Published at Saturday, February 16th, 2019 - 12:46:37 PM. House. By Alek Pulalo.
Everything You Need to Know About Section 8 Housing : For years, youve worked persistently for long hours yet your pay is just not enough to take care of your expenses. Health care, utilities and rising food prices are barely covered by your wage. Pretty soon, your take-home pay wont be able to keep up with your familys growing expenses. This distressing scenario plagues millions of American families today. Their salaries just cant be stretched enough to adequately provide for housing expenses. If you are a legal United States resident and dont earn enough money to cover rent or mortgage payments, you may want to consider applying for the federal governments Housing Voucher Program, which is also referred to as section 8. What is Section 8? The Housing Act of 1937 provided for financial aid to be paid by the federal government to local housing agencies or LHAs to make the living conditions of low-wage earning families better. Section 8 of the Housing Act of 1937, usually just referred to as Section 8, mandates the payment of federal housing assistance to landlords for the benefit of about 3.1 million families with low income. It makes housing assistance possible through various programs, with the Housing Choice Voucher program being the largest, which subsidizes most of the rent and utilities payments of about 2.1 million families. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) manages and funds the Section 8 programs. There are about 2,400 public housing agencies (PHAs) that administer the program locally. A Brief History of Section 8 Section 8 housing had its beginning during the Great Depression. The passing of the U.S. Housing Act by Congress constituted the start of federal housing assistance in the country. It furnished the money to build quality yet affordable low income housing apartments for financially-challenged wage earners. These units are administered and maintained by local authorities. The U.S. Housing Act was revised in 1961 to give way to the Section 23 Leased Housing Program which allowed low-income earners to take up residence in private low income housing apartments leased by local authorities. Tenants agree to pay a certain percentage of the rent, while the difference between the tenants payment and what the landlord would have normally received in the open market. Building maintenance were also performed by the local housing authorities. In 1974, the Act underwent another revision which provided for the creation of Section 8. Rather than build and manage public housing, it aimed to assist low-earning tenants who were allotting the greater part of their earnings on rent payment. Federal funds were now used to pay a portion of the rent in housing units chosen by the renters on the open market. Since then, several more legislations were passed to amend and refine the Section 8 program. The Critical Need for Housing Assistance The 2005 HUD report to Congress stated that the almost 6 million renter families in the country who dont benefit from public housing assistance suffer from worst housing needs. A huge bulk of these families have undergone severe rent burden which HUD describes as paying in excess of 50% of the wage-earners income for rent. Other households made their homes in second-rate buildings. Groups being given priority by Section 8 are composed of low-income households with children, senior citizens and handicapped individuals. Likewise, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs have a Section 8 program called the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) which distributes a number of housing vouchers to qualified homeless U.S. armed forces veterans. The Housing Voucher Program The main Section 8 program is currently engaged in the housing voucher program. Housing choice vouchers are locally distributed and managed by public housing agencies or PHAs. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provide federal funds to these PHAs to manage the voucher program. A voucher can be project-based which means its use is confined to a particular apartment complex. PHAs may appropriate up to 20% of their vouchers for this. A voucher can also be tenant-based where the tenant can freely choose any housing that passes the criteria of the program and is not restricted to units within subsidized housing projects. The tenant may choose to rent a housing unit in the private sector, is not confined to any particular apartment complexes, and can choose to live anywhere in the U.S as long as the total rent meets the standards established by HUD. This can include living in Puerto Rico which has a Section 8 program managed by a public housing agency. Under the housing voucher program, households or individuals who are eligible for Section 8 funding are given a voucher which allows them to find and rent a unit where they will be responsible for paying 30% of the rent. The housing voucher will pay for the remaining 70% of rent and utilities. Most families pay for section 8 housing using 30% of their adjusted income, which is a familys total earning less the deductions for dependents below 18 years old, senior citizens, handicapped individuals, full-time students, as well as medical expenses and disability assistance. The voucher program is currently subsidizing the rent payment for nearly 2.1 million households in the United States. Whats more, these vouchers can be used at times by low income households to pay the mortgage or purchase a house. Prioritization of Housing Voucher In many instances, your local public housing agency will receive more applications than it can afford to approve vouchers for, and will as a result create a waiting list of applicants. PHAs can move certain applications forward or put them way back of the waiting list, and may choose to grant priority to households who are presently without a home or are residing in second-rate housing, wage-earners who spend more than half their income in rent, or individuals who are displaced against their will. Know more about prioritizing by inquiring at your local public housing agency office. Since section 8 isnt actually an entitlement benefit, people who become eligible for a housing voucher cannot be 100% sure that theyll get one. According to the latest figures, only 1 out of about 4 households who qualify for housing assistance receive it. Waiting lists can take long to be processed. In several places, eligible applicants fiercely compete with other applicants for vouchers. Due to the huge volume of demand, some LHAs have entirely ceased taking in applications. For instance, in New York where rents are exorbitant and oftentimes beyond reach of low-income earners, many households set their sights on section 8 vouchers. Today, as the country teeters toward the reality of the sequestration cuts to the federal budget, it seems that New York City may miss out on up to 6,000 section 8 vouchers that were intended to be made available this year. In Chicago, more than 2,300 households are on the waiting list. Recipients are picked out of the list by a lottery held every month. Only when the list is exhausted will the application process resume. Requirements to Qualify for Rent Assistance Putting these realities on one side, if you belong to a low-income bracket and you require rent subsidy or other support provided by the voucher program, you first need to make sure that you have what is financially required to qualify for Section 8 housing. Whether you qualify or not is dependent on certain factors which include your total household income, how much rent you are paying, the members of your household, the average income in your locality, and your assets. Income requirements differ from place to place, but as a rule you will need to have a total household earning of not more than 50% of the average income in your locality. The program is open to all U.S. citizens and people with legal immigration status. Another criterion is the number of your household members. Your Section 8 income limit gets lower as the members of your household gets fewer. Other factors are also put under consideration by HUD and its local agencies when checking an applicants qualifications. Generally taken into consideration are homelessness and other factors that are linked to a particular location like involvement in a local welfare-to-work program. Other criteria that may help you get considered for assistance are: • presently living in a homeless shelter • working over 42 hours each week • being a veteran of the U.S. Armed Services (widow or widower) • suffering from disability • being a senior citizen 62 years old and over • having children LHAs should also give priority to very low-income households whose total earnings dont even amount to 30% of the average income in the area. 75% of the new applicants that get qualified for housing assistance each year must be near or at the lowest-income level. If you think you have every reason to qualify for a housing voucher, you must go and get in touch with the public housing agency in your locality. You can get all the information you need on the HUD website including local office address, toll-free phone numbers, and email addresses. Dont get yourself fooled by professional con artists. There are fly-by-night agencies that will promise to help you to get all the Section 8 paperwork done for a certain fee. You can get all the help you need to apply for a housing voucher at no cost just by visiting your local public housing authority or your federal HUD office. Bear in mind that no person should ever ask you for money for a low income housing assistance application. Anyone who charges you for a voucher or an application can be arrested for fraud. Obligations Since a public housing authority approves the housing unit of a qualified household, the landlord and the family head sign a lease agreement. At the same time, the PHA and the landlord sign a contract for housing assistance payments that will run concurrently with the lease. This demonstrates that the PHA, the landlord and the tenant all have roles and obligations they must fulfill under the program. 1. Tenant Expect some delays before you receive the final decision on your application. Many applicants can be on the section 8 housing waiting lists for months, or possibly even years. If your application gets approved by the local PHA and you have received a housing voucher, you have to be absolutely sure that your present or future living situation meets HUD safety and health requirements. If you are renting, youll be asked to sign a one-year lease with a willing landlord who will be obliged to provide you with safe quality housing and fair rent. The landlord may require the tenant to pay a security deposit. After the first year, the landlord can draw up a lease renewal contract or allow the household to reside in the unit on a monthly lease. Know how much rent youll be paying. Section 8 housing requires you and your household to pay 30 percent of your monthly adjusted gross income on rent and utilities. The voucher you received will cover the rest of the cost. Visit your local PHA if you need help in determining how much you need to allocate each month. When the household has moved into the new home, each member is expected to abide by the lease and program rules, keep the housing unit in good condition, pay the percentage of rent promptly, and inform the PHA of any changes in family composition or income status. If you need to, you can move to another area without losing your eligibility to Section 8 housing. Just be sure to inform your local PHA ahead of time, terminate your lease according to its provisions, and look for another housing that will comply with HUD safety and health criteria. 2. Landlord The landlords responsibility in the voucher program is to provide tenants with a suitable, sanitary and clean low income housing unit with a fair rent. The living space must meet the HUDs housing quality criteria and must be kept up to those criteria for as long as the landlord receives housing assistance payments. Whats more, the property owner will extend the services that were agreed upon as was mentioned in the lease signed with the tenant and the contract signed with the public housing authorities. The landlord cannot charge the tenant any extra money except that of the reasonable rent and cannot accept any amount of payment that is outside the contract. Although required to follow fair housing laws, landlords are of no obligations to take part in the housing voucher program. Therefore, some landlords can refuse to accept Section 8 tenants. This may be due to several reasons such as: • Not desiring the government to get involved in the landlords business, as in conducting a full inspection by government workers of the premises for HUDs housing quality standards and the probable redress that may follow. • Concern that the tenant or members of the household will fail to keep proper maintenance of the unit. • Finding that the programs rent price is below the landlords expectation. • Not willing to take matters to court to evict a tenant. According to HUD requirements, judicial action is required to evict section 8 tenants, even if there were other legal procedures allowed. • Depending on state laws, it may be against the law to refuse to accept a tenant just because they have Section 8. Landlords have only past eviction, credit, criminal history and other general means of disqualifying a potential tenant. Other landlords, however, seem to have no beef against accepting Section 8 tenants. This could be because of: • The long waiting list can provide a vast reserve of potential tenants. • Generally on-time payments sent by the PHA for its share of the rent. • Tenants are motivated to take care of the low income housing unit to avoid paying for damaged property. Owing a previous landlord money can be ground for a tenant to be disqualified from the program. 3. Public Housing Authority The public housing program manages the voucher program locally. It provides a qualified household with housing subsidy that allows the family to look for a decent housing unit. The PHA signs a contract with the landlord promising to provide regular housing assistance payments for and on behalf of the tenants. Should the landlord fail to comply with their lease contract obligations, the PHA can immediately discontinue sending assistance payments. The PHA will re-assess the households income and composition for any changes at least once a year and must conduct an annual ocular inspection of each unit to make sure that it complies with HUD quality standards. Research appears to suggest that the section 8 program has yielded a lot of happy and productive results. It helps millions of households live above poverty level, have more money to spend on food and health care instead of rent, and improve their quality of life. It has helped families to move into safer neighborhoods and has reduced the number of homeless people. As a result, it has also lowered the incidences of anxiety, depression, and other mental and emotional problems.
How to Find a Quality Halfway House in the United States : WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT HALFWAY HOUSES* The first thing you need to know is that most halfway houses are NOT regulated. Many operate without a state license. Most halfway houses, regardless of whether they are licensed or not, do a great job at helping a person stay sober, and can assist a person in reconnecting with family, and also becoming a contributor to society. Many Halfway Houses operate without a license simply because the licensing agency and/or the zoning commission prevent halfway houses from operating in their neighborhoods by restricting census (total amount of residents in any single location or house). Few halfway houses can stay open when a licensure agency and/or zoning department tell them they can only have 4 residents in a large 4 bedroom house. Few places can keep their doors open with these unfair and illegal tactics due to the large overhead incurred (lights, electricity, heating, cooling, insurance, mortgage payments, staff, etc.). What is most important is how they go about helping people to stay sober and keeping residents on track- what is their main focus, making money or helping people- this is typically the main difference between a quality run halfway house and a poorly run facility. There are many questions to ask to determine the difference between the two. Are they staying on top of their residents sobriety? How do they maintain a clean and sober environment, etc.? Do they have rules? What are the rules? How do they enforce them? Always ask to see a copy of the rules!!! Are they a coed facility? Typically, a male or female only halfway house has better odds at maintaining sobriety and dealing with length of stay issues. You will want to know what happens if you come home drunk at 2 A.M. on a Friday- do they just kick you out of the halfway house into the neighborhood? Do they have protocols for dealing with this and many other possible scenarios? Find out how they deal with situations before moving in. You should definitely be given a complete tour (especially visiting exactly where you are going to be placed), along with explaining all the rules and regulations, as well as a residents responsibilities. Note: Most Halfway Houses require, at least initially, a resident to have a roommate, as this helps make sure a person is accountable by at least one other person besides the House Manager and the General Manager/Owner. You should take note of how the place looks. A few years ago I was involved in property assessments for a program helping mentally ill patients. One of the first things we would take note of is whether there was grass growing in the cracks of the concrete. Another item was the condition of the landscaping (was the grass mowed, the bushes trimmed, the trees pruned, etc.). We would then move on to how the paint looked, the roof, whether the windows were clean, etc. With this same approach, you should be looking to see how clean the house is. Are the grounds well kept? Is the roof showing signs of possible leaks? How does the entire exterior look? What shape is the room you will occupy, etc? Another issue you may find at halfway houses are the managers. Most, if not all, are in recovery themselves. There is a big difference between what is called a General Manager and a House Manager. It is very typical, and normal, for a house manager to have only a few months clean and sober. This does not mean the halfway house has poor management. It is not so much time clean, but the quality of clean time that matters most. It is typical that a House Manager will move on to getting their own place by the time they get 6 months to a year clean, so this makes sense why House Managers have little clean time. On the other hand, the General Manager typically has years of sobriety. Whats most important is how many years the General Manager has running a halfway house system as opposed to how long the House Manager has clean. A General Manager that has both years of sobriety coupled with years of experience running a halfway house is a winning combination. One of the most important factors in whether a halfway house is of good quality is how the General Manager and/or Owner deal with the overall handling of each and every resident. They should be forever vigilant, and firm. They should be able to tell you how often they are around the residents and the house, and if they run more than one house, they should be able to tell you how they stay on top of all their houses- what system is in place so that residents and houses are not left unattended for any length of time. A quality run house should require a length of stay commitment from the potential resident prior to moving in (this is usually anywhere from 3 months to 1 year- the longer the stay, the higher the success rates). All facilities should be set up so that every resident MUST report to the General Manager or House Manager, and that the House Manager reports directly to the General Manager or Owner. A quality run halfway house should have sign in/sign out sheets designating why a resident is going off grounds including where they are going and what time they will leave as well as when they will be back- make sure there is a system in place that checks and verifies this information both before a resident leaves and how they appear upon return. This includes going to work, a job search, (this should include a separate list of places they are applying at and how long they will be at any one given employment office/business), 12-Step Meeting attendance (this should state which meeting, time of meeting, and any other important information), visiting family, (who, where, etc.), visiting a friend (This should be looked at by the General Manager/Owner and not just the House Manager- keeping in mind that certain people and places are off limits), as well as any other reasons and times for leaving the house- responsibility and accountability are important components at a good halfway house- look for this. Money is another issue. If a person will be tempted to drink/drug, a quality house should have a safe place to hold a residents money. If, for instance, a resident has another person (family member, case worker, etc.) paying for their stay at a halfway house, this money should go directly to the company/Owner, and not to the resident. Employment may be required as part of a residents stay, and there are certain high-risk jobs that should not be allowed by management. These include driving a cab, working at a bar, graveyard shifts, and working too many hours that the resident does not leave time to engage in their recovery effort. More information on typical fees can be read further down on this article. Responsibility- Most halfway houses require residents to attend what is called House Meetings. House Meetings should occur on specific days at specific times, for the purpose of reviewing how a resident is doing, if they are attending 12-Step meetings, counseling sessions (if offered), and any other issues that may have come up during their stay. Most good halfway houses require residents to attend either or both inside and off grounds 12-Step Meetings (Typically 12-Step attendance is a minimum of 1 per day initially, and at least 3 meetings per week as a maintenance level- most quality houses require a resident to have a sheet signed by the meeting chairperson stating the name of the meeting, day, date, and time). It is very important how a halfway house handles a residents free time (at least for the first 30 days), as new residents should only be allowed off grounds with a stable resident to go with them, and it should be noted if they are utilizing this privilege without abusing it. Typically, a new resident may be restricted to the unit for the first few days. After between 1 week and 30 days, if a resident has shown responsibility and accountability, a resident will be allowed more freedom, but keep in mind that a quality house should always have curfews in place regardless of length of stay. Most will have specific wake-up times. It is also important to find out how they handle visitations (family, friends, case workers, etc.) Free time includes going to off grounds 12-Step Meetings, working with a 12-Step Sponsor, working the 12-Steps, etc. Free time is extremely dangerous for a newly recovered person, so a good run house should have programs and activities to keep them occupied. Most require a resident to do chores (gardening, sweeping, cleaning, cooking, etc.) and these are usually done without pay. If a resident has a vehicle, it should be either paid for or they are making payments on it- these payments should be verified as being up to date. A resident must be properly and currently licensed to drive it, and the tags should be current as well. On another note, the level of care at a halfway house can vary greatly. Some offer the bare minimum- a bed with a roof over it. Others provide counseling, 12-Step Meetings, guidance, true random drug testing of their residents, food, and transportation to/from outside meetings, job coaching, training, placement, and many other services. The key is to find a halfway house that is run well, as well as one that meets your needs. Keep in mind that many who choose, or are placed into, a halfway house do get better and can stay sober, but this requires a combination of resident dedication and good management. Also keep in mind that halfway houses are not treatment centers, not a place of luxury, and definitely not responsible for a persons sobriety. Be aware of so-called flop houses which are just places to sleep without any supervision or accountability- these usually have high rates of failure/relapse. Some houses deal with dual diagnosis issues (substance abuse and mental health problems). Most provide a safe place, depending on the quality of the program, a facility manager and/or owner to oversee it, and some basic needs for the person living there. Please dont start checking out various halfway houses with the expectation of going to a country club, or more importantly, that everybody who is there is happy, healthy, and mature individuals- remember, they too are trying to get their lives together; some for the first time after decades of abusing alcohol and/or drugs- in other words, there is no perfect fit. If you are in need of detox services, this should be done with medical supervision- withdrawal can be deadly without the proper medical care in place- you may need to go to a separate place to detox safely before moving into a halfway house. If a halfway house provides detox, they should have qualified medical staff to deal with this issue- make sure you verify credentials. It helps to keep in mind why you are going to live at a halfway house... and that reason is, to be at a place that is alcohol and drug free, to be surrounded by people trying to build a better life for themselves, and a place that will keep an eye on you until you start to get on a successful path to making your life better. Keep this on your mind the whole time you are in a halfway house!!! Besides the basics provided, at a typical halfway house, be grateful if they provide anything else for you- remember your purpose for being there (to get a good shot at sobriety) and dont expect extras. There are many resources within each state to help you obtain a list of halfway houses near you (see resources below this article). Keep in mind that the lists provided to you contain mostly licensed facilities- a licensed facility does not mean they are better- just that they do a good job at paperwork and at paying licensing fees. A CASE IN POINT I had a very, very, very dear close friend named Bob (actually he was the best friend I ever had in my 50+ years on earth) and he had been sober for 6+ years. He took a relative, (who was actively using drugs) into his house to help him get his life back in order. As time went on, this relative and his influence took my friend Bob down the dark path of relapse. I worked as best I could with Bob, being that I was in Southern California and he was in Mesa, Arizona. Bob decided he had enough, and wanted to get clean again. Bob checked into a licensed halfway house and 1 day into staying at the house he had to pick up his last paycheck, so he could pay his rent at this halfway house. The halfway house let him leave alone, to get his check- a bad move on the managements decision to allow him to go by himself to do this (all they were concerned with was getting rent money from him) and so he picked up this large check and immediately got a hotel room, drugs, and proceeded to get high. Bob died in that hotel room. A quality run halfway house, licensed or not, would never have allowed him to do this, considering the risk, as a quality run halfway house would have arranged for the employer to mail the check, or that the House Manager or General Manager would have escorted Bob to the company and made Bob accountable and would never have permitted him to cash it and be left to his own devices- alcoholics/addicts are impulsive, especially early in their road to recovery- and Bob would have returned to the halfway house and the manager would have held his money to pay rent and also, hopefully, given him money to live on, but not enough to get high on. It is, in large part, the halfway houses part to intervene and assist a newcomer in making sound decisions instead of an impulsive weak moment that eventually lead to Bobs death. I continue to place a large amount of blame on this halfway house for playing a large role in my dear friends death. Had Bob been in a quality halfway house, licensed or not, he would still be alive today. There isnt a day that goes by that I dont miss my best friend. This article is dedicated to him in the hopes it doesnt get repeated. Additional Information A special amount of attention should be paid to the weekly costs and up front monies a particular halfway house charges to their residents. Typical average charges at halfway houses from state to state in the USA run from $90.00 to $150.00 per week. Some will take anybody in without upfront monies as long as the facility is reasonably confident the resident is either employed or employable and will be able to make their weekly rent payments and be able to make up for back rents. Some houses require up front monies prior to admission, a security deposit, and rent paid in advance. This may be a barrier to getting into certain facilities. There are no insurance companies that cover halfway house rents, unless the house provides specific treatment, counseling, etc., and even at this, it is difficult to get insurance companies to commit to extended periods of coverage. Also of concern, is if the resident is able to work- A Halfway House is a business, and overhead plays a big part in whether or not they can keep their doors open. It doesnt do much of anything if all the right pieces fall into place at a quality house, if they cant pay the bills. Many facilities go under, not because they dont care or want to help, but simply because they have too many residents who are not working, not enough residents, some who cant work, or are unable to cover and/or pay back the rent payments owed and/or the initial move in costs. So what can you expect for the amount of money you pay to a halfway house? This varies greatly. For some houses it is all-inclusive, meaning they provide everything from phone service, food, counseling, job seeking assistance, etc. For others, they may offer some or none of these services. Much has to do with whether you are going, or sending someone, to a 1/2 way house, or to a 3/4 house, or a sober living environment, recovery home, etc. (see additional information concerning this factor below). Typically, a Halfway House is for those just starting to get their life in order. A 3/4 house, sober living house, recovery home, etc. does not provide the intense monitoring of their residents. The residents pretty much go and do as they please, without meetings, UA tests, or signing in and out, as opposed to a quality run halfway house that should monitor all activities and services. It is best to check out what type of house you NEED and are interested in- this includes going to the possible house, talking to current residents, and checking out the outside as well as how the internal accountability (both for residents and managers/owners) factors are carried out on a daily basis. An additional word should be mentioned about the differences between a halfway house and a ¾ house, sober living home, recovery homes, etc. There is a distinct difference in all of these compared to a typical halfway house operation. First off, a halfway house is typically the place to go to, or be referred to, when someone has been actively using drugs, drinking alcoholically, or has been discharged from a treatment center or a prison for a non-violent drug offenders. It is not a detox ward, (unless they state this service is provided), as detox should be handled only by a medical facility run by professionals, (doctors, nurses, etc.). So, how do you know you are going to a quality run halfway house? This requires research, asking many, many, many questions directed to the owner and/or halfway house manager. NOTE: If they dont answer their phone calls or emails, dont return phone calls or emails, will not give you a tour, or have an attitude of indifference towards you for asking so many questions, it is best to find another place and start the process of finding a quality run halfway house all over again- keep in mind that you are literarily placing your very life into their hands, so you dont want to get this wrong.
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