Q: What is a housing authority?
A: A public housing authority (PHA) is a public body authorized by the federal government and created by a state to help develop and operate low-income housing under the U.S. Housing Act of 1937. There are more than 3,000 PHAs in the United States, and 75 of them are in Ohio. PHAs are primarily funded through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and regulated by federal law. PHAs administer the two major programs in Ohio: public housing and Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher programs.
Q: What is the public housing program?
A: The public housing program provides safe, decent and affordable rental housing to low- and very low-income families, the elderly and persons with disabilities. Under this program, a PHA owns the properties rented to public housing tenants and acts as the landlord. HUD provides operating and capital subsidies to PHAs, and the PHAs are responsible for general property management, ongoing program compliance, and, in some cases, for providing supportive services to residents.
Q: How can I get help from the public housing program?
A: Generally, PHAs determine eligibility based on: 1) annual gross income; 2) whether you qualify as elderly, a person with a disability, or as a family; and 3) your U.S. citizenship or eligible immigration status. Your income must be 80 percent or below of the Area Median Income (AMI), which HUD sets annually. At least one person in your household must be a U.S. citizen or have eligible immigration status. When determining eligibility, PHAs may also consider rental payment and utility payment history, check references and perform criminal background checks. Typically, PHAs will deny admission to any applicant whose habits and practices may be expected to have a detrimental effect on other tenants, staff or the surrounding community.
Q: What is the Housing Choice Voucher Program?
A: The Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program is the federal government’s largest housing assistance program, and more than two million low-income families currently receive help. PHAs administer this program, but assistance is not tied to a specific PHA-owned unit, as in the public housing program. Through the HCV program, the PHA issues eligible families a housing voucher, and the family searches for its own housing in the private rental market.
Q: How does the Housing Choice Voucher Program work?
A: The PHA first determines that you are eligible, and then must make sure that the privately owned unit you’ve chosen meets the program’s housing quality standards and that the rent is reasonable. You and the landlord will enter into a lease agreement, while the landlord and the PHA sign a housing assistance payments contract. The PHA pays the housing subsidy to the participating landlord on your behalf, and you pay 30 to 40 percent of your income in rent. The voucher pays the balance of your rent, up to a standard based on HUD-determined local fair market rents.
Q: If I have a criminal conviction, might I still be eligible for the public housing or Section 8 HCV programs?
A: It depends. HUD requires a background check for all adult household members applying for the public housing or Section 8 HCV programs. PHAs can adopt their own reasonable criminal history policies, but HUD rules say that applicants must be automatically denied for certain crimes. These crimes include methamphetamine production, sex offenses requiring sex offender registration, and any household member’ eviction from federally subsidized housing because of drug-related activity within three years before applying for housing. Also, households that engage in any drug-related activity, violent criminal activity, or any other criminal activity that is a threat to the life, safety or property of others may lose their housing assistance.
Q: What is ‘fair housing” and “reasonable accommodations”?
A: PHAs must comply with state and federal fair housing laws and ensure compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Fair Housing Act of 1938 protects people from housing discrimination based on their race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability or family status. Also, in 2012, HUD published the Equal Access Rule, which requires HUD-assisted housing programs to be open to all eligible individuals regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status. A “reasonable accommodation” is a change made to a policy, program or service that allows someone with a disability to use and enjoy housing, including public and common use areas. Examples of reasonable accommodation include: providing rental forms in large print, providing a reserved accessible parking space near a resident's unit, allowing a resident with a disability to live with a companion animal, and installing ramps or other modifications to a unit. Generally, PHAs will grant requests for accommodations if the request is reasonable and does not create an “undue financial and administrative burden” for the agency, or result in a “fundamental alteration” of the program or the service offered.
This “Law You Can Use” consumer legal information column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association (OSBA). It was prepared by attorney Jennifer Heapy, CEO of Greater Dayton Premier Management.