Public and Subsidized Housing

What is the difference between public housing and subsidized housing?

Both public housing and subsidized housing provide decent and safe rental housing for eligible low-income families, the elderly, and persons with disabilities.  Public housing and subsidized housing come in many types: from single family houses to high-rise apartments.  A local Public Housing Authority (HA) directly manages public housing and sets the rent at an affordable amount.

For some subsidized housing, the tenant must obtain a voucher from the HA.  The tenant then searches for housing owned by a private landlord.  The HA directly subsidizes the rent the tenant pays to the landlord.  The HA also requires an inspection to ensure that the unit is decent and safe.

Another type of subsidized housing is site-based.  This is usually housing for the elderly or disabled.  Tenants do not need a voucher but must be eligible.

Who is eligible?

Public and subsidized housing are limited to low-income families and individuals.  The HA decides who is eligible based on:

  1. annual gross income (HAs use income limits set by HUD);
  2. whether you qualify as elderly, a person with a disability, or as a family; and
  3. U.S. citizenship or eligible immigration status.

If you are eligible, the HA will check your references to make sure you and your family will be good tenants.  HAs will deny admission to any applicant whose habits and practices may be expected to have a detrimental effect on other tenants or on the housing environment.  In general, the HA will look for the following: no unpaid debts owed to the housing authority; decent credit record; good rental history; no evictions; no record of disturbing neighbors; no record of destroying property; and no serious or recent criminal record.  If you have a bad record, be prepared to show how you would now be a good tenant.

How do I apply?

Apply at your local HA.  There is a written application to complete.  There may be a long waiting list for certain types of housing.  Apply well before you need to move in.

How does the application process work?

Be prepared to give information, such as:

  1. The name, birth date, gender and relationship to the head of household for each person who will be living in the unit;
  2. Your current address and telephone number;
  3. Family circumstances that might qualify the family for a preference, such as being a veteran, being homeless or living in substandard housing;
  4. Names and addresses of current and prior landlords.  The HA will seek information about your history as a tenant;
  5. An estimate of your family's anticipated income for the next twelve months and the sources of that income;
  6. The names and addresses of employers, banks, and any other information the HA needs to verify your income and deductions, and to verify the family composition; and
  7. The HA also may visit you in your home to interview you and your family to see how you manage the upkeep of your current home.

The HA representative should describe the public housing program and its requirements, and answer any questions you might have.

Will I need to produce any documentation?

Yes.  The HA representative will request whatever documents are needed (e.g., birth certificates, tax returns) to verify the information given on your application.  You will be asked to sign an authorization to release information to the HA.

How will I be notified?

The HA must provide you with a written notice.  If you are eligible, your name will be put on a waiting list, unless the HA is able to assist you immediately.  Once your name is reached on the waiting list, the HA will contact you. However, you should contact the HA every six months to indicate your continued interest and to up date them with any address or other contact information change.

What if I am denied?

If you are found ineligible, the HA must state why.  You can request an informal hearing.  You can present evidence that your situation has changed.  You can have witnesses who know your current situation.  You can have an attorney help you at the hearing.  If you have been denied, you have certain rights and remedies but you must request an informal hearing immediately.  This request must be in writing.

How is rent determined?

Rent, called the Total Tenant Payment (TTP), is based on your family's anticipated gross annual income minus deductions, if any.  The HA may allow certain deductions for each dependent, or disabled or elderly family member.

The formula used in determining the TTP is the highest of the following:

  1. 30 percent of the monthly adjusted income. (Monthly Adjusted Income is annual income less deductions allowed by the regulations);
  2. 10 percent of monthly income;
  3. welfare rent, if applicable; or
  4. a minimum rent up to $50 set by the HA.

What is the role of the HA?

An HA is responsible for the management and operation of its local public housing program.  An HA must (a) assure compliance with leases; (b) set other charges for security deposit, excess utility consumption, and damages to unit; (c) perform recertification of the family's income at least once every 12 months; (d) transfer families from one unit to another to correct over/under crowding, to repair or renovate a dwelling, or when a resident requests to be transferred; (e) terminate leases when necessary; and (f) maintain the development in a decent, safe, and sanitary condition.

How long can I stay in public housing?

In general, you may stay in public housing as long as you are eligible and comply with the lease.  If, at recertification your family's income is sufficient to obtain private housing, the HA may determine whether your family should stay in public housing.

This article is meant for your general information and not to give you specific legal advice.Prepared by Community Legal Aid Services, Inc. Updated June 2013. CE-61-F343-CLAS