Housing Choice Voucher Program Overview

What is the Housing Choice Voucher Program?

The housing choice voucher program is a rental assistance program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to assist very low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled afford decent, safe, and sanitary housing in the private market. The participant is free to choose any housing that meets the requirements of the program. Housing choice vouchers are administered locally by public housing agencies (PHA).

A family that is issued a housing voucher is responsible for finding a suitable housing unit of the family's choice where the owner agrees to rent under the program. This unit may include the family's present residence. Rental units must meet minimum standards of health and safety, as determined by the PHA.

Who is eligible for Housing Choice Voucher assistance?

Eligibility for a housing voucher is determined by the PHA based on the total annual gross income and family size and is limited to US citizens and specified categories of non-citizens who have eligible immigration status. In general, the family's income may not exceed 50% of the median income for the county or metropolitan area in which the family chooses to live. By law, a PHA must provide 75 percent of its voucher to applicants whose incomes do not exceed 30 percent of the area median income. Median income levels are published by HUD and vary by location.  

Since the demand for housing assistance often exceeds the limited resources available to HUD and the local housing agencies, long waiting periods are common. In fact, a PHA may close its waiting list when it has more families on the list than can be assisted in the near future.

The PHA may establish local preferences for selecting applicants from its waiting list. Families who qualify for any such local preferences move ahead of other families on the list who does not qualify for any preference. Each PHA has the discretion to establish local preferences to reflect the housing needs and priorities of its particular community.

How do they work?

The housing choice voucher program issues a voucher to the qualified family. A voucher holder is advised of the unit size for which they are eligible based on the number of approved family members sex and age.

The housing unit selected by the family must meet an acceptable level of health and safety before the PHA can approve the unit. When the voucher holder finds a unit that it wishes to occupy and reaches an agreement with the landlord over the lease terms, the PHA must inspect the unit and determine if the requested rent is reasonable.
The housing voucher family must pay 30% of its monthly adjusted gross income for rent and utilities, and if the unit rent is greater than the payment standard, set by the PHA, the family is required to pay the additional amount. However, by law, whenever a family moves to a new unit where the rent exceeds the payment standard, the family may not pay more than 40 percent of its adjusted monthly income for rent.

What are the roles of the participant, landlord, housing authority and HUD?

Once a PHA approves an eligible family's housing unit, the family and the landlord sign a lease and, at the same time, the landlord and the PHA sign a housing assistance payments contract that runs for the same term as the lease. This means that everyone -- tenant, landlord and PHA -- has obligations and responsibilities under the voucher program.

Participants Obligations:

When a family selects a housing unit, and the PHA approves the unit, lease the family signs the lease with the landlord for at least one year. The tenant may be required to pay a security deposit to the landlord. After the first year the landlord may initiate a new lease or allow the family to remain in the unit on a month-to-month lease.
The family is expected to comply with the lease and the program requirements, pay its share of rent according to the lease, maintain the unit in good condition and notify the PHA of any changes in income or family composition.

Landlord's Obligations:

The role of the landlord in the voucher program is to provide decent, safe, and sanitary housing to a tenant at a reasonable rent. The dwelling unit must pass the program's housing quality standards and be maintained as long as the owner receives housing assistance payments. In addition, the landlord is expected to provide the services agreed to as part of the lease signed with the tenant and the contract signed with the PHA.

Housing Authority's Obligations:

The PHA issues a housing voucher to an eligible family, approves the housing unit, and enters into a Housing Assistance Payment Contract with the landlord to provide housing assistance payments on behalf of the family. If the landlord fails to meet the owner's obligations under the lease and contract, the PHA has the right to terminate assistance payments. The PHA must reexamine the family's income and composition at least annually and must inspect the unit at least annually to ensure that it meets minimum housing quality standards.

HUD's Role:

To cover the cost of the program, HUD provides funds to allow the PHA to make housing assistance payments on behalf of the families. HUD also pays the PHA a fee for the costs of administering the program. HUD monitors the PHA administration of the program to ensure program rules are properly followed.

What regulations cover this program?

Regulations are found in 24 CFR Part 982