The federal housing subsidy program typically known as “Section 8” was created in 1974. Through the Section 8 Program, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) pays a portion of the shelter costs incurred by eligible households. The basic guidelines for the program are that Section 8 benefits are reserved for lower-income families, that is, families whose annual incomes fall below 80% of the median income for the county of residence. The vast majority of Section 8 benefits are reserved for very low-income families, those with annual incomes below 50% of county median. To locate your county median income adjusted by family size go to HUD’s web site, which is listed in the left hand column. These income limits are adjusted each year and are published by HUD.
Under Section 8 the definition of “family” applies to single individuals. For example, people with disabilities and single individuals over 62 years of age can be treated as “a family” for Section 8 purposes. Calculating the family income is complicated and includes adjustments to account for certain expenses. The calculations are made when you apply locally for Section 8. A family eligible for Section 8 subsidy is expected to pay 30% of their adjusted income for shelter, which is defined as rent plus utilities. Because income calculations are reviewed and updated each year, your portion of the rent could go up or down.
Housing units eligible for Section 8 assistance payments can be owned by public or private entities including nonprofit corporations and certain kinds of cooperatives. All units must be in “decent and safe condition” and must meet minimum quality and safety standards for the area in which the housing is located. HUD calculates the “fair market rents” each year and housing units that are eligible for Section 8 must meet their requirements for determining rents that can be charged to a family.
The Section 8 program is administered by a local public housing authority or agency (PHA), which receives annual allocations on the basis of area of need. In Wisconsin the State’s housing authority, the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA), runs Section 8 programs in the areas of the state where there is no local PHA. To locate the PHA or administering agency in your area use either of the web sites listed.
The actual flow of HUD subsidies to property owners is handled through administrative contracts between HUD, private owners, and local PHAs or state housing finance agencies. Each of the agencies contracting to administer Section 8 must prepare an Administrative Plan, which specifies many things including application procedures and rules for waiting list management. No administering agency can deny anyone admission to the Section 8 program on the basis of disability, family status, source of income, race, color, sex, religion or national origin.