The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development assists low-income families in finding decent, affordable housing. Its Section 8 program issues vouchers that HUD tenants use to offset the cost of renting a home anywhere they choose. HUD calls its tenants living in the same home "families," which it loosely defines as households consisting of one or more related people. It goes on to specify who it considers to be related. In most cases, it's family members related by blood. However, the law allows HUD to consider as family members live-in health aids, among others, so the term "family" is used rather broadly.
The voucher program is open to U.S. citizens and noncitizens with eligible immigration status, according to HUD. The tenants' local public housing authority (PHA) determines if the family is eligible for the voucher program. The PHA evaluates the family's total gross income relative to the size of the family. The family may earn up to half the median income in the county or metro area where they'll be living. As part of the application process, the PHA examines the family's financial documents that verify income, assets and the composition of the family. Upon approval, the PHA adds the family to a waiting list until a voucher becomes available.
The family must provide detailed information to the PHA. The PHA needs the names of everyone who'll be living in the rental home and information about how they're related to the head of the family. If there are special considerations, like a family member who is a veteran or a family who currently lives in unsafe housing, the family will note that in the application. The family must also provide references from prior landlords, income estimates and contact information for employers and others who will verify the family's income and composition. In some cases, the PHA visits the family to evaluate how well it maintains its current home. The PHA sends written notice when the family is approved for the program or found to be ineligible.
The local PHA determines how much the family needs to pay in order to rent a moderately priced home in the chosen locality. The family is responsible for paying 30 percent of its income toward the rent. HUD issues a voucher that covers the difference between the full rent amount and the family's contribution. If the family chooses to rent a home that the PHA determines is more expensive than its payment standard, the family must pay the difference if it chooses to rent that unit.
HUD tenants may choose any available rental home. The landlord will screen the HUD tenants in the same way he would any other tenants. If the tenants meet with the landlord's approval and the landlord agrees to participate in the voucher program, he contacts the local PHA. The PHA orders an inspection to make sure the home is safe and decent and that the rent is in keeping with local market values. Once the PHA approves the home, the tenants and the landlord sign a lease. The landlord also signs a contract with HUD. The landlord and the tenants are responsible for adhering to the terms of their agreements.
The family must pay any security deposit due if the PHA determines that the family is responsible for it. It's not always. Oftentimes, a family receives a voucher for the security. Once in their new home, the tenants must adhere to all the terms of the lease and of the voucher program. It must pay its share of rent on time and keep the home clean and well maintained. The family must report changes in its composition -- new family members moving in or current ones leaving, for instance -- to the PHA.