Rental Assistance Programs

Rental assistance programs help low-income households pay rent by providing a monthly subsidy to cover the gap between what the household can afford (set at about 30 percent of their monthly income) and actual rent. Generally, the initial allowed rent is set slightly below the going rate for new leases, based on US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) fair market rent (FMR) data published annually by region and unit size. 

There are two basic types of rental assistance:

  • Project-based rental assistance is assigned to specific units in specific developments under a long-term contract between the project owner and the subsidizing agency (e.g., HUD, housing authority, or state).
  • Tenant-based assistance is mobile. Households can use their vouchers to rent units anywhere—even when they move—as long as units meet program standards. The largest tenant-based program is HUD's Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program. While mobile vouchers can be used for rental apartments in subsidized developments, owners can't be sure how many voucher holders will choose to rent in their developments.

The predictability of project-based assistance is more useful for project financing. It makes it possible to serve lower-income households while charging higher rents than those households could otherwise afford. For example, an extremely low-income household of three may only be able to afford $350 a month at 30 percent of income, but a project with a rental assistance contract may be able to set rents at $1,200 and still house that family. By increasing the revenue available to cover debt service and operating costs, project-based rental reduces the need for other grants and subsidies.

HUD's Section 8 project-based voucher (PBV) program is the primary form of new project-based assistance available now. It can be used for 100 percent of the units in developments serving the elderly or disabled or for supportive housing developments or single-family homes; otherwise it can't be used for more than 25 percent of the units in a building. Unlike other forms of project-based rental assistance, tenants don't have to lose this when they move. Awards of assistance are controlled by public housing agencies (PHAs), including DHCD, that operate Section 8 HCV (tenant-based) programs.

Contact your local housing authority to see if they issue vouchers and to learn more.