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HUD Section 8 Rental Certificate Program

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) administers a number of programs to assist low-income families, older adults and individuals with special needs to secure safe and affordable housing. One of those programs is the Section 8 Rental Certificate Program. The Section 8 Rental Certificate program increases affordable housing choices for very low-income households by allowing families to choose privately owned rental housing. Families apply to a local public housing authority (PHA) or administering governmental agency for a Section 8 certificate. The PHA pays the landlord the difference between 30 percent of the household’s adjusted income and the unit’s rent.

The Section 8 certificate program issues certificates to income-qualified households. The PHA then pays the landlord the amount equal to the difference between the tenant portion of the rent (30 percent of adjusted income, 10 percent of gross income, or the portion of welfare assistance designated for housing ) and the contract rent, which must not exceed the HUD-established fair market rent for the area. HUD pays the PHA an administration fee to cover costs of running the program, including accepting and reviewing applications, recertifying eligibility, and inspecting the rental units.

Eligibility for a housing voucher is determined by the PHA based on the total annual gross income and family size and is limited to US citizens and specified categories of non-citizens who have eligible immigration status. In general, the family’s income may not exceed 50% of the median income for the county or metropolitan area in which the family chooses to live. By law, a PHA must provide 75 percent of its voucher to applicants whose incomes do not exceed 30 percent of the area median income. Median income levels are published by HUD and vary by location. The PHA serving your community can provide you with the income limits for your area and family size. PHAs use income limits developed by HUD. HUD sets the lower income limits at 80% and very low-income limits at 50% of the median income for the county or metropolitan area in which you choose to live. Income limits vary from area to area so you may be eligible at one PHA but not at another. The PHA serving your community can provide you with the income levels for your area and family size, or you can also find the income limits here on the internet. The income limit tool allows you to find the median family income in your area by selecting your State and County. For example, the median family income in Whitfield County, Georgia is $59,700. Therefore a Whitfield County family with very low income ranges from a single individual with income less than $20,100 (in 2021) to $37,900 for a family of 8. Low-income families in Whitfield County range from single individuals with income of less than $32,150 to a family of 8 with income less than $60,600 (in 2021). If the rental calculation is determined using the area’s fair market rent, the fair market rent values for Whitfield County (in 2021) are:

Whitfield County, GA ERAP Maximum FMRs By Unit Bedrooms
ZIP Code Efficiency One-Bedroom Two-Bedroom Three-Bedroom Four-Bedroom Two-Bedroom FMR Basis
30710 $540 $620 $753 $1,032 $1,180 FMR
30719 $531 $607 $753 $1,032 $1,037 FMR
30720 $540 $620 $770 $1,060 $1,060 SAFMR
30721 $531 $607 $753 $1,032 $1,037 FMR
30722 $531 $607 $753 $1,032 $1,037 FMR
30735 $531 $607 $753 $1,032 $1,037 FMR
30736 $610 $670 $810 $1,060 $1,260 SAFMR
30740 $580 $660 $820 $1,120 $1,180 SAFMR
30755 $580 $650 $800 $1,070 $1,180 SAFMR
30756 $531 $607 $753 $1,032 $1,037 FMR

When a family selects a housing unit, and the PHA approves the unit and lease, the family signs a lease with the landlord for at least one year. The tenant may be required to pay a security deposit to the landlord. After the first year the landlord may initiate a new lease or allow the family to remain in the unit on a month-to-month lease.

A family that is issued a housing voucher is responsible for finding a suitable housing unit of the family’s choice where the owner agrees to rent under the program. This unit may include the family’s present residence. Rental units must meet minimum standards of health and safety, as determined by the PHA.

When reviewing eligibility, HUD defines a family as either a single person or a group of persons and includes:

  • A household with or without children. A child who is temporarily away from home due to placement in foster care should be considered a member of the family.
  • An elderly family, which is defined as a family whose head, co-head, spouse, or sole member is at least 62 years of age; or two or more persons, each of whom are at least 62, living together; or one or more persons who are at least 62 living with one or more live-in aides.
  • A disabled family, which means a family whose head, co-head, spouse, or sole member is a person with disabilities; or two or more persons with disabilities; or one or more persons with disabilities with one or more live-in aides.
  • A displaced family, which is a family in which each member or the sole member is a person displaced by governmental action, or whose dwelling has been extensively damaged or destroyed as a result of a disaster declared or otherwise formally recognized by federal disaster relief laws.
  • A remaining member of a tenant family is a family member of an assisted tenant family who remains in the unit when other members of the family have left the unit.
  • A single person who is not an elderly or displaced person, or a person with disabilities, or the remaining member of a tenant family.

HUD establishes income limits by family size for the area in which the PHA is located. The income limits are published annually in a HUD Notice and are generally effective on the date of publication. The income limits are available on the Internet at at the “datasets” portal.

There are two income limits that are used to determine eligibility for the housing choice voucher program and a third that is used to ensure that the PHA has met its target for assisting the neediest families in the community.

The very low-income limit, which is set at 50 percent of the area median income, is the income limit generally used to determine initial program eligibility.

The low income-limit, set at 80 percent of the area median income, is used for families whose incomes fall above the very low-income limits but who are considered to be eligible for assistance because they are:

  • Continuously assisted under the public housing or Section 8 programs;
  • Non-purchasing households in the following homeownership programs: HOPE 1, HOPE 2, or other HUD-assisted multifamily home ownership programs covered under 24 CFR 284.173;
  • Displaced as a result of the prepayment of a mortgage or voluntary termination of a mortgage insurance contract.

Annual income means all amounts, monetary or not, that go to or are on behalf of, the family head or spouse (even if temporarily absent) or to any other family member, or all amounts anticipated to be received from a source outside the family during the 12-month period following admission or annual reexamination effective date.

The following is included when determining annual income:

  • The full amount, before any payroll deductions, of wages and salaries, overtime pay, commissions, fees, tips and bonuses, and other compensation for personal services;
  • The net income from operation of a business or profession. Expenditures for business expansion or amortization of capital indebtedness shall not be used as deductions in determining net income. An allowance for depreciation of assets used in a business or profession may be deducted, based on straight line depreciation, as provided in Internal Revenue Service regulations. Any withdrawal of cash or assets from the operation of a business or profession will be included in income, except to the extent the withdrawal is reimbursement of cash or assets invested in the operation by the family;
  • Interest, dividends, and other net income of any kind from real or personal property. Expenditures for amortization of capital indebtedness shall not be used as a deduction in determining net income. An allowance for depreciation is permitted only as authorized in paragraph (2) of this section. Any withdrawal of cash or assets from an investment will be included in income, except to the extent the withdrawal is reimbursement of cash or assets invested by the family. Where the family has net family assets in excess of $5,000, annual income shall include the greater of the actual income derived from net family assets or a percentage of the value of such assets based on the current passbook savings rate, as determined by HUD;
  • The full amount of periodic payments received from social security, annuities, insurance policies, retirement funds, pensions, lotteries, disability or death benefits, and other similar types of periodic receipts, including a lump-sum payment for the delayed start of a periodic payment (but see No. 13 under Income Exclusions);
  • Payments in lieu of earnings, such as unemployment, worker’s compensation, and severance pay (but see No. 3 under Income Exclusions);
  • Welfare Assistance.
    • Welfare assistance received by the household.
    • The amount of reduced welfare income that is disregarded specifically because the family engaged in fraud or failed to comply with an economic self-sufficiency or work activities requirement.
    • If the welfare assistance payment includes an amount specifically designated for shelter and utilities that is subject to adjustments by the welfare assistance agency in accordance with the actual cost of shelter and utilities, the amount of welfare income to be included as income shall consist of:
      • The amount of the allowance or grant exclusive of the amount specifically designated for shelter or utilities; plus
      • The maximum amount that the welfare assistance agency could in fact allow the family for shelter and utilities. If the family’s welfare assistance is ratably reduced from the standard of need by applying a percentage, the amount calculated under this paragraph shall be the amount resulting from one application of the percentage;
  • Periodic and determinable allowances, such as alimony and child support payments, and regular contributions or gifts received from persons not residing in the dwelling; and
  • All regular pay, special pay, and allowances of a member of the Armed Forces (whether or not living in the dwelling) who is head of the family, spouse, or other person whose dependents are residing in the unit (but see paragraph (7) under Income Exclusions).

The following is excluded when determining annual income:

  • Income from employment of children (including foster children) under the age of 18 years;
  • Payments received for the care of foster children or foster adults (usually individuals with disabilities, unrelated to the tenant family, who are unable to live alone);
  • Lump-sum additions to family assets, such as inheritances, insurance payments (including payments under health and accident insurance and worker’s compensation), capital gains, and settlement for personal or property losses (but see No. 5 under Income Inclusions);
  • Amounts received by the family that are specifically for, or in reimbursement of, the cost of medical expenses for any family member;
  • Income of a live-in aide (as defined by regulation);
  • The full amount of student financial assistance paid directly to the student or to the educational institution;
  • The special pay to a family member serving in the Armed Forces who is exposed to hostile fire;
  • Any
    • Amounts received under training programs funded by HUD;
    • Amounts received by a person with disabilities that are disregarded for a limited time for purposes of Supplemental Security Income eligibility and benefits because they are set aside for use under a Plan to Attain Self-Sufficiency (PASS);
    • Amounts received by a participant in other publicly assisted programs which are specifically for or in reimbursement of out-of-pocket expenses incurred (special equipment, clothing, transportation, child care, etc.) and which are made solely to allow participation in a specific program;
    • A resident service stipend. This is a modest amount (not to exceed $200 per month) received by a resident for performing a service for the owner, on a part-time basis, that enhances the quality of life in the development. This may include, but is not limited to fire patrol, hall monitoring, lawn maintenance, and resident initiatives coordination and serving as a member of the PHA’s governing board. No resident may receive more than one such stipend during the same period of time; or
    • Incremental earnings and benefits resulting to any family member from participation in qualifying state or local employment training programs (including training programs not affiliated with a local government) and training of a family member as resident management staff. Amounts excluded by this provision must be received under employment training programs with clearly defined goals and objectives, and are excluded only for the period during which the family member participates in the employment training program.
  • Temporary, nonrecurring, or sporadic income (including gifts). For example, amounts earned by temporary census employees whose terms of employment do not exceed 180 days (Notice PIH 2000-1).
  • Reparations payments paid by a foreign government pursuant to claims filed under the laws of that government by persons who were persecuted during the Nazi era;
  • Earnings in excess of $480 for each full-time student 18 years or older (excluding the head of household and spouse);
  • Adoption assistance payments in excess of $480 per adopted child;
  • Deferred periodic payments of supplemental security income and social security benefits that are received in a lump-sum payment or in prospective monthly payments;
  • Amounts received by the family in the form of refunds or rebates under state or local law for property taxes paid on the dwelling unit;
  • Amounts paid by a state agency to a family with a developmentally disabled family member living at home to offset the cost of services and equipment needed to keep the developmentally disabled family member at home; and
  • Amounts specifically excluded by any other federal statute from consideration as income for purposes of determining eligibility or benefits under a category of assistance programs that includes assistance under the 1937 Act. A notice will be published in the Federal Register and distributed to PHAs identifying the benefits that qualify for this exclusion. Updates will be distributed when necessary. The following is a list of income sources that qualify for that exclusion:
    • The value of the allotment provided to an eligible household under the Food Stamp Act of 1977 (7 U.S.C. 2017 (b));
    • Payments to Volunteers under the Domestic Volunteer Services Act of 1973 (42 U.S.C. 5044(g), 5058);
    • Payments received under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (43 U.S.C. 1626(c));
    • Income derived from certain sub-marginal land of the United States that is held in trust for certain Indian tribes (25 U.S.C. 459e);
    • Payments or allowances made under the Department of Health and Human Services’ Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (42 U.S.C. 8624(f));
    • Payments received under programs funded in whole or in part under the Job Training Partnership Act (29 U.S.C. 1552(b); (effective July 1, 2000, references to Job Training Partnership Act shall be deemed to refer to the corresponding provision of the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (29 U.S.C. 2931);
    • Income derived from the disposition of funds to the Grand River Band of Ottawa Indians (Pub.L- 94-540, 90 Stat. 2503-04);
    • The first $2000 of per capita shares received from judgment funds awarded by the Indian Claims Commission or the U. S. Claims Court, the interests of individual Indians in trust or restricted lands, including the first $2000 per year of income received by individual Indians from funds derived from interests held in such trust or restricted lands (25 U.S.C. 1407-1408);
    • Amounts of scholarships funded under title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965, including awards under federal work-study program or under the Bureau of Indian Affairs student assistance programs (20 U.S.C. 1087uu);
    • Payments received from programs funded under Title V of the Older Americans Act of 1985 (42 U.S.C. 3056(f));
    • Payments received on or after January 1, 1989, from the Agent Orange Settlement Fund or any other fund established pursuant to the settlement in In Re Agent-product liability litigation, M.D.L. No. 381 (E.D.N.Y.);
    • Payments received under the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act of 1980 (25 U.S.C. 1721);
    • The value of any child care provided or arranged (or any amount received as payment for such care or reimbursement for costs incurred for such care) under the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 1990 (42 U.S.C. 9858q);
    • Earned income tax credit (EITC) refund payments received on or after January 1, 1991 (26 U.S.C. 32(j));
    • Payments by the Indian Claims Commission to the Confederated Tribes and Bands of Yakima Indian Nation or the Apache Tribe of Mescalero Reservation (Pub. L. 95-433);
    • Allowances, earnings and payments to AmeriCorps participants under the National and Community Service Act of 1990 (42 U.S.C. 12637(d));
    • Any allowance paid under the provisions of 38 U.S.C. 1805 to a child suffering from spina bifida who is the child of a Vietnam veteran (38 U.S.C. 1805);
    • Any amount of crime victim compensation (under the Victims of Crime Act) received through crime victim assistance (or payment or reimbursement of the cost of such assistance) as determined under the Victims of Crime Act because of the commission of a crime against the applicant under the Victims of Crime Act (42 U.S.C. 10602); and
    • Allowances, earnings and payments to individuals participating in programs under the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (29 U.S.C. 2931).
  • Earned Income Disallowance for persons with disabilities [24 CFR 5.617]


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