The federal government subsidizes rental housing for low-income families through HUD's Section 8 and public housing programs. Despite their efforts, demand for low-income housing outpaces supply. As of 2010, there is not a county in the country where a full-time minimum wage worker can afford market rate rent on a one-bedroom apartment, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. The system for applying to a HUD program is uniform nationwide; securing housing is another story.
Low-income housing aims to provide a supply of affordable rentals to needy families. As it stands, a renter household must make $18.44 an hour to afford the fair market rent--$959--on a two-bedroom apartment in the United States, based on 2010 data analyzed by the National Low Income Housing Coalition. HUD's public housing program consists of rents set at affordable rates in HUD-owned and-operated construction. Through Section 8, HUD supplies eligible families with subsidy vouchers they can use to secure rentals in the private market.
While Section 8 and public housing subsidize rents using different methods, both adhere to the widely accepted notion that housing is affordable when a household does not spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent and utilities. Generally, HUD keeps public housing rents at levels that jibe with the 30 percent threshold. A Section 8 voucher subsidizes the portion of a family's rent that, in most cases, exceeds 30 percent of their household income, according to HUD's Section 8 website.
Families with incomes that are considerably less than their area's median can apply concurrently to the Section 8 and public housing programs. To apply, a family must contact their local housing authority or housing commission. While HUD oversees the programs, local public housing agencies manage day-to-day operations, which include processing applications. HUD maintains a searchable database of local public housing agencies at its website (see Resources). Families in Atlanta, Ga., for example, can apply for both programs with the Atlanta Housing Authority.
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Applying for Section 8 and public housing is as simple as filling out paperwork and verifying information such as family size and composition and household income. HUD uses income as the main qualifier for both programs. Renters can apply for public housing if their household income does not exceed 80 percent of their area's median income, according to HUD's public housing program website. Section 8's cap sits at 50 percent of the median, as of 2010.
Where a family applies for assisted housing matters. Using Atlanta as an example, a four-person family can earn no more than $57,450 annually to be eligible for public housing and $35,900 for Section 8, according to HUD's 2010 income limits. Less affluent places see those numbers drop significantly. For instance, in Valdosta, Ga., those figures fall to $38,650 and $24,150, respectively. On the other side of the spectrum, 80 percent of the median income in the Nassau-Suffolk, New York metro area is $74,250, while 50 percent equals $51,800.