If you have a felony and are currently looking for a place to live that you can afford, you should consider applying for a low income housing voucher from Section 8.
This is a federally funded rental assistance and housing program that exists in every state. It allows eligible individuals and families to rent an apartment from a participating landlord at a heavily discounted rated of about 60-70%
There are very strict federal and state eligibility guidelines, so many people with a criminal record get turned down.
Still, while it is by no means easy to get a Section 8 voucher, it can be one of the best long-term solutions to your housing needs.
Here is what you need to know about eligibility, application process, wait time and how the program works.
Can a felon be eligible for subsidized housing?
According to Federal Regulations there are two felonies that automatically disqualify you from federally funded low income and subsidized housing programs. If you have one of these, you should NOT bother applying.
1. You have a lifetime registration on the sex offender registry
2. You have been convicted of the manufacture or production of methamphetamine (meth) in federally assisted housing.
Note, these two rules would apply to any member of your household on your application, and would disqualify you all as a family.
In addition to the federal regulations, each state has its own set of eligibility criteria that may disqualify some felons from applying. Since the 1990’s many state and county Housing Authorities have adapted very strict eligibility guidelines in order to keep crime rates down within low income housing. As a result, these new regulations may make it more difficult for some felons to qualify for the program.
These are some common guidelines:
– Your felony should be older than 5 years. Some places, like San Francisco Housing Authority have a 10 year requirement.
In some cases, your application may be accepted before the five year period if you have gone through a rehabilitation program and have a certificate of compliance.
– You may be disqualified in the following situations:
You have been convicted of certain violent crimes, certain types of fraud, drug trafficking. (If you have such a conviction, you need to call your local Housing Authority and ask if you should apply).
You or a household member on the application has a documented history of drug and/or alcohol abuse.
There is a personal or family history of poor relationships with neighbors in your previous living arrangements. This can be fighting, bullying, verbal assaults, disturbance of peace, etc.
History of defaulting on your rent payments. Its important to note, that if you have always made at least 50% of your rent, but just were not financially able to pay in full, this situation will NOT be counted against you.
We strongly recommend that you either go to your local Housing Authority or call them, to find out what the eligibility criteria are in your area before you start filling out the paperwork.
How to apply for housing
You should apply to as many local Housing Authorities as possible. You may find that some local Section 8 waiting lists have been closed and are no longer accepting applications. You should always ask when the list will reopen again and check back to apply at that time.
When you apply as a felon, there will be a lot of paperwork involved and a number of different documents required from you.
First and most important, there will be a formal criminal background check. Thus, there is no point in trying to apply and lie on the application about your felony.
Here is a list of documents you will need to put together in order to apply (this list may be slightly different depending on the program. Always looks for specific guidelines on the HUD application).
-Standard Application (you can get it online on the website for your state’s Housing Authority, or at a local HUD office).
– Proof of citizenship/legal status
– Birth certificates
– Social Security number
– Pay stubs (at least 3 months, but many places require 6 or more months of proof of income)
– Bank statements
– Criminal background check
– Credit Score Check
– Tax forms
– Statement from government agencies about benefits, such as welfare payments or food stamps
– Proof of current residence
– list of all places you lived in the past 5 years. Its very important NOT TO leave any gaps, even though it may be tempting to leave out a landlord that you may have had a bad relationship with. Any gaps you leave will still look bad and may potentially disqualify you.
It is very important to check the DEADLINE for the application and submit ON TIME!!! If you miss the deadline, the list will close and in many cases it does not reopen for at least 6-12 months.
Once you submit the application, you will need to go to a personal interview with a representative from the Housing Authority. This is your chance to state your case, and convince the official that you will be an exemplary tenant and will not cause any disturbance. It is also a good idea to mention that you have a felony and to talk about the steps you have taken to be a productive citizen.
The Housing Authority may also decide to call your previous landlords to get a sense of how you were as a tenant. It would be great if you could provide references of landlords who would say good things about you.
For your records, be sure to make copies of the application and of all the documents you have submitted. It is also helpful to start a log where you keep track of when and where you have applied, any follow up phone calls, etc. Being organized will help you a great deal in this process, because often times agencies loose paperwork, and will require you to produce what they need fast.
Who has priority?
If you will be found eligible, there are a number of situations that will push your application to the top. Your wait time can be reduced to as little as a couple of months.
You may get priority if:
1. You are currently living in a shelter or on the streets
2. Have a serious medical emergency
3. Your current apartment is condemned
4. You pay more than 50% of your income for rent
6. You are facing domestic violence
7. You are being evicted through no fault of your own
8. You are a local resident
How long do you have to wait for the voucher?
Typically, any type of subsidized housing is EXTREMELY popular and the wait can be very long. This is especially true in large cities across the US. In these areas, wait time can be as long as 2-4 years. In less competitive areas you can expect to wait 6-12 months.
When you are on the wait list, it is important to check in once in 2-3 months to make sure that you are on the active list and that your place in line is moving.
If you live in an area where the wait time is very long, but you can move to a less competitive location, it may be a good idea to do so. Applying in smaller towns may significantly reduce your wait time. Of course, this has to be balanced with your job and family obligations, and making a move may not always be an easy thing to do.
Who can help with housing search and application?
If you feel that searching for an applying for Section 8 is too hard and confusing, there are a few places to seek help.
First, there are local Housing Search Agencies and Community Action Programs (CAPs), where workers will help you start the search for the right housing programs, and can assist with filling out the application.
You can also try a local Housing Consumer Education Center (HCEC), as they too provide search and application assistance.
Finally, if you have a family with children and are already homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, you should contact your local Department of Transitional Assistance office (DTA). They can help you search for housing and get priority status.
How does a Section 8 voucher work?
Once you receive your voucher, you can start looking for a private apartment where a landlord is participating is the Section 8 program.
It is important to realize that you will also need to go through the interview with the landlord before they will agree to sign the lease with you. All landlords conduct their own criminal background checks and call references. Be prepared that a landlord may turn you down because of your felony. When you interview with landlords, be honest about your past and discuss how you have changed. Be sure to have great references.
With the voucher, you will be paying 30% of your monthly gross income for rent. The rest is covered by the government and paid out directly to the landlord.
You will need to sign a 12 month lease with this landlord.
Once you leave a rental, you don’t loose your voucher, you will be able to use it again at your next place of residence.