The Housing Choice Voucher Program, more commonly referred to as Section 8, offers financial assistance towards the cost of housing for low and very low-income families and households that meet eligibility requirements. Benefits are administered by this housing assistance program in order to provide the neediest families with access to safe, sanitary and affordable housing as well as assist these families in rising from poverty.

Unfortunately, the demand for housing assistance within the United States far exceeds the amount of funding that is available for the program. To handle the staggering amount of applicants, each public housing agency (PHA) has created a Section 8 waiting list. An open section 8 waiting list means that the PHA is still accepting applications for the Housing Choice Voucher Program. A closed list signifies that the PHA has already received far more qualifying applicants than current funding allows them to assist.

If you have been placed on a Section 8 waiting list, it is worth taking the time to learn more about these lists, including the average amount of time to remain on a waiting list, how local preferences affect applicants and why you should apply with more than one public housing agency whenever possible.

What is a Section 8 waiting list?

A Section 8 waiting list is made up of families and households that qualify for the Housing Choice Voucher Program, but cannot yet receive assistance due to a shortage of funds or housing vouchers. These lists are carefully monitored by the public housing agency that accepted the family’s application and confirmed their eligibility.

If you are currently on a closed or open Section 8 waiting list, it is imperative that you inform your PHA of any changes to your mailing address or contact information, should these changes occur. Once your family is selected to receive benefits from the Housing Choice Voucher Program, you will be contacted by your PHA and your eligibility will be reaffirmed. If your Public Housing Agency is unable to reach you, your family may be removed from the Section 8 waiting list and you will need to reapply if you still need housing assistance.

Closed vs Open Section 8 Waiting List

If the public housing agency in your community has a closed Section 8 waiting list, that means that the PHA is no longer accepting applications for the Housing Choice Voucher program due to the sheer volume of qualifying households that are currently on their waiting list. Rather than accept more applications, the PHA strives to provide housing benefits to the families that have already qualified for the program and have been waiting to receive assistance.

An open Section 8 waiting list signifies that the PHA has begun to accept more applications for the Housing Choice Voucher Program. The date that a waiting list will open is generally public knowledge and it is not uncommon for a PHA to receive a surge of applications within the first few business days from the date that a list opens.

The Average Amount of Time Spent on a Section 8 Waiting List

If you are currently on a Section 8 waiting list, it is important to know that waiting lists are notoriously long. Depending on the area that you live in, it may be weeks or months before the local public housing agency can assist you.

In some cases, it may take years to be able to apply for the Housing Choice Voucher Program in certain densely populated areas. For example, the current open Section 8 waiting list in 2017 did not include open lists within New York. Similarly, the current open Section 8 waiting list in 2018 also did not include New York. In fact, it has been estimated that the lists in New York have remained closed since 2009.

Densely populated cities and communities have by far the largest wait times in the country. The greater the population, the greater the need for housing assistance.

How to Perform a Section 8 Waiting List Check

If you are waiting for an open Section 8 waiting list, it is imperative that you monitor the status of your local PHA’s waiting list. As stated previously, your PHA will likely receive a staggering number of applicants within the first few days of opening a waiting list. Once the PHA has received enough qualifying families, the waiting list will likely close.

You can perform a Section 8 waiting list check by contacting your local PHA. Your agency will be able to inform you of any current dates to open the waiting list as well as provide referrals to any additional assistance programs that may be available to you in the meantime.

Understanding Local Section 8 Waiting List Preferences

Due to the overwhelming need for housing assistance in the United States, most public housing agencies have applied “local preferences” to their Section 8 waiting list. Local preferences allow the PHA to provide assistance first to households that are considered to have the greatest need, based upon the greatest needs within a community. Rather than qualifying families receiving benefits based on “first come, first serve”, families that qualify for a local preference will receive benefits first, regardless of where that family is on the waiting list.

The local preference specifics on a Section 8 waiting list can vary by county or metropolitan area since each PHA has the authority to access the greatest needs within their own community. Local preferences may provide prioritization to families and households that include:

Learn About Applying to More Than One Open Section 8 Waiting List

If there is more than one open Section 8 waiting list within your area, you are encouraged to apply to multiple public housing agencies whenever possible. Doing so may be able to help you gain assistance faster as each PHA is in charge of their own lists.

About Confirming Your Qualifications After Reaching the Top of the Section 8 Waiting List

Once you have been selected from a Section 8 waiting list to receive benefits, your PHA will reaffirm your eligibility for Section 8. If your family is still eligible for assistance, your PHA will work with you to find a new home. If your family is no longer eligible for benefits, your application will be denied and you will be removed from the waiting list.