What is subsidized housing? For people with low to moderate incomes, subsidized housing can alleviate housing costs and help keep a roof over their head. The U.S. government has a number of housing programs to assist people of limited economic means find an affordable place to live. These programs are usually administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
What is subsidized housing?
Government-subsidized housing in the U.S. began during the Great Depression, and has been overseen by HUD since 1965, when the department was created. The two most common forms of subsidized housing are Section 8 housing choice vouchers and public housing complexes.
Section 8 housing choice vouchers
Section 8 vouchers are specifically for the elderly, the disabled, and those who qualify as low income. Approximately 3.3 million households are currently receiving this type of assistance.
So how do these vouchers work? Tenants who receive Section 8 housing choice vouchers are responsible for paying 30% of their gross income directly to the landlord for their share of the rent. But through housing choice vouchers sent to the landlord on behalf of the tenant, the federal government will subsidize rent costs that exceed 30% of the family’s gross annual income.
It’s up to the owner of a rental property to decide whether or not to accept Section 8 housing vouchers. As an incentive to building owners, federal and local governments often give tax breaks and/or zoning allowances to landlords who provide subsidized housing.
Still, there are not nearly enough resources to accommodate all those who apply for Section 8 vouchers, and waiting lists can be yearslong.
Public housing complexes
Another form of subsidized housing in the U.S. is public, nonprofit, cooperative housing complexes, which are offered to low-income families, the elderly, and disabled at prices well below the market rate. Official public housing complexes are owned and managed by federal, state, and city governments, with assistance and support from HUD. About 1.2 million U.S. households currently live in public housing complexes.
Government-owned public housing complexes used to be commonly known as “the projects,” but that term has taken on negative connotations. Government mismanagement, concentration of poverty, and Congress’ failure to provide sufficient funding all contributed to these blocks of apartments getting poor reputations.
Many of the original public housing complexes have been torn down and replaced with mixed-use communities, constructed in cooperation with private partners. Government-sponsored assistance like HUD’s HOPE VI Program and the Rental Assistance Demonstration program help eligible public housing properties become redeveloped in conjunction with private developers and investors.
How to find subsidized housing
If it’s Section 8 subsidized housing you’re looking for, the best place to start is HUD.gov. There you can get more information about the program and find out if you’re eligible for the program. Once you qualify, HUD can help you find buildings in your area that accept vouchers. They can also help you get on waiting lists in case an apartment opens up.
It also doesn’t hurt to be proactive; if you see an apartment building being constructed in your area, ask the builders if any of the units will be subsidized.
To find public housing complexes, get in contact with your local public housing authority, which is charged with providing homes of all shapes and sizes to those who qualify. There are approximately 3,300 Public Housing Authorities in the U.S., and you can find the one closest to you on the HUD website.