Understanding the Public Housing Program

Many housing assistance programs have been implemented to help low-income families maintain financial dignity, become economically independent, and live in a safe and sanitary environment at an affordable price. Many of the programs have the same concepts and executions, but there are small differences in each program and it’s important to follow those rules and completely live up to expectations as an assistance seeker.

What Is Public Housing?

Public housing (a program that is funded by the public) offers assistance to low income families, the elderly, and the disabled. The local Housing Authority manages the residences where eligible families will pay rent that is reasonable when compared to their income, but the residences are the property of the government. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, there are over 1.2 million families/households currently receiving assistance from public housing. Residences that are built for public housing are not specific in size and shape and some are large enough to fit a larger than average family.

Who’s Eligible?

Eligibility for the program will be determined based upon a variety of factors, including: gross annual income, citizenship/immigration status, and whether or not the assistance seeker meets the requirements of a family, disabled, or elderly. It’s important to note that a criminal history does not immediately disqualify an individual from the program. Keep in mind, previous landlords will be contacted in order to verify that the individual would be a good tenant and any proven history of law-breaking will be taken into account. An assistance seeker must make less than 80% of the median income for their community, but preference is shown to those who make less than 50% of the median income. The income limits that are set for the community are available by contacting the local Housing Authority. These limits are used to determine eligibility as well.

How Do I Apply?

An application for public housing is available at the local HA (housing authority) and must be filled out in its entirety. Average information (that you would put on a job interview) is included on the application, such as name, current address, names and addresses of previous employers, etc. Additional required information includes the name, relationship to the applicant, and date of birth of each person that will be dwelling in the unit. Current living conditions will be assessed to determine whether or not an applicant would be eligible for public housing (sometimes it’s approved immediately). A Housing Authority may want to come inspect an assistance seeker’s home. This helps the HA determine whether or not the applicant keeps their home in a sanitary condition, as much as is possible.

The housing authority will want to speak directly with previous and current landlords and employers. The applicant will also be responsible for obtaining any requested documentation, such as tax returns, identification cards, birth certificates, etc. Once approved, the applicant must sign a contract (lease) with the HA and must comply with all aspects of that contract.

How Is Rent Determined?

In the public housing program, rent is called TTP, the total tenant payment. It’s based on the family’s gross annual income, minus any deductions that they’re deemed eligible for by the housing authority. Deductions that range from $20 to $480 per person might be allowed depending on whether or not the household has dependents, people with disabilities, or an elderly family member. It’s important to contact a local housing authority to determine eligibility according to income, and the options for TTP (rent) according to the housing authority’s findings. A tenant will either pay 30% of what they earn in a month, 10% of the money they earn in a month, or a $25 minimum, whichever option is the highest of these and is deemed appropriate.

Role of the Housing Agency

Housing authorities exist in order to help low-income and economically struggling families reach their high financial goals by way of assistance. Their role is to ensure that families are in a reasonably sized dwelling, according to family composition. They also periodically (usually annually) review each family’s income information to determine if changes need to be made to the lease or location of the residence. They will terminate and renew leases as it becomes necessary in order to keep the program progressing as smoothly as possible. The housing authority is also responsible for any repairs and other provisions listed in the lease that all parties are required to sign. The HA sometimes provides other opportunities for assistance, such as employment training opportunities, support programs, or home ownership opportunities for families who qualify.
Some families will be eligible for “preferences” depending on whether or not their living conditions could be labeled “substandard”. If it’s found that these conditions are present, the HA will normally try to assist them immediately.


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