The need for affordable housing in the United States is huge. According to a 2014 Harvard study over 50% of those defined as low-income tenants spend greater than half of what they earn on their rent. It's hard to live on the rest.
Tens of millions can’t find rental homes they can afford. These are not just the poor but also many in the middle class. States and local communities are trying to address the issue. Some plan construction of new housing units. Others are renovating existing units as it is less costly and time consuming than new homes.
One promising option is a Regan policy which takes advantage of the private sector — a concept that was sorely missing in the Obama administration. LIHTC is a federal tax credit for builders of low-income housing. It's an important incentive to those who build or invest in affordable housing. It has provided funding for over 2.6 million affordable rental homes in the U.S. with over $100 billion in private capital. That's a win-win situation for private enterprise and for the people. Let's hope it will be extended. Meanwhile, here are programs that offer assistance for rent now:
Discover your program today!
Update May 2018
We wish we could say that the situation is getting better. Unfortunately in many places it just is not, even though the economy is better, jobs are more abundant and wages have even been increasing some. As good as that sounds, so many people – and not just low income families – are struggling to find reasonable rates on rentals in their cities. Even those in places like New York City, the Boston area And San Francisco, people earning well above median level – and over $100,000 annually, are having a tough time. Our best advice right now is to stay on your toes and by all means keep an eye out for lotteries involving middle-income and lower income rentals. If you apply and are lucky enough to win one you could end up with a nice new home you can actually afford…
Update March 2018 Are you an artist of some kind? One trending approach to getting help affording rent is bartering some of your work for a portion of your rent. Some artists are using their art in exchange for medical services or other sorts of goods. But among the most popular is help with rent. There are some complications since the transactions have to be reported as income for tax purposes. And according to the Wall Street Journal IRS agents are taught to look at people’s walls in their homes or offices and to ask how any art pieces were obtained. If it turns out the transaction was never reported then the artist can owe back taxes (never pretty…). That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try it! Be sure there is a detailed receipt that includes both a description of the items bartered and the money paid.
Update September 2017 Good news if you live in Silicon Valley, where it now takes an annual income of $179,000 to be able to afford a median-priced home, and one-bedroom apartments front for more than $2000 per month. NASA – a major local employer – is planning to build close to 2000 housing units which will all be rentals. And ten percent of those will technically qualify as “affordable.” If you work or go to a school on property owned by Ames (of the Ames NASA Research Center) then you will get first dibs on the rental units. Be aware that 8000 employees will qualify to apply, though not all will do so. The project will also include some retail space.
Update May 2017:
There’s some good news lately regarding rental rates being “slashed” —- though that might not be quite enough to make them affordable. Depends where you are, of course. But the trend is looking promising. Many landlords raised rents as more and more people went looking for rentals after the home mortgage crisis in 2008. Those rents got so out of control that they’ve finally priced themselves out of the market. So they’re now starting to cut rates, even in places like San Francisco and Silicon Valley. Those rates may still be high but there are some tips that could help you lower your cost. Experts advise looking to rent during winter months when not many people are competing with you. If you can mange to pay for a few month’s rent in advance you could possibly negotiate a discount. At any rate, if you’ve given up on finding an affordable place to rent, this could be the time to get back in the market.
Rent Help for Veterans There are lots of programs created specifically to help veterans get decent housing and housing that doesn't use up a huge portion of their income. Discover more options in Grants for Veterans.
Privately-owned, subsidized housing
One way that at the federal government helps low-income families afford decent rentals is by helping apartment owners charge lower rates. They do so by giving money directly to the owners, thus subsidizing the cost of the rental. You end up paying the difference between the normal (higher) market rate and what the government gives the apartment owner.
To be eligible for these rents, your family income must be below the official income limit. The actual figures change each year. Guidelines for 2015 are expected to be published in February 2015. In general your income can’t be higher than the federal government’s published poverty guidelines or higher than 30% of the median family income in your area. You don’t have to figure all these numbers out ahead of time. If you think you qualify you can apply for the housing and they will have the necessary numbers.
To apply for subsidized rental housing you actually go straight to the management office of the apartment building you’re interested in. It’s easy to find apartments that are part of the program. Just follow these steps:
- Go to HUD.gov (be sure you see the .gov in the site address).
- Under I want to: click “Find Rental Assistance”
- On the Rental Assistance page, under Need Help?, click Search for an apartment.
- On the Low-rent apartment search page, choose your state from the drop-down menu, then click Next>
- Once you are on the page for your state, choose the city, county or zip code you wish. If you know a specific apartment building you’re interested in, enter that name in the box that says “enter the name of property.”
You will then see a list of the apartment properties that offer government-subsidized rental rates. You can apply at the management office if one looks right for you. Along with the listing there are also usually some reviews you can read about the properties from companies like Yelp and others. Be sure to take a look at those reviews and see if there are positive or negative things you should know about up front.
Public housing is different from subsidized housing in that the property is owned by the government. The federal government (HUD) provides funds to housing agencies which manage the program locally. Properties may be single family homes or large apartment buildings.
Eligibility for public housing depends on your income as well as whether you qualify as elderly, disabled, or as a family. Also considered is your U.S. citizenship or eligible immigration status. Income limits are similar to those described in the above section about subsidized housing. It’s important to note that the income limits are different in different communities so if you don’t qualify in one place don’t give up. To apply for public housing you must contact your local Housing Authority. To find the one nearest you do an internet search for “local housing authority” and click on PHA Contact Information - HUD.
Housing Choice Vouchers
Vouchers are also managed by local Housing Authorities which you find the way as noted above. You can use the vouchers for a portion of your rent for any house, apartment, condo or town home you can find as long as it meets the basic health and safety standards set by the Housing Authority. So you just pay the difference between the normal rental rate and the portion covered by your voucher. To qualify as low-income your income cannot be greater than 50% of the median income in the area. The Housing Authorities must - according to the law — give 75% of its vouchers to applicants whose income is not great than 30% of the median income of the area, so lower incomes receive preference up to that point. In some cases you might get a voucher soon after applying. In most cases there are waiting lists which could be long.
The federal government is not the only place to look for grants and assistance to help you afford rentals. States are a good starting point. Look for a State Housing Finance Agency and/or a local public housing agency office. They will have the best information about resources available where you live – so you won't waste time hunting down information for aid you can't qualify for.
States receive grants and aid from the federal government which they administer and award locally. Many states have active programs that provide assistance both to home buyers and to those needing assistance for rent. HUD provides a link to the HUD page for each state so you can find local resources easily. Once you click on the state you want you will go to HUD’s portal page for that state. Under “I Want to” click Get Rental Help. Then you will go to the page you want — one that describes resources and programs specific to the state. In the upper part of that page you will find links to local housing authorities, lists of subsidized apartments, and a local housing counseling agency where you can get free advice. At the bottom of the page will be a section called Other (State name) Resources. Here you will find state-specific resources and assistance. These may include basic rental information as well as information specifically for seniors, people with disabilities, how to get help paying for your utilities, and your legal rights.
You can also get good leads on state, county and local programs that could help you. Do an internet search with the name of your town or county and “housing rental help” or a similar term and see what you find. Some programs come and go so do check frequently. Also contact your local Community Services Agency and ask them for guidance. They are experts in this area and would know where you could best spend your time seeking help.
These vary widely depending on the area you are in. Some, like the Salvation Army, have locations across the country. You should check to see if there is one near you. In some cases they are able to help those who need help with their security deposit in order to rent a new place. If they are able to help you they will also be sure that you get some sort of case management assistance as well. As you can imagine the demand often exceeds the availability of funds but it is worth a try checking with them. If they can’t help you they might be able to connect you with an agency that can.
Landlords might seem like your enemy but have you tried talking to yours about your situation? If you can show that you have a solid plan to catch up on your rent or avoid future late payments you might get a better reaction than you expect. It’s worth a try to get some additional breathing room.
There are so many people finding it difficult to afford rent these days. Have you considered taking on a roommate if it is at all possible? It can help a lot when you have more than one income covering your fixed costs.
If you’re looking to rent an apartment but you don’t have a credit history, you could have a problem. Many landlords rely on a credit report to judge your trustworthiness and ability to pay. However, there are a few ways you you can get past the issue if you stay on your toes. Advice sites like nerd wallet recommend that you be prepared to show evidence of a relatively high savings balance and/or you can prove sufficient income. Looking for a landlord who is an individual owner rather than a business or realtor can also get you over this hurdle. Letters from previous landlords could help (assuming they are favorable!) and of course it’s always helpful to have a co-signer — though those can be very tough to find. If you’re willing to go month-to-month on the lease that should help, as would prepaying some rent.
Check out some of the online lending platforms if you have an okay credit score and can show some income. If you’re really stuck you might try the personal crowdfunding sites. Modest Needs in particular is dedicated to helping people who are working hard to make ends meet. They do this by finding others who want to help people in need. They are set up in such a way that the money they provide is considered a gift. So unlike other crowdfunding sites, the money provided is not taxable. Learn more about them at Free Money 2015.
USDA: The Department of Housing and Urban Development is not the only government agency that provides housing assistance for those renting or buying home. Interestingly, the Department of Agriculture administers a number of rural programs for both buyers and renters. And what is considered “rural” is not always way out in what you might consider the middle of nowhere. Private Programs can also help you. There are non-profits that exist to help people with housing. They may be operating in your area, and they could be the answer to your prayers. Both these options are worth looking into in order to find the home where you need to live. See our article about Grants for Housing to get more detail on these programs as well as to learn more about the government programs we have discussed. If you think you could stick it out in your current home if you could make necessary repairs, check out Grants for Home Repair.