Public Housing vs. Section 8 vs. Affordable Housing

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Public Housing vs. Section 8 vs. Affordable Housing

Are you searching for affordable housing solutions? If so, you probably heard about Section 8 and public housing programs. Whether you're unfamiliar with them or simply curious to learn more, this article provides a thorough explanation of these programs' purposes, requirements, and differences.


Section 8 Housing: The government supports private landlords through a program that provides subsidies for their apartments. As a renter who participates in this program, you'll receive a voucher that you can show participating landlords when applying for housing. Also, these landlords offer discounted rent prices.

This rent is typically a small fraction of the regular rental price. The voucher covers the remaining portion of your rent. Your rent amount is determined based on your income and is usually no more than 30% of your earnings.

Learn more about Section 8 payment standards

Public Housing: This is another government-backed program that enables you to reside in buildings at a surprisingly low rent or sometimes for free. These rental accommodations are owned by government entities - not private landlords. Low-income families are especially encouraged to live here.

Affordable Housing: These are housing options that individuals with low incomes can afford, such as FHA and USDA mortgages.

Section 8 Housing Criteria

Residence status

You should be living in the Public Housing Authority (PHA) jurisdiction. This requires documents to prove your vicinity. You can submit an official mail or utility bill to confirm your address.

Income qualifications

The local housing authority considers your household size and yearly income. These primary factors will determine the suitable amount you should pay for rent. The housing agency will consider documented income from all earning members of the household.

Eviction history

The PHA will meet your old landlord to review your rent payment history, fulfillment of obligations, and so much more. And if your PHA finds out that you or any of your family members were evicted from a rental property in the last 3 years, you usually won't be accepted.

Family status

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recognizes households that meet certain criteria as families. These include households with multiple members, at least one of whom is over 62 years old, and households with at least one member with a verified disability.

Other recognized families include households that have been displaced from their current address and tenants who remain in a home after everyone else has moved elsewhere.

Criminal record

HUD is unlikely to accept a household or an individual who has been engaged in a criminal record in the last 5 years.

Anyone who was convicted of drug trafficking in social housing buildings along with registered sex offenders will not be accepted.


Eligible immigrants or US citizens need to submit their relevant documents. Most places ask to see a Social Security card, US passport, or Green Card during the application. Plus, you might have to sign up a declaration that all family members are American citizens.

In the case of children, a copy of their birth certificate is needed. And in the rare cases where no family member can show evidence of immigration or citizenship, it will be termed as a mixed family. However, the whole process and assistance would differ from normal procedures.


Proof of disability, like suitable medical documents, is required. Some places may also request evidence of Social Security disability compensation if it has been granted.

Learn more about applying for Section 8 Housing

Public Housing Criteria

Public Housing is made to help low-income people and families. The housing authority judges the eligibility of applicants based on the following factors:

  • Eligible immigration status or US citizenship
  • Disabled and elderly people
  • Low-income families
  • Yearly gross income

Eligible immigration or citizenship

Public housing is available exclusively to non-citizens with eligible immigration status, US nationals, and US citizens. At least one family member must belong to one of these categories to be eligible for assistance.

All applicant families need to submit proof of citizenship status during application. The people who choose not to contend their citizenship status are ineligible non-citizens. And for eligible non-citizens, nationals, and citizens, the declaration needs to be personally signed by the following parties:

  1. A guardian or parents of the minor
  2. The head and co-head
  3. A family member older than 18 years
  4. Spouse

If any family members choose not to contend their citizenship status, the family must identify that in writing.

As for US nationals and citizens, they are supposed to submit a signed declaration that proves their status. HUD rules allow the PHA to ask for extra documents, like passports.

Disabled and elderly people

The housing authority will determine if you and anyone in your family qualifies as elderly and/or a person with a disability.

Income limits

To streamline eligibility, certain income restrictions are put in place. If you're wondering whether you meet the criteria for low-income families, here are the details:

  • Extremely low-income families
       Families with a yearly income less than 30% of the standard income.
  • Very low-income families
       Families with a yearly income less than 50% of the standard income.
  • Low-income family
       Families with a yearly income less than 80% of the standard income.
  • HUD is also required to set income restrictions to determine eligibility for public housing. These restrictions are updated annually and are based on HUD's estimates of the median family income. The limits are used to determine eligibility at the time of admission.

    To ensure that public housing benefits those in greatest need, at least 40% of families from the waiting list who are given space during a fiscal year must be classified as extremely low-income. If the percentage of extremely low-income families exceeds 75% in a fiscal year, the excess will count towards meeting the program's basic targeting requirement.

    Affordable Housing Criteria

    Applying for affordable housing is straightforward. Low-income families with an income below 80% of the local AMI should apply for this program.

    However, here are some crucial factors you must be aware of:


    Previous or current rental collections, claims, and judgments with or without owed balances won’t be accepted.

    Rental history

    If you have any rental debts or outstanding payments, or if you've been involved in any legal disputes or claims related to renting in the past or present, your rental history may not be accepted. This includes any records of rent or damage payments, collections, judgments, or verifications.

    Criminal records search

    All household members aged 18 and older will undergo a criminal history search.


    Within six years of their application date, applicants must not have been charged with or convicted of committing any felonies that involved unlawful use or possession of weapons and destruction of real or personal property.

    Which Type of Housing Assistance Is Right For You?

    If you need immediate housing assistance and have low to mid-income, all of these government programs may provide affordable homes to meet your needs.

    Alan Reed

    Alan Reed

    Alan is a real estate investor based in Northeast Pennsylvania with experience renovating and operating everything from single-family rentals to strip malls and storage facilities.

    June 04, 2023 (Updated April 22, 2024)