How to Apply for Emergency Section 8

Certain emergency circumstances allow applicants to receive priority placement into Section 8 subsidized housing programs. The Housing Choice Voucher Program, as it's officially known, gives participants rental assistance for private- or government-owned housing. To apply for an emergency Section 8 voucher, start by contacting the nearest local Public Housing Agency. Applicants must meet the public housing authority's eligibility criteria and demonstrate sufficient need for immediate or priority placement, usually through documentation.

Section 8 Need Outpaces Openings

Public housing authorities throughout the country administer Section 8 at the local level. They experience high demand for vouchers and usually can't meet a community's need fast enough. Acceptance into the program usually is subject to a waiting period of several months to several years. Each PHA has its own waiting list and administers the application process differently. Waitlisted individuals may be placed ahead of other applicants if they can prove a need for emergency housing. This is known as priority placement and each PHA sets its own criteria for this preferred status.

PHAs Discern Applicant Emergency Need

HUD and participating PHAs offer emergency, transitional and permanent housing to prevent homelessness and provide affordable, safe or sanitary housing. Households may qualify for Section 8 emergency assistance or priority placement if they:

  • Currently have no shelter -- are literally homeless
  • Face imminent risk of homelessness, as determined by PHA
  • Are escaping domestic violence or sexual abuse
  • Are living in substandard housing
  • Pay more than 50 percent of their gross income in rent
  • Have minor, elderly or disabled household members
  • Have been involuntarily displaced, as determined by the PHA

Local PHAs establish guidelines to fit their jurisdiction's specific housing needs. For example, in 2012, Los Angeles County allowed priority placement for certain parolees and convicted felons, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Helping Non-elderly Disabled Families

A household with a disabled member who is not elderly may qualify for Section 8 housing under HUD's Certain Developments Voucher Program or the Non-Elderly Disabled Vouchers Program. Applicants don't need to be current Section 8 tenants or be waitlisted with a PHA. The programs are designed for the disabled who want to move into "certain developments" specifically approved for the program, or those who live in a healthcare institution or a public housing project who want to transfer into privately-owned housing.

Priority Placement for Current Section 8 Tenants

A public housing project may undergo rehabilitation or demolition, requiring Section 8 tenants to move out. This typically happens as the result of a court order or when HUD deems a project obsolete. The local PHA can allocate special Section 8 vouchers or certificates, which tenants use to lease privately owned rentals or move into another public housing project. Section 8 tenants are low-income, earning 50 percent or less of the median area income. Tenants pay no more than 30 or 40 percent of their gross earnings, while the PHA covers the remaining rent balance on their behalf. According to HUD, tenants do not have to apply for relocation -- it is replacement units are allocated to eligible tenants as part of the court order, rehabilitation or demolition plan.