Participants in the Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program receive a subsidy from the federal government that covers the portion of their private market rent that exceeds 30 to 40 percent of their household income. Getting Section 8 assistance "fast" may not be possible, especially if the waiting list in your city is closed or long. However, you may be able to take steps that will expedite the process.
Contact the public housing agency (PHA) that administers the Section 8 program in your area. You can find the appropriate PHA by searching at HUD's website (see Resources). Regardless of your time frame, you should always start with your local PHA. It can help you navigate the application process.
Make sure you are eligible, and your paperwork is complete and accurate. If your PHA has a waiting list — and most do — you'll probably have to fill out a pre-application. When your name comes up on the list, you'll need to confirm your eligibility. Have recent paycheck stubs and tax returns handy to show that your household income totals no more than 50 percent of your area's median income. You'll also need to verify the identities of all household members, using documentation such as birth certificates and Social Security numbers. If the required documents are not in order, you risk slowing down the Section 8 application process.
Ask your PHA if it has local preferences for the Section 8 waiting list. As HUD's Housing Choice Voucher fact sheet explains, "long waiting periods are common," but you might receive preferential placement on the list under certain circumstances. People who live in low-quality housing, families that put more than half of their income towards rent, and the homeless and involuntarily displaced often receive preferential placement, according to HUD. However, individual PHAs may have their own additional criteria. For example, the San Francisco Housing Authority uses a two-tiered system of preferences; primary factors include the ones on the HUD list, and secondary factors include living and working in the city of San Francisco, and participating in a Welfare to Work program.
Section 8 is distinct from HUD's public housing program. While HUD bills Section 8 as giving participants a "choice," since they can use their subsidy to rent private market dwellings, public housing consists of low-rent units at PHA-owned and -operated sites. You can, however, apply for both programs simultaneously; this might speed up the process of securing government-subsidized housing.