Is Low-Income Housing the Same as Section 8?

This information is current as of March 11, 2022.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offers low-cost housing to Americans through various programs. You may have heard of Section 8 housing as a government-assisted housing option in the past. The Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program is one of these low-income housing options. However, not all low-income housing is considered the same as Section 8.

What Is the Difference Between Low-Income and Section 8 Housing?

Is low-income housing the same as section 8? As mentioned, Section 8 housing is a type of low-cost housing; however, not all low-cost housing is Section 8.

Low-cost housing is what it sounds like – affordable housing units are offered at reduced rates for those who qualify. Most participants must meet guidelines, such as making less than 50% of the median income in that area. 

Low-cost housing could be offered by federal, state, or private programs in your area. Most of these programs work through subsidies, which is when a program provides subsidized rental assistance to those who qualify. In addition, many participants receive rental assistance through vouchers, direct payment, or another source.

Next, we have the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program, often referred to simply as “Section 8 [housing].” This type of affordable housing houses roughly 2.2 million Americans every year, including low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled. Initially established in 1974, Section 8 housing has come a long way to ensure that those earning low wages receive decent and suitable living conditions.

Section 8 beneficiaries pay between 30%-40% of their income on rent, and the rest is covered through the voucher. These individuals can find housing once approved for Section 8, whether a single-family home, townhouse, or apartment. The housing must meet program requirements and may or may not be located in federal/state housing projects.

The vouchers for Section 8 housing are created through federal funds and are then passed to the landlord.

If you meet the Section 8 requirements, you can apply for this housing. Once approved and selected, you must find a home through your local housing authority under Section 8.

How to Receive Low-Income Housing

There are federal, state, and local programs that offer low-income housing. For example, HUD finances states and landlords to provide low-income housing opportunities in the U.S.

Some examples of federal low-income housing assistance apart from Section 8 are:

  • Low Income Housing Tax Credits are credits granted to developers who construct or fix up affordable housing and rent it out to low-income households.
  • Tenant-based rental assistance (TBRA) programs are rental subsidies granted to individuals to afford rent or a security deposit. 
  • Project-based rental assistance programs help families pay rent based on their income. This could be for Section 8 housing or other housing.
  • Public housing operating fund and capital fund: The former gives subsidies to housing authorities to help maintain their dwellings. The latter funds public housing agencies for developing and modernizing public housing.
  • Choice Neighborhoods is a grant program that provides resources to area leaders who aim to transform distressed neighborhoods.
  • The HOME Investment Partnerships Program (HOME) grants states and communities to buy, build, or rehab affordable housing.
  • Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) is a program that provides annual grants to states, counties, and cities to develop urban communities for low- to moderate-income people.
  • National Housing Trust Fund provides state grants to produce and preserve low-cost housing for those who qualify.
  • Capital Magnet Fund is a competitive program that connects private financers with affordable housing development.
  • Rural Housing Service programs provide grants and loans for facilities in rural areas.
  • Qualified Opportunity Zone Designations are economically distressed communities under these designations that may offer preferable tax treatment to attract investors.

These programs are split into tenant-based and project-based subsidies. Those seeking affordable housing can either apply for a grant themselves or look at buildings financed by any of the above programs. Most programs are privately owned public housing or Section 8 housing.

For information on programs in your area or state, your first step would be to reach out to your local public housing agency (PHA). PHAs are regional offices that oversee Section 8 and other housing benefits. In addition, you can call 1-800-569-4287 to connect with a local housing counseling agency. You may also want to browse this government site.

How to Receive Section 8 Housing

Now that we’ve answered, “Is low-income housing the same as Section 8?” let’s see how someone can apply for the latter.

Local PHAs distribute section 8 vouchers. The PHA will determine your eligibility based on your household income and how many people make up your household. Most PHAs have Section 8 housing waitlists that can be 1-2 years long. Below are the steps for acquiring Section 8 housing.

First, you’ll need to meet the requirements before applying. Your PHA can most likely give you the local Section 8 program criteria. For example, your income should be 50% or less than the area’s median income. You must also be a U.S. citizen or a non-citizen with legal immigration status.

Most PHAs will also check if you have been evicted from public or PHA housing in the past, especially if the eviction was due to any criminal activity. This will bar you from assistance for three years past the eviction notice.

If you meet your PHA’s requirements, you may be able to access the application in person, online, or by mail. The application will ask for information such as the name, date of birth, Social Security number, and income of yourself and each person in your household.

It may also ask for information on criminal histories, phone numbers, previous addresses, email addresses, and more. Be sure you fill out your application neatly and, in its entirety, to speed the review process along.

After your PHA receives the application, you will likely wait a few months to hear whether you’ve been rejected or accepted and put on a waitlist.

Section 8 housing is highly solicited, with many lists averaging a 1-2 year wait for something to become available. Some PHAs only accept applicants through a random lottery.

If you’ve made it through the process, have been put on a waitlist, and received your voucher, you will need to find housing that accepts the Section 8 voucher. Under this program, you will typically pay around 30% of your monthly income towards your rent, with the rest covered by the voucher.

When you find an acceptable housing situation, and it is evaluated/approved by the PHA, the payments will be made by the PHA directly to the landlord monthly.

PHAs offer both general and project-based vouchers. For example, suppose you want your voucher to go towards living in project housing. In that case, you may be able to request this during your application process.


Is Low-Income Housing the Same as Section 8?

Low-income housing can include various housing programs that subsidize rental costs for qualified tenants. This term is often interchanged with low-cost housing and affordable housing.

Section 8 Housing is low-income housing, but not all low-income housing is Section 8 housing.

How Long Is the Waitlist for Low-Income Housing?

Low-income housing, especially Section 8 housing, often sees waitlists 1-2 years long. Therefore, it’s essential to begin the process as soon as possible and be as transparent as possible on your application. Sometimes housing may become available earlier than expected, as new buildings are constantly being developed or onboarded as low-cost housing options.

What Are the Eligibility Requirements for Section 8 Housing?

Most Section 8 housing requires your income to be half or less of the median income in your area. In addition, you must be a legal U.S. citizen or immigrant, and you must not have been evicted from public housing within the last three years.

What Is the Housing Choice Voucher Program?

The Housing Choice Voucher Program is the federal Section 8 program. It is the main program that assists low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled with housing in the U.S.

Can Someone with a Criminal Record Receive Public Housing?

Three types of criminal records will bar you from receiving public housing: the eviction from public housing due to drug-related activity, past drug, or disruptive alcohol use, past violent or drug-related criminal activity. As for other offenses, the PHA will review all criminal records and decide whether the past conviction deems a safety risk or not.

Save Money on Your Wireless Phone Service

If you qualify for low-income housing, you most likely qualify for Lifeline service. This federal benefits program gives low-income consumers free or massively discounted communication services.

Lifeline helps subsidize the cost of wireless cell phones and internet services. More than 35 million people qualify for free monthly wireless service. You may qualify for Lifeline through income level or participation in other federal programs. It might be a good idea to research this to help you save on your phone and internet service costs.