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Complete Guide to Section 8 and Housing Vouchers in Washington DC

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All landlords have a goal to rent to tenants that will pay in full and on time. One way to widen your prospective tenant pool is to accept Section 8 tenants. While it may seem worrisome for some landlords, there are several benefits to accepting tenants with a Housing Choice Voucher. After all, in a competitive rental industry, it can be helpful to expand your knowledge of Section 8 housing. So if you’re unfamiliar with the requirements and qualifications for low-income housing in Washington DC, keep reading as we go over a comprehensive guide to Section 8. 

Your Guide to Section 8–What Is It? 

Most rental investment owners know about Section 8, now commonly known as the Housing Choice Voucher Program. This federally funded program is overseen by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development and subsidizes rent for qualified individuals and/or families. 

To qualify for a Housing Choice Voucher, applicants must meet specific criteria based on income, submit a background check, and follow all the lease terms. If an applicant doesn’t follow all the requirements, they could lose their housing voucher. 

There are several options for individuals and families looking for low-income housing depending on the applicant’s needs. Next, let’s go over some of the housing assistance options available for qualified tenants in Washington DC. 

Housing Assistance Options in DC

While this blog post is primarily a guide to Section 8 and housing choice vouchers, there are a few other housing options available for low-income families or individuals in Washington DC. 

  • Public Housing Program- The District of Columbia Housing Authority manages 56 public housing properties that provide homes to families with very low-income. In this case, tenants pay 30 percent of their income as rent. 
  • Housing Choice Voucher Program- The Housing Choice Voucher Program in DC gives tenants the option to choose where they would like to live. Once qualified tenants obtain a housing voucher, they can choose a privately owned rental unit, as long as it meets Fair Market Rent standards. 
  • Moderate Rehabilitation Program- The Moderate Rehabilitation Program includes apartments throughout DC. The lease is held in the tenant’s name, and they pay 30 percent of their income for housing. Then, the DCHA pays the rest to the landlord. This assistance program is “Project-Based” or “Unit-Based,” so tenants who move from a designated apartment may not take the subsidy. 

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Housing Vouchers Qualifications

To qualify for a Housing Choice Voucher, applicants must meet the qualifications determined by the District of Columbia Housing Authority. Typically, there are four main requirements a tenant applying for a Housing Choice Voucher must have, including: 

  • Family Status
  • Income
  • Eviction History
  • Citizen Status

Family Status

Tenants must qualify for the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development’s definition of a family. According to HUD, the family description includes one or more individuals that live together. Family members do not have to be related by blood, marriage, or other legal capacities. 

HUD groups households into three different categories–family, elderly, and disabled. A family household is one where the head of the household is not disabled or over the age of 62. 

An elderly household is one where the head of the family or the spouse of the head of the household is above the age of 62. Finally, a disabled home is one where a single person, the head of the household, or the spouse of the head of the household is disabled. 

Income

Housing Choice Vouchers help low-income individuals and families. There are a few ways HUD determines how much money a household will receive. For one, the household’s income may not exceed 50% of the median income for the area in which the family chooses to live. Here are a few ways to determine your income qualification level: 

  • Low-income: Household makes about 80% of the area’s median income
  • Very low-income: Household makes about 50% of the area’s median income
  • Extremely low-income: Household makes about 30% of the area’s median income

Eviction History

Suppose an applicant was evicted in the past three years for a drug-related crime or convicted of producing methamphetamine while receiving housing assistance. In that case, they will not qualify for a Housing Choice Voucher. 

Citizen Status

To qualify for a Housing Choice Voucher, applicants must be United States citizens. Or, they have eligible immigration status to qualify for housing assistance. 

Fair Housing Laws and Tips for Compliance

The Fair Housing Act is a set of guidelines that protect citizens’ rights to fair housing. That said, landlords know how vital Fair Housing Laws are, especially while owning multiple rentals. After all, no landlord wants to run into legal or financial trouble for non-compliance. So, if you’re not fully aware of Fair Housing Laws, let’s go over some of the basics. 

First, it’s important to note that landlords cannot refuse to rent to an applicant solely based on a Housing Choice Voucher. Additionally, it’s illegal to discriminate against anyone based on: 

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  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • National origin
  • Sex
  • Gender identity
  • Disability
  • Age
  • Veteran status
  • Familial status
  • Marital status
  • Income source

If landlords discriminate against tenants based on any reasons listed above, they will face serious legal ramifications. Overall, landlords should treat all tenants with professionalism and respect in any encounter. Here is a short guide to Section 8 housing compliance to help ensure the same standards for all tenants and avoid discrimination claims.

  • Stay consistent with all applicants- Whether you’re dealing with a housing voucher applicant or not, landlords need to keep the same evaluations and qualifications for all tenants. 
  • Avoid steering applicants away- Landlords are expected to provide any available units to qualifying tenants. That said, steering them to a specific property or community on purpose can be discriminatory. 
  • Keep standard policies in place- While landlords cannot deny applicants based on a housing voucher, they can still reject them for other reasons. For example, if a tenant has a poor rental history or a criminal background, you don’t have to accept them. 

Steps for Landlords to Participate in Housing Voucher Programs

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Landlords can provide great housing opportunities for their communities and expand their tenant pools by listing rental properties through Section 8. If you are a landlord who is interested in extending your property listing to low-income families and individuals, there are a few steps you’ll need to take

First, you’ll want to advertise housing with DCHA, which you can do by including “we accept housing vouchers” in your rental advertisements. Then, it’s crucial to screen applicants and obtain their Request for Tenancy approval packet. This packet will contain all the documents you need for the appropriate leasing department. 

Next, you’ll want to schedule a certified inspection through your local housing department. Then, once you pass an inspection and sign all the housing documents, you can finalize the move with your tenant and DCHA. 

Pros and Cons of Accepting Housing Choice Vouchers

Like most rental business decisions, there are a few pros and cons to consider when accepting Housing Choice Vouchers. If you’re still unsure how the program works or if it’s right for you, here’s a brief list of pros and cons. 

Pros of Section 8 Housing

  • Rent Paid on Time- Since a portion of the rent is paid by the Department of Housing, it’s guaranteed to be on time. Additionally, tenants have an incentive to pay on time so they don’t experience late fees or lose their housing assistance. 
  • Wider Pool of Prospective Tenants- When you expand your rental properties and accept housing vouchers, you open up your property to more people. In turn, this could mean shorter vacancies and consistent renters. 
  • Additional Accountability- While landlords must enforce lease terms, the Housing Authority holds tenants accountable, too. So, if a tenant causes a ton of damage or disturbances on the property, the Housing Authority may assist in disciplining them.

Cons of Section 8 Housing

  • Potentially Lower Rental Rates- Since the Housing Authority covers a portion of the rent, they have input on the total amount. 
  • Government Terms and Contracts- Unfortunately, a Housing Authority Contact can limit the property owner’s authority and landlord rights. Including a third party can slow down processes and potentially hinder communication.

Streamline Your Rental Business

Being a landlord with multiple rental properties can be a ton of work. However, it can get even more complicated when you throw in Section 8 housing and housing vouchers. If you are a landlord and have trouble keeping up with every aspect of your rental business, consider hiring property management. 

Luckily, Bay Property Management Group can assist with several of the day-to-day tasks of owning a rental business. We offer services such as tenant screening, rent collection, maintenance, eviction services, and more. So, contact us today if you’re looking for management assistance in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Northern Virginia, or Washington DC.