Your Section 8 Program Guide and HUD Waiting List Resource

The Section 8 waiting list often plays a significant role in this housing voucher program.

As one of the most in-demand housing assistance programs in the country, Section 8 gets a flood of applicants every year. Due to this influx, it is difficult to help every eligible household in an easy and timely manner. It can sometimes take months after an application is accepted for families to receive assistance.

Though it is funded and overseen by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Section 8 is largely operated by local public housing authorities (PHAs). In order to keep track of and help families as efficiently as possible, these PHAs assign eligible applicants a number and place them on waiting lists.

In order to avoid extending the amount of time that you have to wait for housing assistance, you should learn how to apply for Section 8 to avoid making any mistakes on the application.

However, even these lists become long very quickly, and often close for an unspecified period. Read on to learn what you can expect when you are placed on the waiting list for Section 8.

Waiting List Times

Though PHAs employ waiting lists to optimize the Section 8 program, most applicants still wait months to receive any assistance. Smaller counties with low populations may not experience extensive wait times, but higher-demand areas often do.

In fact, PHAs with the highest demand can see waiting times of a year or more. These long wait periods are largely caused when demand for assistance is higher than the available funds and resources for that area. The wait time for benefits is one of the most frequently asked questions about the Section 8 program.

This housing choice voucher program is financed by HUD, which then distributes funds amongst the different PHAs each year. Local PHAs are then responsible for assisting as many qualified families as possible using these funds. However, the more families that apply in an area, the faster funds run out and waiting lists grow longer.

Another factor to consider when it comes to long Section 8 wait times is eligibility. When applicants initially apply to the program, their eligibility is verified before a PHA places them on the waiting list. However, this does not guarantee they will receive assistance.

Once a family reaches the top of the list, the PHA requests an interview, during which the family’s qualifications for the program are reexamined. If they are no longer deemed qualified at that time, they will not receive a housing voucher.

Waiting List Openings and Closings

On top of long waiting times, some PHAs even decide to close the registration window for their respective waiting lists if wait times become too long. During these periods, new applications are not accepted, regardless of a family’s eligibility.

These closures often occur for an indeterminate amount of time, as the PHAs strive to help those that already applied.

HUD gives individual PHAs the discretion to determine if and when to close and reopen registration in the area. Therefore, interested applicants can contact their local PHA to find out if it is accepting applications.

Local newspapers and news sites may announce when the nearest PHA’s registration reopens. Applicants can also check their PHA’s website for details on reopenings.

When a waiting list does reopen, some PHAs use a lottery system to select which applications to process if a large number of applicants apply at the same time. Depending on the amount of applications, a PHA may even choose to immediately close the registration window again after performing this lottery.

Fortunately, if the PHA in your area is not currently accepting applications, you have the option to apply to others. PHAs are able to accept your application even if you do not live in the jurisdiction, as long as you meet the local eligibility requirements.

If you are searching for other PHAs, HUD provides the profiles of every PHA in the country. The profiles have useful details like rental units, the type of program they have and other data. The website provides information on what units are available in jurisdiction of the PHA. Discover different PHAs you can apply to here.

Income limits are partially based off of the area’s median income, so you must take that into consideration if you decide to apply. In addition, you are required to move into that jurisdiction in order to receive aid from that PHA.

You can search easily online to find out which PHAs around the U.S. are open, or intend to reopen registration in the near future. In some cases, PHAs even decide to keep their waiting lists open indefinitely. There are currently around 400 Section 8 waiting lists that are considered permanently open throughout the country.

Note: Families who receive a housing voucher may be required to live in that PHA’s jurisdiction for a minimum amount of time, typically around one year. Once this period is up, participants may have the option to transfer their voucher to another PHA if resources are available.

Local Preferences for Waiting Lists

Another tactic that many PHAs take to help with long waiting times is establishing local preferences. In general, the Section 8 program classifies applicants according to income level, using the following categories:

  • Low-income: 80 percent of the local median income
  • Very low-income: 50 percent of the local median income
  • Extremely low-income: 30 percent of the local median income

PHAs often use these classifications to determine which households are the most in-need of assistance. Then, these applicants are given priority over others on the waiting list. According to Section 8 guidelines, at least 75 percent of a PHA’s housing vouchers must go to applicants who are considered extremely low-income.

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However, PHAs may also establish additional local preferences based on other factors. Common circumstances used to identity priority applications include homelessness, involuntary displacement or substandard living conditions.

Priority applicants may be able to receive assistance as soon as their applications are approved, if the necessary funds and resources are immediately available. Otherwise, they are placed at the top of the waiting list, regardless of when they applied. As a result, this can further lengthen waiting times for applicants that are not given priority status.

What to do While On The Waiting List

As mentioned before, applicants may be on the waiting list for an extended period of time. However, there are certain actions to take while you wait for your opportunity to get public housing. For instance, the simplest action an applicant can take is to check his or her status. He or she may check their application status online or call the local PHA. Applicants are instructed to update their application if any changes in household status occur while they are on the waiting list. Many PHAs also send out periodic notices to verify whether applicants still require assistance. If not, they are removed from the waiting list. In addition, applicants who do not respond to the notice in a timely manner are also taken off the list in order to free up space for other families.  

One important detail to note is that when the PHA does contact you for available housing, you might respond in a timely manner. If you do not respond when they reach, it can result in the removal of your household on the waiting list.