Public Housing & Section 8: Understanding Your Housing Program Options

Oct 23, 2023

What is Public Housing?

Public housing refers to an affordable housing program that places people and families in housing owned by the government. The program is run by public housing authorities (PHAs).

Generally, rent for public housing is extremely low, so that families can pay the full amount. Rent is calculated based on total gross income, and extra discounts may be factored in. Public housing programs tend to prioritize families with children, the elderly, and people with disabilities.

What is Section 8?

Like public housing, Section 8 is an affordable housing program managed by PHAs. However, Section 8 housing is owned by private landlords, not the government. Families pay a percentage of the rent themselves, based on their monthly adjusted income, and the balance is paid by a voucher. Eligibility for Section 8 housing is determined by the family’s annual household income related to area median income (AMI), with some adjustments made for the size and makeup of the family.

Similarities Between Public Housing & Section 8

While Section 8 and public housing are different programs, they share a few key similarities regarding their goals, governance, and requirements.

Overseen by HUD

Both public housing and Section 8 housing are funded and overseen by the U.S. Department of

Housing and Urban Development (HUD). On a local level, both programs are managed and funding is distributed by PHAs. Additionally, both Section 8 and public housing use the same income tiers, determined by HUD, as a baseline for making decisions about eligibility and calculating dollar amounts for rent and vouchers.

Similar Safety and Sanitary Standards

Both Section 8 housing and public housing are subjected to intense inspection every year to ensure that they meet the safety and sanitation requirements of HUD. Some of these requirements include:

  • Sufficient building upkeep.
  • Enough bedrooms for the family. Inspectors use a prescribed formula to calculate the minimum number of bedrooms required based on the size and composition of the family.
  • Adequate space for sanitary food prep.
  • Private, functioning bathrooms.
  • Doors and windows that lock securely.
  • Functional heating.
  • No pests.

While some of these requirements are nonnegotiable, tenants may be allowed to accept suboptimal conditions in some cases.

Same Goal of Helping People

Public housing and Section 8 were created with a shared goal: To provide safe housing for people in need or people facing extra obstacles to financial security. These programs focus on low-income individuals and families, families with children, people with disabilities, and the elderly.

Differences Between Housing Programs

There are several significant differences between public housing and Section 8.

Public Housing

Public rental housing is owned entirely by government entities. Because there is generally less public housing than Section 8 housing in most areas, families in the public housing program have somewhat limited options and may not be able to move wherever they want. However, public housing does offer families the option to purchase their housing in the future, which offers a promising path to homeownership for those for whom the traditional housing market is inaccessible.

Section 8

Families in the Section 8 program can only rent from landlords that accept Section 8 vouchers. However, because Section 8 vouchers aren’t tied to any one property, these families are free to relocate to another location that accepts Section 8.

There is more Section 8 housing available than public housing, which allows for freedom of choice. But individuals and families in the Section 8 program do not have the option of purchasing their Section 8 living quarters. Those looking to purchase a home will need to look outside the program.

Housing Program Options From PMHA

The Portage Metropolitan Housing Authority (PMHA) is proud to connect individuals and families to affordable housing programs throughout Portage County. We help people navigate Section 8, public housing, and homeownership programs, so they can understand their options. We also work with special populations, such as veterans, foster care youth, the elderly, and the disabled, providing the resources and guidance they need to find safe, secure housing.

If you are in need of guidance or support as you seek to secure affordable housing, talk to a member of our team. We’ll answer all your questions and get you the help you need to navigate the systems and find a place to call home.

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