Programs That Help to Pay for Apartments for Low-Income Families
Some programs help low-income families pay rent.
Federal and state agencies and independent nonprofits offer programs to help Bay Area low-income families pay their rent. Finding a program that fits your needs is the easy part; unfortunately, in the real-estate-crazed Bay Area, finding a qualifying vacant apartment is what’s tough.
HUD’s Affordable Choice Program in the Bay Area
The big dog in affordable housing programs is the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Affordable Choice program, an outgrowth of HUD’s original Section 8 program. In 2014 in Oakland alone, the program helped pay the rent for 7,000 low-income families and individuals.
But the program is endangered. Since 2014, about 1,600 Section 8 landlords in Oakland have left the program, primarily because the demand for Bay Area rental apartments means that landlords don’t need to go through the time-consuming Section 8 qualification process to find renters. Beyond that, they can often rent units to a market-rate tenant for more money than Section 8 allows. A similar problem exists all over the Bay Area and as far away as Petaluma. Consequently, every Bay Area Public Housing Authority has a long waiting list – a majority of them temporarily closed because the waiting list is filled.
How Affordable Choice Works
A prospective Affordable Choice tenant first confirms his or her eligibility by getting and filling out an application from the local Public Housing Authority. A list of Bay Area PHAs is included in the Resources section.
Filling out the online form determines your eligibility immediately. If you qualify, you then put your name on the PHA’s waiting list. Experienced Bay Area Section 8 participants recommend getting on multiple PHA lists. Even so, the wait usually takes months and can take years.
With Affordable Choice, each prospective tenant is free to negotiate directly with a prospective landlord. When tenant and landlord agree on the terms, the tenant notifies the PHA, which sends out an inspector to confirm the unit’s health and safety eligibility. The PHA then issues the tenant monthly vouchers that she uses to pay some portion of her rent.
Qualifying for Affordable Choice and Other Section 8 Programs
HUD’s income limits for all Section 8-related programs are the same. Qualifying applicants are grouped in one of three tiers based on need: low income, very low income and extremely low income. Each PHA sets these limits by first establishing the median income for that PHA’s area, then establishing the income limits for each tier as a percentage of that area’s median income. The limits also vary according to the number of persons in the household. For example, the 2017 AMI for the San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara HUD metro area is $113, 300. Adjusted for a family size of four, an annual income of no more than $84,750 qualifies applicants in the low-income tier. Annual income of $59,700 or less qualifies the applicants in the very low-income tier, and income of $35,800 or less qualifies applicants in the extremely low-income tier.
Although applicants qualifying in any tier are eligible for Affordable Choice, prospective tenants with the lowest incomes have priority. In the San Francisco HUD metro area, over 70 percent of Affordable Choice placements are for extremely low-income families. The Affordable Housing Online website lists over 24,000 affordable apartments, wait lists and wait-list alerts you can sign up for in California.
Affordable Choice apartments also have rental limits unique to each HUD metro area. In the San Francisco metro area, for example, the maximum allowable rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $1,298 per month, including utilities. You can obtain detailed information for your area through your local PHA.
Other Bay Area Affordable Housing Options
Most affordable housing apartments in the Bay Area are HUD-related, even those programs like Affordable Housing California, which is administered by local PHAs but supported by HUD and therefore uses the same qualifying income and rent limits. A few nongovernmental organizations like Mercy Housing, however, have their own affordable housing programs. Lists of properties that are currently accepting low-income rental applications are available on the Mercy Housing website. Contact the individual property manager to confirm eligibility requirements.
A comprehensive list of affordable apartment housing in California that includes all nongovernmental agencies and residence is available on Affordable Housing Online. The list includes both subsidized and nonsubsidized apartment rentals; the status of each property is indicated along with the range of rental costs for each nonsubsidized facility and contact information for each property.
About the Author
Patrick Gleeson received a doctorate in 18th century English literature at the University of Washington. He served as a professor of English at the University of Victoria and was head of freshman English at San Francisco State University. Gleeson is the director of technical publications for McClarie Group and manages an investment fund. He is a Registered Investment Advisor.