A Renter's Guide: How to Score Rental Assistance from the Federal Government

Renting is considered a more affordable alternative than directly purchasing a home. After the economic recession, which had plummeted real estate market values, a new financial landscape is rising where home rental is becoming a more viable and secure option for many home shoppers.

However, renting can still be a bit pricey especially for low-income individuals and families who cannot afford a place to stay. To address this, federal government agencies have established rental assistance programs that provide affordable rentals, subsidized housing, and housing vouchers to pay off rental expenses.

HUD rental assistance programs

At the forefront of delivering housing assistance is the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD serves different kinds of programs that will help you with your specific rental needs.

Public housing:

HUD's public housing program enables low-income households, the elderly, and people with disabilities to acquire affordable places to live in.

Privately-owned subsidized housing:

Landlords (such as apartment owners) can offer reduced rents to their low-income tenants through this program. Home renters can search for low-cost rental properties and can apply directly at their prospective management offices.

Housing Choice Voucher Program (Section 8):

When granted with Housing Choice vouchers, you can search for your next rental place and have these vouchers pay for all or part of your rental expenses. Eligible borrowers are Section 8 voucher holders that have been approved by their local Public Housing Agency (PHA). In order to apply, contact or visit a public housing agency in your area. According to HUD, you may want to apply at more than one PHA due to the long waiting lists.

If you're a Section 8 voucher holder but chose to relocate to another city, you can take the voucher with you. However, you will need to contact your current and your future PHA to smoothen out details. Your local PHA keeps a record of possible landlords who are willing to take Housing Choice vouchers.

Rental assistance for low-income households

The U.S. Department of Commerce also provides a Tenant-Based Rental Assistance (TBRA) program, a HOME program implemented through HUD that targets very low-income individuals and families.

TBRA is a rental subsidy designed to aid the homeless and low-income households with their utility, security and rental deposits that are renewable for up to two years. In order to qualify for the program, households should have incomes not exceeding 50 percent of their area's median household income. The rental and deposit assistance is administered through community development agencies, housing authorities, and local governments that have pooled their resources together with several other local service providers to support these kinds of services.

Rental assistance for the elderly and persons with disabilities

HUD's Multifamily Inventory of Units for the Elderly and Persons with Disabilities offers living arrangements and choices for senior citizens and people with disabilities. If you have aging or disabled relatives/friends and want to seek out a secure and cheaper place for them to stay, you can go to HUD's Subsidized Apartment Search.

You can also count on HUD-approved housing counseling agencies to give you free or low-cost advice to guide you in the right direction. You can easily find one serving your area.

Rental assistance for veterans

HUD and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Supportive Housing Program (HUD-VASH) have teamed up to bring permanent and supportive housing services to the most vulnerable veterans, women veterans and veterans with disabilities.

HUD has distributed thousands of Housing Choice vouchers nationwide, which enable veterans and their families to rent privately-owned housing while VA affords case management services that assist in the fulfillment of the veteran's recovery goals.

Under this housing program, local public housing authorities pay rental subsidies to the landlord on behalf of the participating veteran. Then, the veteran pays the difference between the actual rental costs and the amount financially supported by the program.

Rental assistance for people in rural areas

In rural communities, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) offers rental assistance programs, home repair loans and grants, rural rental assistance payments, and self-help rural housing loans to low-income individuals and families.

Can you get home improvement assistance as a home renter?

Rental assistance doesn't stop right there.

While renting can relieve you of property maintenance, there is still that impending home improvement project you would want to tackle. If you're cash-strapped, you may opt to apply for federal housing programs that offer home improvement grants. However, these grants are usually reserved for the benefit of homeowners (that means your landlord). So what's a home renter to do?

First, address your home repair needs to your landlord. If your needs have signaled approval, your landlord can apply for several home rehabilitation programs. One example is HUD's Federal Housing Administration's (FHA) 203(k) Rehabilitation Mortgage Insurance.

USDA also provides housing repair loans and grants to repair or renovate residential properties in order to make them more secure and safer against possible health and safety hazards.

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Edited by: Michael Saunders

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