To live in public or subsidized housing, you must be “eligible.” What eligible means varies depending on the programs they provide. In general, when a housing authority, regional non-profit agency or subsidized landlord reviews applications, they consider two things: your income and information about your background and prior tenancies.
All government housing programs have income guidelines that will tell you the maximum amount of income you can have to qualify for a program. These guidelines are based on the median (normal) income in the area where you are applying for housing, and may change every year. For specific information about median income guidelines, as the agency or landlord where you apply for housing what their income guidelines are. Local housing authorities, regional non-profit agencies, and subsidized landlords must post these guidelines in their offices.
If you have a disability, you must show that you have a disability. You can do this by showing either that you receive SSI or SSDI or that you have a long-term physical, mental, or emotional impairment that affects your ability to live on your own. If you do not qualify for SSI or SSDI, you will probably need, at the minimum, a doctor’s letter to prove your disability.
When a tenant applies for public or multifamily subsidized housing, a housing authority, regional non-profit, or subsidized landlord can consider whether the person will make a “good tenant.” In doing so, it may collect information about a tenant’s past rent payment history, landlord references and credit reports. While housing authorities may obtain a persons criminal record, the law does not allow subsidized landlords to do so. Also, a housing authority or subsidized landlord cannot consider a person’s immigration status in making a decision about eligibility.
Even though information that a landlord or housing authority collects may seem negative, it may not be grounds to disqualify you from receiving assistance.
When you apply for any government-funded housing program, you must verify your income and other information on you application. Many times, housing authorities and subsidized landlords require an endless stream of information. Regulations say, however, that a housing authority can only ask a person to provide documents that are “reasonably obtainable” (can get a hold of easily).
Sometimes a housing authority, non-profit agency or subsidized landlord may tell you that your assistance has been denied because you failed to verify certain information. You need to ask them exactly what they mean. Do they mean you are not eligible? Or do they mean that you do not have the right paperwork to document you qualifications? Knowing this information will help you challenge any decision denying you assistance.
Priority Categories for Housing
State Public Housing Preferences:
The following are among the persons given preference for public housing units:
· Persons who are homeless due to natural disasters
· Persons who are homeless due to public action
· Persons with emergency needs (such as domestic violence victims, persons with medical emergencies, or homeless persons facing an immediate threat to their health and safety)
· There are also preferences for veterans and local residents.
· For more details, consult a local housing authority.
Other possible housing preferences:
· You are living in a dilapidated or substandard apartment
· You are apartment or building is unsafe
· You are apartment has been condemned
· You are living in a shelter or on the streets
· You are living in an institution and have been asked to move out
· You were displaced from your apartment by a fire or flood
· You were displaced from your apartment by an action of the owner such as turning the unit into a condominium
· You are paying 50% or more of your their income towards your rent plus utilities
· You were displaced from your apartment by domestic violence
· You were displaced from your apartment by a hate crime
· You have a mobility impairment and are living in an inaccessible unit
· You are a veteran or an immediate family member of a veteran
Not every Housing Agency or private development provides a preference or priority for all of these situations, but many do. State-funded and federally funded housing programs will have different priorities and preferences. Also, some housing authorities or private developments will place the priorities in a different order of importance. Many housing developments and programs grade their priority status categories beginning with Priority 1, which is the highest; then Priority 2, Priority 3, down to the last and lowest category.
Applicant’s names are placed on the waiting list in chronological order within each priority status category. If more than one priority category applies to you, then your name is placed in the higher priority category. People who do not qualify for priority status are placed in the bottom section of the list in chronological order.
Please keep in mind that being eligible for subsidized housing by documenting your priority status and placing your name on a waiting list is not the same as getting the housing. There is always a waiting period before a unit is available.
To secure that your name is kept on waiting lists, you should immediately respond to any correspondence from all places where you’ve applied, and inform them of any changes in your address or telephone.
Unfortunately, there is usually no immediate affordable, accessible and available housing. The most persistent applicant will eventually get housing.
This information is taken from the book “Legal Tactics, Finding Public & Subsidized Housing” produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute. For more detailed information regarding public or subsidized housing eligibility, ILCNSCA recommends viewing the full version of “Legal Tactics, Finding Public & Subsidized Housing”, available at: http://www.masslegalhelp.org/housing/finding-housing-booklets