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Waiting List for Housing? 3 Things You Need to Know

Waiting List for Housing? 3 Things You Need to Know

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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Nicole leads the Low Income Relief team with over 20 years of professional research and writing experience. Nicole started Low Income Relief after a personal experience with poverty. When her husband was medically discharged from the US Army, their family experienced tremendous financial hardship. Nicole was able to gather help from multiple community agencies and move into a nearby low income housing unit in just two weeks! Since then, Nicole has been dedicated to helping low income families in crisis. She regularly spends hundreds of hours combing through countless resources to make sure that Low Income Relief has the most comprehensive and complete resource directories on the internet today. Prior to starting Low Income Relief, Nicole worked as a novelist, journalist, ghostwriter and content creator. Her work has been featured in various print and online publications, including USA Today, eHow, Livestrong, Legal Beagle, The Daily Herald, The Chronicle and more.

Laurie RencehausenGarcia

Monday 21st of March 2022

I moved with my adult children in November of 2021 and I am still with them in their home because my income is to low to afford a place on my own and they gave me my walking papers or shall I say running papers I have tried to find a room and a bathroom in someone’s else’s house they want more money than I can pay my disability check doesn’t go far! I need help! This Beautiful state of Florida hasn’t been very helpful to and old gal Thank You


Thursday 31st of March 2022

Low Income Relief is an information service and does not provide cash or items directly. You will need to search our website for information about organizations that can help you meet those needs. Chat with Lira, she might be able to help!

Rainbow ortiz

Tuesday 18th of January 2022

I had we been 19 years to get section 8 I finally got it 19 years later I had to do all the paperwork the lady was absent for the lady at the desk told me to put the paperwork in and when I went back the next day she said I get a higher up but turn in the papers and I had to reapply I can’t believe it Yes I became self-employed but I lost my appointment again I had five kids or grandkids and I am living with someone in a one bedroom and my son is disabled I have bipolar I am totally uncomfortable my son needs to get out of here I have no place to go I can’t afford anything I don’t know what to do

Sal Kerr

Friday 25th of March 2022

@Rainbow ortiz, where do I apply for section 8 housing


Thursday 10th of February 2022

Low Income Relief is an information service and does not provide cash or items directly. You will need to search our website for information about organizations that can help you meet those needs. Chat with Lira, she might be able to help!


Tuesday 31st of August 2021

Hi I'm disability I look for apartment for low income


Wednesday 1st of December 2021

The organizations in our list should be able to help you with this, but unfortunately Low Income Relief does not provide gifts, food or funds directly. You will need to contact the organizations in this list for assistance or chat with Lira! She should be able to help,


Sunday 16th of May 2021

Hello and know it’s set though a federal program, I believe each State runs a little different, and though the low income apartments have to each be applied for separately in Washington State, Section 8 many of them are funded by, they are different, as here, regular Section 8 has a 5-7 yr wait list and you must update if your address or phone number changes, same for apartments. You must go to each low income apartment to apply and when your Section 8 comes up here, you don’t get a lot of help, though there is a workshop, I found the person assigned to me took 2 weeks to even call back to answer questions, plus, many landlords are reluctant to take it due to the rules of it all. So I applied at several of the low income, that I was told were a different type of Section 8 and the place I had worked nicely, with utilities covered for us and a social worker for us who were disabled but you had to be over 55 or disabled to qualify as each have their criteria for income, age and such

Megan Alder

Thursday 20th of August 2020

I am currently 21 years old, and I have been thinking about putting myself on a housing waiting list so that I can buy my house at a young age, and start saving money. It's interesting to know that waiting lists can take from two to even five years to be approved. I will definitely consider applying for a waiting list now that I know how long they take to be approved because I will have enough time to save money.