Trouble finding or staying in decent and affordable housing is a tough problem. It is much worse when there are children involved. And while there are many well-meaning programs available to help, there are also many people looking for assistance.
It is critical to know how you can possibly solve your problem. And you have to figure out where best to spend your time: how realistic is each option? A program may sound great on paper but turns out to have a very long wait list. Another program may look attractive but there are specific qualifications that would make it impossible for you. Another solution might mean you have to move — and maybe you do. Are you ready for that?
If you know what the possible solutions are you can plan your “attack” and keep frustrations from overwhelming you. There will be frustration — there probably are not easy answers. The first step is to accept the fact that it’s going to take some legwork and you may not find what you want and need right away. If you are looking to buy a house and need some financial help to do that, see our articles on grants for purchasing a home and grants for first-time home buyers. If you’re having a hard time getting by and really need help finding a safe, clean, affordable rental then this article will help.
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February 2017 Update For those who live In the San Francisco Bay area — more correctly in Silicon Valley: Facebook will give $20 million to nearby communities to help alleviate the local housing crisis. This move comes upon the heels of its announcement that it will be adding around 6500 new employees to the area — an area that already has a critical housing shortage. The money will go to Menlo Park and East Palo Alto, both of which border its headquarters campus. The $20 million is to be used primarily (about $18.5 million of it) to fund new housing with a focus on low-middle income families. The remainder will be used to help job-training programs and to provide legal support to exist tenants who face possible eviction. Nice move on Facebook's part…
Many people and government agencies want to help you get a roof over your head. It is not as easy as simply applying for and receiving a “grant”. Grants are specific types of awards given to government or non-profit agencies to carry out specific actions. Except for exceptional research scientists and the very popular student Pell Grants, they are rarely given to individuals.
But there is financial assistance available and it is called by many different names. Below we explain the major categories of Public Housing, Privately Owned Rental Housing, Section 8 Vouchers, USDA Rural Programs (for home purchases and rentals), and Private, Non-Profit Housing Assistance Programs:
Evictions: If you are evicted one place you might be able to get help with your housing payments is the Salvation Army. What they have to spend depends on the donations they receive and their funding from the United Way. They provide what they can to help people with rent and mortgage payments. To apply you have to show your notice of eviction, personal id’s and social security cards for your family and proof that you don’t owe more than $200. You might be able to get long term assistance if you’ve been driven from your home by flooding or other disasters.
Public Housing: Public Housing is probably the best known type of housing assistance. It is designed to help low-income families as well as the disabled and the elderly. Around 1.2 million families, or households, currently live in Public Housing, which may be a single family home or an apartment building (owned by federal, state or local agencies). Whether you are considered “low-income” will depend on the median income where you live. You will be required to pay some rent, but it will not be more than 30% of your monthly adjusted income.
To apply for Public Housing you must go through your local housing agency. You can look it up in the government section of your phone book or go to the website of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) at hud.gov. Once there click on “Rental Assistance” and then “Contact a Public Housing Agency”. A colorful map will open up. Just click on your state and you will get a list of agencies. The list will also indicate whether that particular agency handles Low Rent, Section 8 Vouchers or both programs.
Privately Owned Rental Housing These are apartments owned by private individuals or organizations. HUD helps them so that they can rent out their apartments at rates lower than the market. You get in on it by finding an eligible apartment and applying at the office that manages it (often in the same building, but it might be located elsewhere). In order to find what apartments in this program are located in your area, again go to the HUD website. Click Rental Assistance, then “Search for an apartment.” Enter your state and then you will be asked to enter your city/county/zip code. You can also enter the name of a specific address you're interested in.
Home Ownership Funding for the HOME (Home Ownership Partnership) Program has been funded for the fiscal year 2017 at the level of $950 million. This is the same level as the previous year, a disappointment to some. The same bill also provided full funding for rental assistance contracts. It also gives a green light to the Housing Trust Fund which should ensure further funding of that program. And though the HOME funds did not increase, the bill does award over $58 billion for new spending on THUD programs (Transportation, Housing and Urban Development), an almost $900 million increase. It also included more than $20 billion for the Housing Choice Voucher program which is further described below.
Section 8 Vouchers These housing vouchers, which represent money to help you pay for housing, are available to eligible households who qualify as being “very low income”, elderly and/or disabled. If you are successful getting a voucher it will be paid directly to your landlord to subsidize your rent. Homes are privately owned and could be single family houses, town homes or apartments. You are responsible for finding a place where the owner is willing to rent under the Section 8 program. You must also pay any difference between the voucher amount and the actual amount of the rent. To apply go to your local Public Housing Agency (PHA) — see instructions for finding that agency in the above section on Public Housing. Note: Be aware that there may be long wait lists for Section 8 Vouchers. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, or that or that it's hopeless to put your name on the list. You might qualify as a “preferred” case, or the list may move more quickly than you expect. You only have no chance if you don't apply…
Transitional Housing The Justice Department offers grants for short term housing for the homeless, addicted or abused among others. However, individuals cannot apply for these grants. They go to other government entities and non-profits who in turn provide local services. Particularly if you are a woman with or without children you may be able to find emergency shelter in your area along with support to help put your life back together. For example, the YWCA in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania has a “goal-oriented” program for women as well as women with children who are homeless, regardless of the reason. Support is provided to help participants find jobs and more permanent housing. They charge 30%of the participants income – but importantly, you do not have to have an income to join the program. Participants can stay from 6 to 24 months. You apply by filling out an online application. There are programs similar to this all over the country. The best way to find them is to call 2-1-1 (see I Need Help for more info on this). If they can't help you then do an internet search with the name of your city or county and “traditional housing.”
USDA Rural Programs Rentals: The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides a surprising number of programs to assist people living in what it defines as rural areas. Not all of these areas are way out in remote areas — some are surprisingly well populated. If your income is considered low or very low, or you are elderly or disabled and you can’t find rent that is no more than 30% of your income, then you may qualify for their Rental Assistance Program. To find out if there are rental homes in your area that are subsidized by this program, go to the usda.gov website. (Be sure you see the .gov in the url!) Under “Popular Topics” click on Housing Assistance. When that page comes up click on “Rental Assistance Subsidy” in the top section. Then over on the right click on “Find a Rental Home in your Area”. It will take you to a colorful map where you can click on your state and see a list of rental homes by city.
Home Purchase: The USDA also provides guaranteed loans through certified lending agencies to help qualified families purchase a home. To be eligible you must be categorized as low or very low income compared to the median income in your area. You must also be able to make mortgage payments that are usually about 24% of your income. (That includes your taxes and insurance.) The USDA's “Mutual Self-Help Loans” are also aimed at low and very low income families. They help people help each other to construct new homes. Those being helped do a little over half the labor on the new home; the resulting cost savings make the new home affordable. If you're in a home and afraid of foreclosure, check out the new HARP rules which could make life a whole lot easier. We explain in Assistance for HARP Eligibility.
Private Housing Assistance Programs
We have identified several charitable organizations that help people locate and afford homes. You may be able to find one of these — or others! — in your area. The government is not the only source of financial assistance. Consider these:
Habitat for Humanity is a program that helps families get homes. What they call “Partner Families” are chosen according strictly to need, what they are able to pay and their willingness to work alongside Habitat for their home. Race, religion or other such attributes play no role in family selection. There are several criteria which you must meet, and you must help to build the home as well as go to classes for homeowners. They will also require a down payment (which is structured to be very affordable) and make mortgage payments on time. You can find out more by calling their help line at 1-800-422-4828.
The Bridge of Hope has a mission to “end family homelessness.” It builds partnerships of case managers trained in housing, church-based mentoring groups (who are also trained) and single mothers who are homeless. Those mothers who complete the program end up with rental housing, a job that gives them financial stability, and a new network of support from the local church community.
Catholic Charities is a well-known organization that offers help to millions of people, religious or not. If you search for them in your local area they may be able to help you find an agency that can help get you housing.
Note: If you are a nonprofit that assists would-be homebuyers, you can you should check out the Homeownership Counseling Grant Program offered by Wells Fargo Bank. These are small grants averaging about $7800. They are intended to help you provide homebuyer education and counseling especially with regard to finding cash for a down payment, improving credit scores and more. You must be a 501 © (3) to apply.