Section 8 is part of a governmental program that offers low-income families vouchers to help with up to 70 percent of their rent and utility costs. But not everyone who qualifies for Section 8 housing vouchers gets them, since Section 8 isn't an entitlement benefit. The estimate is that just 25 percent of families that meet the technical qualifications for housing aid actually receive it, and the waiting lists are long. Recipients are picked from the waiting lists by monthly lottery [source: Chicago Housing Choice Voucher Program].
To even get onto a waiting list for rent assistance, you need to meet certain criteria. The exact requirements vary in different areas, but generally, the guideline for qualification is that your family takes in less than 50 percent of the median income in your region. The Department of Housing and Urban Development recalculates the median annually. Your house's income is calculated by adding all of the employed members of the family's earnings together. The fewer people in your household, the lower the income limit is set.
Income isn't the only factor that the Department of Housing and Urban Development takes into consideration. It also looks at whether you've taken advantage of certain options that are specific to your location, like if you have participated in a welfare-to-work program. Other factors that might help you qualify are if you're over 62; if you're a veteran, widow or widower; if you work more than 42 hours a week; if you're disabled; if you have U.S. citizenship or are a legal immigrant; if you live in a shelter; or if you have kids. The lowest income families take precedence over other low-income families; you're considered extremely low income if you make less than 30 percent of your area's median income.