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How to Get on a Public Housing Waiting List

How to Get on a Public Housing Waiting List

Every year, millions of Americans apply to be put on a public housing waiting list. These lists ensure that the government can adequately manage public housing applications and allot public housing (often known as “Section 8” housing) to those in need. However, many individuals and families get put on the list, with little to no indication of the timeline they should expect. Moreover, many people don’t know how to get on a public housing waiting list in the first place.

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So, how can you get on a list? How long is the public housing waiting list? Finally, how can you check the status of your public housing application? We will answer all of these questions and more, but first, let’s see who qualifies for low income housing in the United States:

public housing application

What do you need to qualify for low income housing?

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) determines who qualifies for public housing based on the following criteria:

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  • Gross annual income
  • Age, disability, or family status
  • U.S. citizenship or legal immigration status

The most important element of public or “low income” housing qualification is income. Your gross annual income qualifies as “low” if it is less than 80% of the median income in your county or city. If your income is less than 50% of the median income, it will qualify as “very low,” which could help move you toward the top of the public housing waiting list. You can learn more about the median income in your location on the HUD website

Next, HUD will determine if you are an elderly person (55 years or older), a person with a qualifying disability, or part of a family living in the same household. Though you do not need to meet any of these criteria to gain access to public housing, falling into one or more of these categories could help your chances of securing public housing as soon as possible. Finally, you will need to be a U.S. citizen or legal resident alien to get a Section 8 waiting list number.

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public housing waiting list

How long is the waiting list for public housing?

There well over a million individuals and families currently living in public housing. However, this number can fluctuate, as people lose access to public housing based on income, while new applicants move from the waiting list into public housing. HUD estimates that there are several million applicants on public housing waiting lists at any given time. This number has only increased in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, the average wait time for public housing applications is 9 months, with some people waiting for more than a year to move into their publicly-funded homes.

When will the Section 8 waiting list open?

It’s important to note that the Section 8 waiting list is not open year-round. This means that you can only apply for public housing during a certain window. When the list opens, HUD distributes a preselected number of “vouchers” based on the number of applicants and available housing. The public housing waiting list opens on the same date every year: January 2nd. Once the application period begins, it lasts for exactly one week before closing again. During this time, HUD receives and processes millions of applications from low income individuals and families across the country.

applying for public housing voucher

How to apply for a public housing waiting list

While the wait time for public housing can be lengthy, the application process is pretty simple and straightforward. To apply, you will first need to ensure that you have all the necessary documentation at the ready. This will include proof of citizenship status (driver’s license, passport, etc), proof of income (tax returns, pay stubs, bank statements, etc), and proof of disability (medical records or a letter from your physician) or family status (marriage certificates, birth certificates, etc) if applicable. 

Once you’ve collected the required documentation, you can proceed with your public housing application. To begin, you must contact your local Public Housing Agency (PHA). You can locate the nearest PHA office with HUD’s locator tool. Usually, you can contact your local PHA by phone, email, or in person. Depending on your location, you may be able to fill out your public housing waiting list application online. 

application status check

Section 8 application status check

Since you could be sitting on the public housing waiting list for a while, you’ll want to be sure that your application has actually been processed. Unfortunately, HUD does not maintain a master list of all applications nationwide. This means that your application will be managed and stored at the local level. Therefore, you will need to contact your local PHA office to enquire about the status of your Section 8 application. 

You should generally wait at least one week before contacting the PHA to give them time to go over your information. In most cases, you will receive notification concerning the status of your application by mail, phone, or email. This is especially true if the PHA requires further documentation or has questions about your application. However, if you haven’t heard anything, you shouldn’t just assume that your application has been processed. Always follow-up so that you can track the progress of your housing voucher.

The Bottom Line

If you don’t have the income to pay for adequate housing, you should definitely consider submitting a public housing application. While the process can vary from state to state, you can generally apply without having to provide a mountain of paperwork. You simply need to show proof of identity, income, as well as disability and/or family status. As long as your income does not exceed the limits set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for your location, you’ve got a good chance of making it on the public housing waiting list.

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Are you looking for affordable housing in your area? Do you need assistance applying for public housing? If so, feel free to contact your local PHA today! Also, don’t forget to check out our guide for further information on how to apply for section 8 vouchers!

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Matthew Jones is a freelance writer with a B.A. in Film and Philosophy. You can check out his blog at Philosophy in Film.