s available funds and resources, and the PHAs must close their Section 8 waiting lists in order to help the families currently on the list. In smaller counties and rural areas with lower demand, the waiting lists may reopen often.
To better organize applications and determine which families need more immediate help, PHAs often establish local preferences that place certain families at the top of the list. For example, if a family pays more than half of its income on rent, lives in substandard housing or is involuntarily displaced, the PHA will move it to a higher position on the list. In addition, families with disabled family members or elderly individuals may also be eligible for local preference. PHAs determine local preferences according to the housing priorities of the families and the needs of the community. By law, a PHA must distribute 75 percent of its vouchers to extremely low-income families, such as those with incomes below 30 percent of the median area income.
Once an applicant reaches the top of the Section 8 waiting list, the PHA will check the applicant’s eligibility. Many families that have been on a waiting list for a long time may no longer be eligible because of income or family situation changes. If the PHA finds you ineligible when you reach the top of the list, you will not receive a voucher and your Section 8 housing application will be void. However, if you are still eligible, you will be called for an interview with a PHA worker and then receive a housing voucher. Then, you will be able to look for a rental home in a location of your choice, as long as the rent amount does not exceed the PHA’s standards.
PHAs can open and close Section 8 waiting lists according to the demand and number of applications. In some states and counties, waiting times are short and applicants may receive a voucher within months. In others, it may take years before a family reaches the top of the list. Typically, a PHA may reopen a Section 8 waiting list and accept new applications if a family loses eligibility. Larger cities can even reach a waiting time of 10 years on their Section 8 waiting lists, and when a family obtains a housing voucher, it may be required to stay in a rental unit in the local area for at least one year before finding a home in another location. In addition, the Section 8 waiting list process is different from one PHA to the next. Many state and county PHAs select the number of applications through a lottery drawing and then simply close the waiting list for an unspecified amount of time. However, even newly added families will not be served immediately and will remain on the waiting list until they reach the top.