Public Benefits: Housing Choice Vouchers and Public Housing
Authored By: Montana Legal Services Association (MLSA)
What is Public Housing?
Public Housing is referred to as a complex of "units" (usually apartments) that is publicly owned. Public Housing complexes are managed by a local Housing Authority specifically for low-income families and individuals. Because of the shortage of Public Housing, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) created the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program.
What is the HCV Program?
The HCV program, formerly known as the Section 8 program, provides low-income households with a voucher that allows you to choose and lease privately owned rental housing. The HCV is paid directly to your landlord. The amount of rent that you pay is based on your household income.
What is the difference between Public Housing and Housing Choice Vouchers?
Public Housing is a complex that is operated by a local Housing Authority. Public Housing rent is usually less than the HCV program, and the waiting list is usually shorter.
The HCV program is a separate waiting list than public housing. The local Housing Authority will determine how much you will pay in rent, and the HCV will cover the remaining cost.
You can be on both waiting lists at the same time.
Who is eligible for these programs?
To be eligible for Public Housing your household income must be at or below 80% of your county's Average Median Income (AMI). To be eligible for the HCV program, your household income must be at or below 50% of your county's AMI. For example, in 2004, Lewis and Clark County's AMI for a family of four was $55,000. This means that a family of four's income in Lewis and Clark County must fall below $44,000 to qualify for Public Housing and below $27,500 to qualify for the Housing Choice Voucher program.
If you meet the income guidelines and you pay more than 30% of your income for rent you should apply for Public Housing benefits as you may be eligible.
How do I apply?
To apply, you must go to your local Housing Authority and fill out an application. To find your local Housing Authority or if you have questions related to the HCV program or Public Housing, call the Public and Indian Housing Resource Center at 1-800-955-2232.
What happens after I am selected?
If you are selected for the HCV program, you will be required to find a house or apartment that meets rent standards and livability standards. You must also confirm that your landlord accepts Housing Choice Vouchers. If you are selected for Public Housing, you will be offered a unit in an existing Public Housing complex.
If you are selected for the HCV program, you must search for a housing unit that meets HUD rent and livability standards.
What do I do if I've been discriminated against?
Federal law prohibits housing discrimination based on your race, color, national origin, religion, sex, family status, or disability. If you have been trying to buy or rent a home or apartment and you believe your rights have been violated, you can file a fair housing complaint. If HUD finds that you have been discriminated against, the case will be brought to an administrative hearing, at no cost to you.
How to file a complaint:
Call Montana's Fair Housing Hub:
If my application for Public Housing or Housing Choice Vouchers is denied, can I ask for a fair hearing?
Yes. If you feel that your local Housing Authority denied you housing for any reason you do not agree with, you have the right to ask for a fair hearing.
Many options to avoid a fair hearing are available to you. It is advised that you pursue these options before you request a fair hearing. To find out more about fair hearings and other options to avoid a fair hearing, see Montana Legal Services Association's pamphlet on Resolving Disputes About Your Public Benefits."
What will my rent be if I live in Public Housing or receive Housing Choice Vouchers?
There are three ways to determine your monthly rent. You will be required to pay the highest of:
- 30% of your monthly adjusted income (income after taxes and other deductions)
- 10% of your monthly gross income
- Up to $50 (Housing Authorities can request a minimum rent of up to $50 regardless of income)
- Your local Housing Authority will create a contract with you telling you what you will owe in rent.
What if my landlord refuses to keep my house in livable condition?
Hundreds of landlords have been fined and/or stopped from doing business with the federal government as a result of failing to provide safe and decent housing for the poor.
If this is happening to you, call 1-800-685-8470.
What other housing programs does Montana have, besides Public Housing and Housing Choice Vouchers?
To find out, visit the Montana Department of Housing Web site to explore some other housing options at: http://housing.mt.gov, or call the Public and Indian Housing Resource Center at 1-800-955-2232.
Call the MLSA HelpLine for legal assistance:
(800) 666-6899, Monday - Friday, 9am to 1pm.