Disabled? How to Protect Your Finances While Seeking HUD Housing
Disabled? How to Protect Your Finances While Seeking HUD Housing
People with one or more disabilities must often turn to the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) Program, formerly known as Section 8, to help them find safe, affordable housing. The program covers the majority of their rent with financial assistance. Yet, vouchers aren't risk-free. While trying to find and secure housing, disabled voucher holders often experience obstacles that can leave them in a worse financial state than when they initially applied for aid.
Whether you're attempting to find HUD-approved housing for the first time or relocating, this guide can save you time and money. It outlines the top voucher usage risks and provides tips to prevent financial losses:
A HUD voucher doesn't cover the entire monthly rental amount. A voucher holder pays a percentage based on their income. They're also responsible for paying non-refundable application fees, which means they might pay out hundreds of dollars applying for rental consideration. Although some landlords include utilities, many of them require that you pay for those on your own. If your Public Housing Agency/Authority (PHA) agrees to cover a percentage of utility costs, they decrease the rental assistance amount. Additionally, you must procure rental insurance.
Tip: Make a list of all potential expenses and then reach out to local social service, non-profit and crisis organizations to find out if any programs exist that can help reduce anticipated costs.
Voucher holders often lose assistance in high-competition markets because they can't find housing before their vouchers expire. The pandemic made this problem a lot worse. High cost of living and a housing crisis has forced more low-income and even middle class renters to pursue low-cost units, which means that certain areas of the country have fewer units for voucher holders except in bad buildings and neighborhoods. Many landlords are also leaving the HUD program because they believe they can make more money from higher paying tenants. They're refusing to renew leases and flooding the market with voucher holders who need affordable homes.
In regions where no voucher discrimination laws exist, many landlords actively discourage voucher applicants even if they receive enough financial aid to cover rent. For example, they might only accept applications from people who can show a perfect rental history, a high credit score and savings or income equal to three times the monthly rent amount. They know that most people who use vouchers can't meet all three requirements.
Tip: Look for a rental in a low-demand market, such as small town or rural area versus a city or suburban region. To prevent further stress-related illness or financial losses, seek crisis counseling immediately if you start to feel overwhelmed, demotivated or lost because of delays or discrimination.
PHA specialists usually don't provide voucher recipients with housing search assistance beyond giving them a list of properties that the agency/authority has worked with in the past. If an individual needs help because their disability makes some aspect of the search or paperwork requirements difficult, they might turn to a non-profit housing search organization (HSO). Their health insurer might also refer them to one if they're in a special care coordination or case management program.
Although HSOs do possess the local landlord and other connections voucher holders need to find housing quickly, the worker assigned to your case, a housing navigator or community support specialist, might not have the time, patience or understanding to be of any help. These organizations usually have few specialists who work on programs designed to help disabled renters, which means that the navigators assigned to disability-based programs are often overwhelmed with cases or work in a volunteer capacity with limited schedule availability. Many of them don't have the skills necessary to understand an individual's unique disability and reasonable housing accommodation requirements.
Tip: If you must work with an HSO, use caution. Always request that they include a social worker or advocate from a separate organization or your insurance during every call, email and in-person meeting.
Lastly, you can only port or move a voucher once in a 12-month period. The payment assistance based on the fair market rate in one region can drop significantly in another. As already noted, no law might exist in the new region to protect you from discrimination. You might also have to narrow your search significantly if the region you move to has more than one housing authority because then you're forced to pick one and only their coverage area. If you need more time to search because you can't find a place or the inspection process takes too long, you must ask a qualified professional who knows your disability case, usually in the new region, to complete a time extension request for the original PHA. If you're moving to live near a major medical research center, you're also unlikely to find quality housing with a voucher because many people with serious illnesses need low-income housing in these areas.
Tip: Always consider several regions even if it means moving to an area distant from your doctors. Never port a voucher before you've found permanent housing even if your doctors recommend immediate travel for medical care or promise you patient housing. Otherwise, you might find yourself stuck living out of expensive extended-stay hotels that HUD won't cover for months.
As you can see, voucher usage is incredibly complex and often physically and financially stressful. Yet, with a bit of research, coordination between organizations and other forms of preparation, you can reduce the stress and procure the affordable, safe housing that you need.
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