Section 8 and Other Government Housing Programs


The federal government provides a variety of housing assistance programs for both renters and homeowners. Each year, more than $50 billion of the federal budget is designated for housing programs that help low-income families and individuals.

Housing programs are provided by several government agencies, including the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and others.

Section 8 and Public Housing

The Section 8 program provides two types of rental subsidies. First, a housing choice voucher (HCV) allows an applicant to get help paying rent at any approved unit on the private market, such as a home, apartment or duplex. HCV assistance stays with the tenant and allows him or her to move somewhere else without losing assistance.

Second, project-based vouchers provide subsidies for specific homes, apartments or other housing units owned by private landlords. Tenants who move into these units can pay lower rent because the government is providing a subsidy to the landlord. Project-based vouchers stay with the unit, meaning that tenants cannot move somewhere else and keep receiving a subsidized rent.

Public housing is a similar type of program. Unlike the subsidized housing programs above, public housing includes units and buildings that are owned by the state, rather than being owned by private landlords. Public housing units also have subsidized rents that are more affordable for low-income tenants.

Keep in mind that if you qualify for one of these programs, your rental assistance will only cover a portion of your housing expenses. In most cases, you still need to pay about 30 percent of your income on rent.

Low-Income Housing Tax Credits

The Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program indirectly helps low-income families afford their rent. Under this program, investors and developers receive tax incentives for building affordable housing units.

Once a developer builds a housing complex, some or all of the units are rented out below market value. To live in one of these units, you must meet income restrictions. It is sometimes possible to live in an LIHTC property while also using a housing choice voucher to receive even more savings on rent.

Home-Buying Assistance

If you are in the market for a new home, several government resources may make your goals more achievable. First, a Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loan may be an option if you cannot afford a down payment, or if you have less-than-perfect credit and are having trouble getting approved for a mortgage on your own. FHA loans are not usually financed by the government directly. Instead, the FHA insures, or “guarantees,” a mortgage through an approved private lender.

HUD can also help you find an affordable home to buy. On the HUD home online store, you can browse through a variety of properties that were once financed with an FHA loan but went into foreclosure. HUD homes tend to be listed at lower prices compared to properties sold by private individuals.

Did you know? If you are a teacher, firefighter or emergency medical technician (EMT), you might be eligible to buy a HUD home for a 50 percent price reduction through the Good Neighbor Next Door (GNND) program.

Homeownership Options for Voucher-Holders

If you have an HCV or live in public housing, you may be able to qualify for special homebuyer programs. First, you might be eligible to use your rental assistance for the purchase of a modest home and apply your assistance payments towards your monthly expenses. To qualify for a homeownership voucher, you first need to work with a public housing authority (PHA) that offers this option.

Second, PHAs are allowed to make public housing units available for purchase. If you live in public housing now, you may be allowed to purchase your unit if you use it as your primary residence.

Resources for Avoiding Foreclosure

HUD provides a variety of programs for homeowners facing foreclosure. Some of these services allow owners to refinance their mortgage to make it more affordable, while others simply modify an existing loan. Programs include the following:

  • Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP): Lowers your mortgage payment so that it does not exceed 31 percent of your pre-tax income.
  • Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP): Allows you to refinance your home if the value has declined and you are ineligible for a traditional refinancing option.
  • Home Affordable Unemployment Program (UP): Temporarily reduces or suspends your mortgage payments if you are unemployed and cannot pay your expenses while you look for work.
  • HUD housing counseling: Allows you to receive free help from a HUD-approved housing counselor when you are facing a foreclosure.