A Home of Your Own: A Guide to First-Time Apartment Renter Programs

Moving out on your own for the first time isn’t just scary – it can be costly. You may have to pay all manner of fees, deposits, services, and utilities, and that’s all before you get to rent. If you’re trying to get an apartment for the first time, you may find yourself wondering how you’re going to make ends meet. 

Several first-time apartment renter programs can help you get out on your own without breaking the bank. Read on to learn more about some of these programs and to find out if you qualify.

Before You Begin

Before we dive into the programs that are available to help first-time renters, let’s talk some about the expenses you may face during your first month of rent. First of all, you may have to pay for application fees at one or more apartment complexes. There may also be associated move-in fees for things like cleaning, paint, or background check costs. 

Once you get approved, you may have to pay to put a new lock on the door and pay to have new keys cut. You might have to put down initial deposits or connection fees for utilities such as electricity and water. There will also be moving expenses, not to mention the purchase of new furniture during your first month. 

Security deposits are also an enormous cost you may face when renting your first apartment. These fees are meant to cover any damage to the apartment during your tenancy, and they can be hundreds or thousands of dollars. These can be a significant barrier to first-time renters.

The challenges you face during your first month of rent will also vary based on your situation. Some people may be moving out on their own for the first time, while others may be fleeing a domestic violence situation or on the brink of losing their homes. In this article, we’ll address both situations and available aid for either.


Eligibility for each of the programs we’ll discuss here will vary by program. However, the HUD programs will all have similar eligibility requirements, though it’s still worth double-checking on any you think you may be eligible for.

To qualify for HUD aid, your total household income must be 50 percent or less of your county or metropolitan area’s median income. You will need to provide a variety of different documentation to prove that you meet these requirements. This may include your tax records, your pay stubs, your bank records, birth certificates for your family, and more. 


If all this sounds overwhelming, some programs can help make your rent expenses a little easier to bear. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has several programs aimed at helping low-income renters. One of their most popular options is the public housing program.

HUD’s public housing program gives renters access to low-cost, discounted rental options. The government builds houses and apartments, which the HUD can then rent out to eligible tenants. You may also be able to get discounts of up to 30 percent off the cost of rent each month, which can offset some of your other costs, such as utilities.

Section 8

If the public housing program isn’t a good option for you, you may want to consider the Section 8 program. Unlike the public housing program, Section 8 doesn’t require you to live in one specific government-built development. Instead, you can choose where to live and get vouchers to help cover portions of your rent costs.

With Section 8 housing, you can live in any rental arrangement you like, so long as the landlord accepts vouchers from the program. (It’s important to confirm this before moving into an apartment.) These vouchers are based on your monthly household income. You can have enough of your rent covered that you only have to put 30 percent of your income towards rent each month.

Salvation Army

Several private charities assist renters in need. You might be surprised to learn that the Salvation Army is one of the biggest charities providing housing assistance in the country. Far from just accepting used furniture and ringing bells outside stores at Christmas, this organization can help provide money to cover your security deposit for your rental.

The amount of assistance the Salvation Army can provide will vary widely based on where you live. Some areas may have numerous programs to cover security deposits and even portions of your rent, while others may be only able to offer a little bit of aid when you first move in. You’ll need to talk to your local branch of the Salvation Army to find out what’s available for you.

Catholic Charities

Catholic Charities is another large organization with a dedication to addressing housing needs in America. For one thing, the group has thousands of permanent houses available to people in crisis. Most of the time, these homes are offered to people facing immediate risk of losing their homes, but they can be a good option if you’re trying to get back on your feet.

Depending on your area, Catholic Charities may also be able to help you cover security deposits and other initial move-in costs. They can also help you avoid eviction later down the line if needed. You’ll need to talk to your local Catholic Charities chapter to get details on exactly which programs they offer in your area.

St. Vincent de Paul

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is another Catholic organization dedicated to helping those in need. The organization has been around since 1833 and operates thrift stores, food pantries, medical services, and more. They also offer several housing programs to help low-income renters keep their homes. 

St. Vincent de Paul runs a Home Visits program that provides financial help to people in need. They can provide one-time payments to help cover your rent, food, clothing, and other emergency needs. St. Vincent de Paul payments are not an ongoing support solution, but they can help pull you through a crisis or get you set up in a rental situation.

Emergency Solutions Grants

The last year has been one of the most economically challenging in living memory. If you’ve found yourself facing new financial hardships since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, some grants could help you get the housing you need. This program is administered through the HUD and is designed to keep people in their homes.

If you have recently lost your home, the rapid re-housing arm of the ESG grants can help provide rent assistance. They can cover rental application fees, security and utility deposits, moving costs, the previous month’s rent, and utility payments. The Homelessness Prevention program can also help cover these fees if you’re in imminent danger of losing your home. 

Continuum of Care

The Continuum of Care program is another HUD-backed initiative. Much like the ESG program, CoC is meant to address housing needs by providing people the financial assistance they need to pay their rent and bills. Some of these programs overlap with Section 8 initiatives and other HUD-provided support measures. 

Continuum of Care support is meant to be short (or medium) term support only. They can provide assistance paying your rent, as well as associated rental fees, while you get back on your feet. If you or someone in your household has a disability, this assistance may be extended.

Community Development Block Grant

The government also provides several support programs through their Community Development Block Grants. These grant programs are meant to help communities address housing needs and ensure all their citizens can live safe and dignified lives. Which grants you qualify for will depend on your particular situation.

If you are recovering from an addiction and need housing while you go through rehab, the Recovery Housing Program can provide you temporary rent assistance. The CARES Act passed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic also has some programs to provide financial assistance to renters in need. Most of these programs are not meant to be long-term support options, however.

Find More First-Time Apartment Renter Programs

If you’re trying to rent an apartment for the first time, you’re likely facing a ton of fees and expenses that you may not have planned on. The programs we’ve discussed can help you afford these costs and get you moved into your first apartment. Check with your local resources today and see what sort of first-time apartment renter programs you may be eligible for.

If this article about first-time apartment renter programs was helpful, you may qualify for free wireless service through the federal Lifeline program. You can check your eligibility now by clicking here.