Why is it so difficult to receive a Section 8 voucher?

Section 8 housing vouchers help low-income families pay for safe, clean and affordable housing.

Under the Section 8 program, enrollees pay 30 percent of their household income in rent. Local Public Housing Agencies (PHAs) partnered with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) pay for the difference between that amount and the total fair market cost of enrollees’ total rental costs.

Section 8 rentals must meet HUD-approved minimum health and safety standards, and landlords or property owners must agree to work with local PHAs and abide by program guidelines. Unfortunately, there are almost always fewer Section 8 vouchers and housing units available than there are families applying for assistance.

Why is demand for Section 8 housing so high?

Demand for Section 8 housing vouchers is consistently high, regardless of where you live. This unrelenting demand is the result of several different but nearly universal factors.

  • Changes in household composition. As recently as two generations ago, it was common for multiple generations of the same family to share housing. As a result, there were often multiple wage-earners in the same household as well as other adults who could shoulder responsibilities such as childcare, whereby reducing the household’s overall expenses. Today, the average family size is between two and three people. Households are more likely to rely on one or two wage earners and to face higher expenses for childcare and other essential services.
  • Changes in employment trends. Modern employment trends have seen more workers in flexible, short-term, freelance and contract work positions. While these jobs can have many benefits, they also frequently shift some of the cost burden of employment from employers onto workers. They can also provide less consistent income. This leaves many workers less financially stable and less capable of easily affording safe, clean housing, which increases demand for Section 8 rentals.
  • Changes in health and health care trends. Americans’ heath care costs have been steadily increasing for decades, and changes to health care coverage mean that workers and families are shouldering most of these rising costs. This substantially cuts into household budgets, creating serious financial strain.
  • Aging infrastructure and lack of transportation options. More than half of America’s housing units were constructed before 1980. Designed for larger families and built using outdated construction methods, much of the nation’s housing stock is unappealing, unsafe or inappropriate for modern families. As population trends have shifted, demand for housing in cities with the best employment options has become particularly high.
  • Increasing housing costs. According to the American Community Survey, the average cost of rent is $982. While financial experts advise that households pay no more than 30 percent of their total income in housing, more than 40 percent of Americans currently spend 35 percent of their incomes or more on housing due to imbalances between income and average housing cost. Given these unsustainable costs, more Americans are completing Section 8 application forms in hope of relief.
  • Increased cost burdens in other areas. As more Americans juggle high student loan bills, the increasing costs of food and health care and other necessities, the need for financial assistance continues to grow.

Learn About Section 8 Housing Lists

The end result of all of these trends is a huge increase in Americans filing Section 8 housing application forms in hopes of assistance. Unfortunately, it rare for there to be enough federal funding and enough safe and sanitary housing units available to meet demand. When PHAs do not have the funds or housing options to help everyone who qualifies for assistance, they are forced to create a Section 8 housing list.

These waiting lists are typically operated in a first-come-first-served manner, although certain high-risk populations may be given priority. For example, a PHA might move elderly or disabled individuals considered to be very high risk for homelessness to the top of the list ahead of other qualified applicants who applied earlier.

If you submit a Section 8 housing application and are approved for assistance but your PHA has no funds currently available for you, you will be placed on a waitlist. You can generally check your waitlist status online or through your PHA, but you may find that the list is several years long due to lack of funding or housing availability.

While your PHA may be able to connect you to other service providers in the meantime who can help reduce or subsidize your costs in other areas, they will be unable to supply housing assistance while you wait.

What to Do if You End Up on a Section 8 Housing List

What do you do if you have submitted a Section 8 housing application online application and been waitlisted for program assistance? This common frustration can leave families feeling trapped and hopeless. However, there are things you can do to reduce your wait time and increase your likelihood of receiving assistance.

  • Move to an area with a shorter Section 8 waitlist. While you are unlikely to find anywhere with low demand for Section 8 assistance, some areas of the state or country will have lower demand than others. If your employment and family situations allow, consider moving to a city or region in which housing and housing assistance are more readily available so that you can get a Section 8 voucher sooner.
  • Combine households with another family. Explore options for sharing living space with others. If you a single adult, for example, you may be able to find a roommate to share your apartment and split your housing costs. Alternatively, you may be able to move in with a family member to save money. There are many traditional and non-traditional home-sharing options available, and you may find that you enjoy sharing not only your costs but the upkeep responsibilities of a home with others.
  • Seek out alternative housing while you wait. Look for lower-cost housing opportunities. You may be able to find housing units that are smaller or a little further from work or social hubs available for reduced costs. While these may be slightly less convenient than your current housing, they can help you manage your costs until Section 8 housing assistance becomes available.
  • Learn how to apply for other forms of assistance. If you qualify for Section 8 assistance it is likely that you will also qualify for SNAP or other forms of public assistance. Work with your PHA representative to apply for all forms of assistance for which you may qualify. Doing so may reduce your overall financial burden while you wait for housing support.