Millions of people experience housing insecurity. Unfortunately, it can be hard to avoid with housing being such a large expense. Affordable housing is hard to come by. People who don’t make a lot of income can have trouble finding a place to live that they can afford. If you find yourself struggling, you may be wondering what you can do to reduce your housing costs. Fortunately, we have a few tips for you!
The First Step: Know What You Are Able to Afford
When it comes to affordable housing, many people just don’t know where to start. A good starting point is to determine a budget that makes sense for you. This means that you need to understand how much income you bring in each month. Then you can decide what is a reasonable percentage to spend on expenses like rent and other housing utilities. Households that spend too much of their income on housing can find themselves in hot water. Becoming cost-burdened can result in a household having little money to spend on other important expenses.
When it comes to deciding on your budget, you might be wondering how you can determine how much to spend. The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) determines a general guideline for you to follow. As a general rule, it’s considered wise not to spend more than 30% of your gross income on housing expenses.
Step Two: Research Different Affordable Housing Assistance Programs
When it comes to affordable housing, there are three routes you can consider. Of the various housing support opportunities each of these programs provide assistance in a unique ways:
Public Housing is a very well-known program. Despite its popularity, people who have heard of this housing assistance option may not know exactly how it works. Recipients of public housing pay a rent that they can afford based on their income, to local housing agencies (HAs). The housing agencies are essentially the landlords in charge of public housing units. Therefore, recipients enter into a lease agreement with their local housing office. It’s common to assume that public housing units are limited to apartment buildings. However, units come in a variety of home styles, even single-family homes!
Public Housing is federally funded and provided by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). If you want more information on this assistance option, you can reach out to your local agency or even the HUD Field Office. Potential applicants should also go through their housing agency. When it comes to being eligible to benefit from public housing, the following factors are considered:
- Annual Gross Income
- Household Status
- Citizenship Status
When it comes to references, it is best to have a positive rental history! Otherwise, the housing authority may choose to deny an applicant. The program wants to ensure that recipients are acceptable tenants.
Housing Choice Voucher Program
The Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program is also funded by HUD. However, similar to the previous program, it is locally administered and managed. Both applicants and recipients of this program can expect to deal with their local Public Housing Authority (PHA). The HCV program helps qualifying families and individuals gain access to safe housing. However, the assistance looks a bit different than it does with Public Housing. Recipients of the HCV program are responsible for finding their own rental unit on the private market. Once a recipient finds a property to live in, the program applies their voucher directly to their rent.
There is often a difference between the actual rent amount and what the voucher covers. In this case, the recipient needs to pay the rest. However, the voucher is effective in reducing what the recipient is spending on housing expenses each month! Not only that, HCV recipients may also be able to use their voucher towards mortgage payments as well.
HCV recipients may run into some obstacles when finding a rental unit to live in. First, the rental property must pass any inspections done by the PHA administering the voucher. Second, the landlord of the property must accept the vouchers. For these reasons, not every property is acceptable. Therefore, properties that fit the program are in short supply. The good news is that single-family homes, apartments, and townhomes are all accepted types of rentals!
Anyone who wants to benefit from this program should contact their local PHA to get started with the application process. It is best to get started sooner rather than later. This is because affordable housing is hard to come by these days. Approved applicants should not expect assistance right away. There is typically a waiting period before receiving benefits.
How is Eligibility Determined?
If you are interested in applying to the HCV program, you should go through your local PHA. Additionally, you can also reach out to the nearest HUD office. When it comes to eligibility, income level is a major factor that is considered. This is because the program wants to help families that cannot otherwise access safe and affordable housing. For this reason, households that make over 50% of their area’s median income (AMI) do not typically qualify. Other than income, there are other aspects that are considered by the PHAs. In fact, you can expect that the following four categories will come up on your application:
- Status of Citizenship or Immigration Status
- Number of Members in the Household
- Rental History
- Amount of Income
Although both Public Housing and the Housing Choice Voucher program are very effective programs, the entire process can take time. Some people don’t have that kind of time and need help fast. This may apply to people who are at high risk of experiencing homelessness or are already displaced. Fortunately, there are different types of immediate support that provide both long-term and short-term solutions to people in need. The different support housing programs we are covering in this article include:
- Transitional Shelters
- Rapid Re-Housing (RRH)
- Emergency Shelters
- Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH)
This supportive housing program provides a longer-term solution for people experiencing homelessness. Not only that, these shelters offer other helpful services to people in need. Individuals can usually expect to stay in a transitional shelter for as little as six months or as long as 24 months. However, how long someone needs support depends on their unique situation.
Rapid Re-Housing (RRH)
This housing support option helps individuals that do not experience homelessness chronically. This refers to individuals who may not have dealt with homelessness before or are usually housed. This program helps people by offering helpful community services temporarily. They also help people find their own apartment to live in. RRH is a “housing first solution” that helps individuals regain their independence in order to find permanent housing.
These types of shelters are great for providing a short-term solution to people experiencing homelessness. How long people are able to spend in an emergency shelter is different depending on which shelter it is. There are many reasons someone may need to seek help from an emergency shelter. Regardless, shelters are there to help by not only offering a place to stay but also providing additional support to get people back on their feet. This includes helping people secure a long-term housing solution.
Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH)
This housing support option is tailored towards people who are chronically dealing with homelessness. Individuals that fall under this category match certain circumstances. The HUD determines that someone chronically experiencing homelessness relates to one of the following:
- Lived in an emergency shelter for at least one year (or four separate times, totaling one year, over the course of three years)
- Has lived in a Safe Haven center for at least one year (or four separate times, totaling one year, over the course of three years)
- Lived in a place that is not meant to be inhabited by people for at least one year (or four separate times, totaling one year, over the course of three years)
- Checked into an institutional care facility for no longer than 90 days (only after having lived in any of the places listed above)
PSH aims to offer immediate support to people in need. This program is also a “housing first solution” and therefore focuses on rehabilitation of the individual in need. Furthermore, this support option can provide both short-term and long-term support.
Step Three: Pick the Right Program for You
Now that you’re more familiar with a few of the options that are out there, you may be wondering where you can learn more. There are a variety of resources, both online and at government offices, that can offer you more information. Knowing which program you’re interested in can only take you so far. You have to actually apply in order to receive the assistance you need. Helpful resources that you can turn to include:
- The Public Housing Authority (PHA) in Your State
This website is where you can find information about almost every government program that is out there. Not only that, but the site provides contact information for certain programs, as well as advice on where you can apply for benefits. Benefits.gov has a few different ways that users can browse and research programs.
For people who are just getting started and don’t have a specific program in mind, Benefit Finder can help. This search engine is one of the tools that Benefits.gov provides its visitors. Users simply offer specifics about themselves and their current circumstances, and the search engine offers programs relevant to them.
If you do not want to input your information, another option is to search for programs by government agency or category. However, in order to do this, you have to be familiar with what government agencies and types of programs are out there. Overall, this website is helpful if you’re wanting to browse different options you may have and do your own research.
This website commonly helps families and individuals that are reaching out for help with affordable housing. However, people in need of other types of assistance can utilize this website too. Basically, the website provides users with a tool to find information about resources provided locally. In order to connect you with the right support, the website needs some personal details about what you’re dealing with.
This website has proven to be effective in helping people find housing support. As a matter of fact, 211.org has connected 4.3 million people with housing assistance programs. Millions of people who were at risk of experiencing housing insecurity or homelessness were able to get help with their situation. Users can get connected with different opportunities that can help with a variety of housing expenses.
The Public Housing Authority (PHA) in Your State
Public housing authorities are government offices set up by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). These offices are responsible for administering and managing various federal housing programs. Your PHA can guide you towards the best program for you. In addition to that, they can help you with your application. After all, applications for any HUD program have to go through them! When it comes to getting the best and most up-to-date information about these programs, your PHA is the best place to turn. Consulting with an agent of your PHA is completely free!
When it comes to dealing with housing expenses, many households can find themselves struggling. Housing expenses don’t only include rent! Rent is already a major expense. Then when you add smaller bills, like utilities, everything adds up. When it comes to determining how much housing you can afford, you want to ensure you understand your budget. Your personal budget should be based on your household’s income. Once you know how much you make, you can decide how much you can reasonably afford in housing expenses. According to the HUD, households that spend too much on housing expenses may find themselves cost-burdened.
Households that need help with their housing expenses can turn to a variety of housing support options that HUD provides.
Applying to one of these programs can take time. Even approved applications need to wait until it’s their turn to receive assistance. People who need immediate support can turn to supportive housing options. If you would like to benefit from any housing assistance, you can start by contacting your PHA. If you’re curious about any other programs or want to do your research, visit Benefits.gov or 211.org. You may be surprised at what you can find out!