Waiting List for Housing? 3 Things You Need to Know

(Last Updated On: May 13, 2019)

If you’ve looked into low income housing at all, you’ve inevitably run into waiting lists. In some areas, lists stretch out over five years or more. It’s discouraging, depressing and overwhelming.

It’s also not that simple.

What is a wait list? 

Low income housing agencies have wait lists because there just isn’t enough low income housing to go around. There is a lot of competition for low income housing because there are way more low income households than there are units available.

woman crying with child because of long housing waiting list

My waiting list says 5+ years!

It is, unfortunately, quite common for waiting lists to stretch three, four, or even five years into the future. Some are even longer. It’s horrible.

So, will you really have to wait that long for housing?! Maybe… but probably not.

How do they calculate how long it will take?

The length of the wait list is based on a really simple estimate. If 500 households apply for housing but only 100 apartments become available each year, the office will estimate that the wait list is five years long. That’s because it will take the office five years to serve everyone on the list based on current trends.

Does it really take that long to get into low income housing?

Not everybody on the list will actually move in to those apartments. After all, people’s circumstances change as time goes by.

Over time, many of the people on the list will have found other housing options. Many may have moved to different cities where they could find housing. Some may start earning more than the income limits allow. Others may be awarded disability benefits they’ve been waiting on. These people may no longer need or qualify for the low income housing they’ve applied for.

Others may be disqualified for a number of reasons. They may have failed to complete the paperwork or interview process. Someone in the household may have been convicted of a drug-related or violent crime, be a registered sex offender, or have been previously disqualified from public housing assistance. Just behaving in a threatening or abusive way toward a housing authority employee may be grounds for being removed from the wait list.

Even little missteps (like traffic tickets) can stop you from getting housing.

“I work for Housing for Homeless and I see people leave, evicted, and so on,” explained Star Fitchpatrick from Florida. “Sometimes your wait isn’t that long. A lot depends on your criminal record, evictions, and if you’re working or not. You’re not going to get in anywhere without working or some sort of income… and going through most anything that has government backing, especially HUD, has very strict rules. Sometimes traffic violations can knock you out of the running.”

When you consider all of these factors, it’s very possibly that you will be able to get into housing sooner than you expected.

What number am I on the Section 8 waiting list?

You should receive a letter after you are accepted to the wait list. However, a lot of people turn to the internet to try to get updates on their position in the queue. Unfortunately, this isn’t really answerable at all. You could contact your local agency for that information but they may not be able to give you an exact answer either. Even if they can tell you what number you are in the queue, they probably still won’t be able to tell you exactly how long it will take to get housing.

What happens when the waiting list is too long?

Sometimes, the wait list will become so full that the agency will stop accepting applications altogether. This has happened to the Section 8 program in many areas. After they are able to work through the waiting list a bit, they reopen applications. Be sure to check often for updates or you may miss your opportunity to apply!

What should I do while I’m on the waiting list?

Whatever you do, don’t just relax and wait! That’s a surefire way to make sure that you don’t get housing right away.

While you’re waiting on one waiting list, apply for others. Apply for all of the housing units you can find. Keep track of how long the waiting lists are for each location and if the waiting list is closed. If the list is closed, call back often to see if it’s opened. Keep records of who you’ve contacted, when and what you learned.

Our friends at How To Get On have a really awesome story about a reader named Dandelion who was able to get housing in six months – even though she was told it would take 5-10 years! You can check out her story here.

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  1. Benjamin Pecot
    June 7, 2019
    • Riley Thomson
      June 7, 2019
  2. Jennifer Stockdale
    June 18, 2019
    • Riley Thomson
      June 19, 2019

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