Section 8 Program FAQs

Table of Contents

What is the Housing Choice Voucher Program?

The Housing Choice Voucher Programs provides low-income individuals and families with vouchers that can be applied towards the cost of rent. It was formerly referred to as “Section 8.”  The goal of the program is to create access to affordable housing and enable individuals to spend a reasonable percentage of their income on rental expenses. Typically, program participants will pay approximately one-third of their income towards rent, and a local Housing Authority will be responsible for paying the remaining balance to a landlord each month. The program has tenant-based vouchers that a participant may use to rent privately managed housing as well as project-based vouchers that are attached to specific rental units. Every unit that is rented through the Housing Choice Voucher Program must meet the program’s threshold criteria.

What are the criteria for a rental unit to be eligible for the Housing Choice Voucher Program?

All housing that is rented through the Housing Choice Voucher Program must meet certain physical requirements. In order to ensure that a rental unit meets these requirements, it must pass a Housing Quality Standards inspection. This test is conducted by an inspector working on behalf of the Housing Authority. This professional will certify that the unit is compliant with the program’s requirements by confirming that it has the following features:

  • Emergency egress that is separate from the unit’s entrance
  • A kitchen, living room, bathroom, and an additional room for living or sleeping
  • At least one window in the living and sleeping rooms
  • An area to prepare food
  • A working stove or range to cook food
  • A working refrigerator that is an adequate size 
  • A working kitchen sink with hot and cold water
  • Facilities for disposing of waste
  • At least two electrical outlets in the kitchen, living room, and each bedroom
  • Clean air and sufficient air circulation
  • A working toilet
  • A working bathroom sink with hot and cold water
  • A working tub or shower with hot and cold water
  • Screens on windows
  • A structurally sound roof that is not in need of repair
  • No defects in the unit’s structure, flooring, ceiling, or walls

After a unit passes its initial inspection, it must be reviewed on an annual basis so that an inspector may certify that it is still compliant with the program’s requirements. If a unit fails an examination, the landlord will receive a report citing the defects. The report will contain information about a reinspection date, which is typically within one month of the first inspection date. The landlord must address all cited defects in order for a unit to pass reinspection.

Are Housing Choice Voucher Program participants’ housing options limited geographically?

Yes, local Housing Authorities administer tenant-based vouchers, and new program participants can choose only from housing that is located within the region served by the Housing Authority. However, program participants may be eligible to receive a mobile voucher after having participated in the program and being a tenant in good standing for a length of time determined by each Housing Authority.

What type of units can be rented with the Housing Choice Voucher Program?

Rental vouchers from the Housing Choice Voucher Program may be used for apartments, condominiums, single-family homes, and duplexes. All rental units must pass a Housing Quality Standards inspection and have a rental market that is consistent with fair market rent in the area as determined by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Is there a limit on the rental value of a unit that can be rented through the Housing Choice Voucher Program?

Yes, a rental unit must fall within the scope of the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s determination of fair market rent for the area in which the rental unit is located. Every year, HUD publishes a schedule of the fair market rent for every county in the United States. The schedule contains the fair market rent for each rental unit size based on the number of bedrooms rather than the physical size of the unit. If a unit’s rent exceeds HUD’s fair market rental values, a local Housing Authority cannot administer a voucher for it through the Housing Choice Voucher Program.

Are landlords obligated to accept tenants who will be using vouchers to pay their rent?

No, landlords may choose to not rent to a person applying for occupancy for any reason so long as it is not discriminatory. The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination against individuals based on national origin, color, race, religion, sex, family status, or disability. New York state law further prohibits discrimination based on individuals’ sexual orientation or gender identity.

Are landlords required to treat Housing Choice Voucher Program participants differently from those who are not receiving assistance?

No, landlords are expected to treat participants the same way that they treat all of their tenants. The landlord and tenant must sign a rental agreement and program participation agreement pursuant to requirements of the Housing Choice Voucher Program, and both the landlord and tenant must comply with all of the terms of that agreement. A landlord may also require that a tenant sign a separate rental or occupancy agreement. Tenants must adhere to all of the obligations outlined in a separate rental or occupancy agreement.

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What kind of paperwork is required for the Housing Choice Voucher Program?

Participants must provide proof of their income to the Housing Authority to demonstrate that they are income-eligible to participate in the program and to figure their share of the rent. They must provide information about who will be living in a rental unit to calculate the appropriate rental share and size of the unit. Acceptable proof of income must meet the standards established by the Housing Authority; examples of acceptable proof of income may include pay stubs or a social security determination letter. When a tenant decides to rent a unit, he or she will complete a Request for Tenancy Approval form. The landlord and tenant must sign a rental agreement and program participation agreement pursuant to requirements of the program, but the agreement is conditional on a unit passing inspection. A landlord may also require a tenant to sign a separate rental or occupancy agreement. Program participants must recertify their income with the Housing Authority every year.

How many people can live in a rental unit with a voucher?

Household size is determined by the Housing Authority. The tenants’ rental share is based on the cumulative income of all adults in a household. The voucher issued by the Housing Authority will specify how many bedrooms can be included in the unit. Typically, a voucher for a particular sized unit may not be used for a different size. For example, a voucher for a unit with three bedrooms cannot be used to rent a unit with one bedroom. A unit must be reasonably large enough to comfortably house all of the people who are included as part of the household on a program participant’s application with the Housing Authority

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Are landlords obligated to accept tenants through The Housing Choice Voucher Program who have pets?

No, it is up to a landlord’s discretion whether to accept pets in a rental unit.

Does the tenant or the Housing Authority pay for utilities?

A rental agreement will specify whether the landlord or the tenant is responsible for paying for a unit’s utilities such as electricity, water, and gas. If the tenant is responsible for paying for the utilities, they must be transferred to his or her name as soon as he or she takes possession of a unit. A tenant who is responsible for paying for any or all of a unit’s utilities may be able to receive a utility allowance that is added by the Housing Authority to adjust a tenant’s share of the rent.

Does the tenant or the Housing Authority pay for a security deposit?

Tenants must pay for a unit’s security deposit. The cost may be equivalent to one month of the total contract rent, not the portion of the rent that is the tenant’s responsibility. A Housing Authority is not responsible for paying a security deposit or any other move-in costs that may be included. A landlord will provide a tenant with a receipt for a security deposit. At the end of the tenancy, a landlord will return the tenant’s security deposit, unless there is an overdue balance, late fees, legal fees, or costs associated with damage to the unit.

Can a Housing Choice Voucher participant rent a furnished unit?

Yes, a participant can rent a furnished unit, but the voucher may only be applied to the unit itself and not any rental value that has been assigned to the furniture.

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How involved is the Housing Authority in the landlord-tenant relationship?

The Housing Authority’s role in the Housing Choice Voucher Program is to inspect the unit, determine what portion of the rent a tenant will be responsible for paying, and make rental payments to the landlord. Landlords and tenants will typically resolve matters relating to occupancy on their own. While a tenant agrees to abide by the program rules of the Housing Choice Voucher program, he or she must also follow any obligations set forth in a landlord’s rental or occupancy agreement.

What are the responsibilities of a tenant who is participating in the Housing Choice Voucher Program?

Housing Choice Voucher Program participants who are receiving a tenant-based voucher are responsible for finding housing within sixty days of receiving a voucher. Once they have found suitable housing that meets the program’s criteria and is applied successfully, they are responsible for their move-in costs. Tenants must follow all of the obligations outlined in a rental agreement with a landlord as well as the Housing Authority. Tenants are required to recertify their income every year with the Housing Authority, and the documentation used to recertify income must meet the Housing Authority’s guidelines for acceptable proof of income. If a tenant’s income changes, he or she must report it immediately to the Housing Authority and submit acceptable proof of income to request an immediate rent adjustment.

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What are the responsibilities of a landlord who receives Rental Assistance Payments through the Housing Choice Voucher Program?

A landlord should use regular screening procedures before accepting an applicant for residency in a unit. A landlord must abide by the obligations set forth in the Rental Assistance Payments contract that is signed with the Housing Authority as well as any agreement signed with a tenant. If the landlord has agreed to provide utilities in a rental agreement, the landlord must continue to do so during the entire term of the agreement. If a landlord wishes to terminate a tenancy and serves the tenant with a legal notice to do so, he or she must also send notice to the Housing Authority.

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