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What is Subsidized Housing?

Subsidized or affordable housing refers to any financial assistance program funded by the government that exists to assist low income people with housing costs. There are three main types: Section 8 vouchers, public housing developments and co-operative housing. Your eligibility for subsidized housing is based on your income, family situation and citizenship status, and varies across states.

Section 8

Section 8 of the Housing Act of 1937 supplements rent payments for low-income families by making payments from the government money directly to landlords through the Housing Choice Voucher program. The program, managed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, currently spends almost $30 billion a year assisting over 2 million households with rent and utilities. The amount and rent assistance each household receives is determined by the Fair Market Rent of an area.

Those applying for for Section 8 can sometimes wait years to be approved. Public housing is easier to secure and is often granted while applicants wait for Section 8 benefits.

Public Housing

Public housing, often colloquially referred to as housing projects, is another example of government-subsidized housing assistance. A public housing building is owned by the government and priced dramatically below market rates. While initially popular, public housing has become less common in recent years as political support has decreased and studies have revealed a connection between public housing and concentrated poverty rates. The Rental Assistance Demonstration was enacted in 2012 in an attempt to modernize and address any unmet needs of affordable housing in the United States.

Co-Operative Housing

Co-operative housing is usually operated by a non-profit organization or church, not the government, in an attempt to provide affordable, community-building housing options, sometimes to specific groups of people. In a co-op situation, there is no landlord and all residents have an equal stake in the management and ownership of the building. There are often by-laws and shared chore schedules that residents agree to follow. Many co-ops exist to serve like-minded people, like artists, vegans, senior citizens, church members, people with disabilities, or those in recovery from addiction.

Getting Subsidized Housing

Under Section 8, the amount that the government will pay to assist a low-income family with rent payments is determined by finding the Fair Market Rent, or FMR, for a certain community. FMR is decided by researching how much rent and utilities cost for medium-quality apartments of different sizes in a certain city or town. For example, the FMR for a studio apartment in Alabama is $580 a month, while the FMR for a studio apartment in California is $1,068 a month. If you qualify for section 8, you will only be asked to pay 30 percent of your monthly income towards rent. The remaining rent you owe will be paid directly to your landlord by the government.

Whether or not you can get Section 8 assistance depends on four factors:

Eviction record

You are not eligible for Section 8 assistance if you have been convicted of producing methamphetamine in public housing or if you have been evicted from any kind of housing in the past 3 years for drug-related activity.

Family status

Households receiving Section 8 must be a family under the government definition. States have more specific guidelines, but generally, households with someone over the age of 62, a person with a disability, or families who have been displaced from their homes are more likely to receive assistance.


Your income level is determined by measuring the amount of money you make against the area’s average income. Families are either low income, very low income, or extremely low income, with the lower-earning families prioritized for assistance. Low income families earn 80 percent of the median income in their area. Very low income families earn 50 percent of the median income in their area. Extremely low income families earn 30 percent of the median income in their area.

HUD gives priority to people who earn extremely low incomes for their area - for example, if you live in New York City where the median income is 50,711 and make less than $15,000 then you’ll be high priority for a Section 8 voucher.


Only American citizens or certain eligible immigrants can be given Section 8 benefits. If only some of the members of your household meet these requirements, other members will not be considered when calculating the amount of benefits you’ll receive.

If you meet these qualifications, you may be able to benefit from Section 8. The process will generally follow the steps below:

Apply by finding your local public housing agency, or PHA, using the HUD’s list on their website.

Wait to be approved. Waiting lists are only open when funds are available. Housing assistance is in high demand, and the wait list can take as long as 2 years in some cases. While you’re on the waiting list, you may be able to live in a project and receive assistance that way.

Interview with the PHA to determine you are still eligible for benefits once you’re approved.

Find housing in any building that accepts Section 8 and meets Section 8 requirements. The building will have to be inspected to see that it meets Section 8 standards. If it passes the inspection, you will sign a lease and move in.

The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.