Section 8 housing assistance: What is it, who qualifies for it?


December 21, 2003

A reader asks what Section 8 subsidized housing is, what is the basis for determining eligibility and what is the amount a person can receive? The reader also wants to know about the restrictions and responsibilities of landlords and tenants.

Dear reader:

The term Section 8 includes several federal housing subsidy programs that assist low-income families in renting from private landlords. The federal government subsidizes the tenant's rent. The Section 8 program is administered by state or local housing agencies. The Housing Authority administers the program in Baltimore.

The eligibility for Section 8 rent subsidies is based on income standards. In Baltimore, a family of four qualifies for the income limit if its annual income does not exceed $33,650, as determined by Housing Authority guidelines.

Because of funding limitations, all families eligible for Section 8 housing subsidies do not receive vouchers. There is a waiting list to receive Section 8 assistance. Funds are so tight that applications for the city's Section 8 waiting list are being accepted only for emergencies, including families displaced by public action or natural disasters, intimidated witnesses and victims of violence referred by the state attorney's office or police and families that have a disabled family member.

The amount of Section 8 rent subsidy a family can receive is based on the size of the dwelling unit and the amount of the family's income. As long as the gross rent is reasonable under federal standards, the family's rent payment usually is based on 30 percent of its adjusted monthly gross income, calculated under program guidelines.

Landlord participation in the Section 8 housing program is voluntary. If a landlord elects to rent to a Section 8 tenant, the landlord must enter into a Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) contract with the Housing Authority, as well as a lease with the tenant. The contract requires the landlord to maintain the unit in accordance with federal housing quality standards and modifies the lease in other respects.

The tenant must pay his or her share of the monthly rent and comply with the other lease terms. The tenant must continue to meet Section 8 income eligibility requirements, which are re-determined annually.

For information, contact your local housing authority.

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