Who's Eligible for Rental Assistance?

Question: I am 63 years old and have been on Social Security disability for one year. When looking for an apartment recently, I noticed advertisements stating they accept Section 8. Since then, I have been trying to find out what Section 8 is . . . the requirements, etc. When I call the housing authority, they just say they are not accepting applications at this time and give no additional information. Can you explain it, the requirements, when it is available and how I find out more about it?--A.C.L.

Answer: I don't quite understand the reluctance--or, perhaps, the rudeness--of those you contacted. Whether applications are being accepted or not, it doesn't take all that much effort to explain to you what sort of application is not being accepted. Simply put, Section 8 of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development regulations is subtitled "Lower-Income Rental Assistance."

And the theory behind it is to provide decent, safe and sanitary housing in private accommodations to those qualifying. In other words, HUD makes up the difference in rent between what a low-income person, or household, can afford and what the fair market value for such a unit is. And this can mean that Uncle Sam can be picking up as much as 70% of the rent.

Eligibility depends on your income and how the other components in your formula add up, so it's pretty difficult to nail it down specifically. There are, for instance, two categories: "low" income and "very low" income.

In Los Angeles County, applicants are considered in the low-income group if the annual income is not more than $19,900 for a person living alone; $22,700 for a family of two, $25,500 for a family of three and $28,400 for a family of four.

But the need is so great here that a full 95% of all Section 8 certificates are going to the applicants with income in the "very low" category, which means that a single individual can have an income no greater than $13,400 a year, or $15,300 for a couple, or $17,250 for a family of three, or $19,150 for a family of four.

However, other things, such as age and disabilities, can be determining factors.

So the only people who can tell you with any certainty what your maximum income can be to qualify are the people in your local HUD office. Now, unfortunately, there's never enough money in the kitty to begin to fill the Section 8 need.

According to one HUD spokesman, the annual funding "amounts to less than 1% of the requests." So, even when you are eligible and meet all of the standards, it's going to be a long wait before you'll be issued the certificate you need to go out and rent an apartment.

The only bright spot here is that when you are issued the certificate, in the words of the HUD official, "it's like money in the bank, because it not only means the holder is eligible, but that we've got the money in hand to pick up the rent subsidy."

Also, under a new arrangement, vouchers are issued instead of certificates. These vouchers have the advantage of portability--if you can't find an apartment with a "fair market value" under HUD's definition, you can carry the voucher to another area, even out of state, where rents are lower.

Now, back to the bad news. If HUD simply isn't accepting applications, it means that it has a backlog of at least a year--that's the cut-off point. And the backlog here always averages about 10,000 applicants. The thing for you to do, the HUD official added, is to keep checking back with the manager of the apartment that interests you, not with HUD directly. The manager will know immediately when HUD is accepting applications again, and it is the manager, not HUD, who takes the applications.

Mail Bag

In your Feb. 18 column on misleading mail sent to Social Security beneficiaries, you quoted me as stating that "It really doesn't bother us . . . This organization doesn't really distribute any educational material that the public can't get from us without charge. But that's all right."

I am concerned that your article left the impression that the Social Security Administration is not bothered by this kind of advertising and that we don't care whether this type of activity goes on. The fact is that SSA takes a very firm position opposing this type of deceptive practice. While SSA lacks the legal authority to force advertisers to discontinue these practices, whenever any examples come to our attention, we contact the sponsoring organization to point out problems and to seek their cooperation to change objectionable material.

If SSA is unable to obtain voluntary compliance from a business or organization, it may refer the matter to the Federal Trade Commission or to the U.S. Postal Service for investigation and possible prosecution.

Information on deceptive and misleading advertising and other topics is being disseminated to all media outlets across the nation to let the public know the whole story about Social Security, its solvency and the package of protection it provides.

In addition, we are offering a free booklet entitled "Social Security--How It Works for You," which you can obtain by calling toll-free (800) 937-2000, or by writing to Social Security, Pueblo, Colo. 81009.


Public Affairs Specialist

Social Security Administration

Los Angeles

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