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Under the voucher program, individuals or families with a voucher find and lease a unit (either in a specified complex or in the private sector) and pay a portion of the rent. Most households pay 30% of their adjusted income for Section 8 housing. Adjusted income is a household’s gross (total) income minus deductions for dependents under 18 years of age, full-time students, disabled persons, or an elderly household, and certain disability assistance and medical expenses.
There is an asset test in addition to earned income. Over a certain amount, HUD will add income even if the Section 8 tenant doesn't receive any interest income from, for example, a bank account. HUD calls this "imputed income from assets" and in the case of a bank account, HUD establishes a standard "Passbook Savings Rate" to calculate the imputed income from the asset. This makes the tenant's contribution higher since their gross income is made higher.
The PHA pays the landlord the remainder of the rent over the tenant's portion, subject to a cap referred to as "Fair Market Rent" (FMR) which is determined by HUD. Each year, the federal government looks at the rents being charged for privately owned apartments in different communities, as well as the costs of utilities (heat, electricity, etc.) in those communities. The "Fair Market Rents" are an estimate of the average gross rents (rents plus utilities) for medium-quality apartments of different sizes in a particular community. As an example, 2012 FMR for 1 bedroom housing in San Francisco is $1522 and in New York is $1280 while in many other places it is less than $500. The landlord cannot charge a Section 8 tenant more than a reasonable rent and cannot accept payments outside the contract.
In addition, a Section 8 landlord, although required to meet fair housing laws, are not required to participate in the Section 8 program. As a result, some landlords will not accept a Section 8 tenant. This can be attributed to such factors as: not wanting the government involved in their business, such as having a full inspection of their premises by government workers for HUD's Housing Quality Standards (HQS) and the possible remediations required fear that a Section 8 tenant or their children will not properly maintain the premises
a desire to charge a rent for the unit above FMR unwillingness to initiate judicial action for eviction of a tenant (HUD requires that Section 8 tenants can only be evicted by judicial action, even where state law allows other procedures) Depending on state laws, refusing to rent to a tenant solely for the reason that they have Section 8 may be illegal. A Section 8 landlord can use only general means of disqualifying a tenant (credit, criminal history, past evictions, etc.). However, other landlords willingly accept Section 8 tenants, due to: a large available pool of potential renters (the waiting list for new Section 8 tenants is usually very long, see below) generally prompt regular payments from the PHA for its share of the rent
tenants incentive to take good care of the property (PHA's require that tenants not damage rental properties. In many instances a tenant may be removed from the program if they owe a previous landlord monies). Whether voucher or project-based, all subsidized units must meet the HQS, thus ensuring that the family has a healthy and safe place to live. This improvement in the landlord's private property is an important byproduct of this program, both for the individual families and for the larger goal of community development.
Applicants may apply for a Section 8 housing voucher at any county or city housing authority office in their state, and although rules vary according to each authority, in general, residents of a particular area who receive a voucher from the jurisdiction in which they live may use the voucher anywhere in the country, but nonresidents of the jurisdiction must live in the jurisdiction that issues the voucher to them for 12 months before they can move to a different area. Also, priority for vouchers is often reserved for those who reside in the service area of that housing authority.
In many localities, the PHA waiting lists for Section 8 vouchers may be thousands of families long, waits of three to six years to access vouchers is common, and many lists are closed to new applicants. Wait lists are often briefly opened (often for just five days), which may occur as little as once every seven years. Some PHAs use a "lottery" approach, where there can be as many as 100,000 applicants for 10,000 spots on the waitlist, with spots being awarded on the basis of weighted or non-weighted lotteries, with priority sometimes given to local residents, the disabled, veterans, and the elderly. There is no guarantee that anyone will ever receive a spot on the waiting list. Family obligations
Families who participate in the program must abide by a series of rules and regulations, often referred to as "family obligations", in order to maintain their voucher, including accurately reporting to the PHA all changes in household income and family composition so the amount of their subsidy (and the applicable rental unit size limitation) can be updated accordingly. In recent years, the HUD Office of the Inspector General has spent more time and money on fraud detection and prevention.
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