Over 1 million families in the United States depend on low income housing programs. Because of this, many options exist to create safe and affordable living conditions for low-income families or persons with disabilities who need assistance and meet certain criteria.

The housing options are as varied as the applicants--everything from single family dwellings to high rise apartments are rented out to the young and to the elderly alike--but the legal guidelines remain consistent. Eligibility for each program is generally determined based on gross annual income, citizenship or immigration status, and reference checks.

Because the cost of living varies from state to state--and even region to region within each state--"low income" looks different in various parts of the country. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has broken the country into 10 HUD regions. Each region is overseen by a regional director who understands the area and the living expectations.

As a rule of thumb, it is safe to assume that a family who receives 80% of the median household income in a particular location is considered "low income," while a household receiving 50% or less of the area's median household income is considered "very low income."

Three programs within HUD that exist to help low-income or very low-income families are as follows:

Housing Choice Voucher Program (Section 8)

The Housing Choice Voucher Program is run by Public Housing Agencies (PHAs) and exists to help very low-income families find a single-family home, townhouse, or apartment that will meet certain safety and sanitary requirements. Options exist to purchase or rent this dwelling based on the approval process. If the landlord or owner of the chosen property is willing to work with the family in question, he or she is issued a housing subsidy directly paid by the PHA. The family then pays the remainder of the cost to stay in the residence.

Public Housing

Public housing is an arrangement in which a family is invited to live in a government-owned property, meaning the house is owned and maintained by the state in which it is located. Each state has a public housing program that varies in its criteria and terminology. Most often there is a waiting list to get into this program. It is a good idea to research state-specific guidelines for public housing.

Privately owned subsidized housing

Privately owned subsidized housing allows renters to pay a reduced rent on an approved apartment, based on income requirements, and then HUD sends the landlord the difference in the monthly rent. HUD maintains a regularly updated database of HUD-approved housing which makes finding a place to live much simpler.

The application process to establish eligibility for each of the HUD programs includes a list of straightforward questions that must be answered in writing. The questions range from the number of people in the family that needs housing to the expected income for the coming year. Documentation such as birth certificates and tax returns must be provided in support of the answers.

Once HUD approves a family for assistance, the family is either helped immediately or put on a waiting list until assistance can be given. The good news is, once a family moves into the home, they are free to stay as long as they comply with the lease.

If you would like more information about HUD low income housing programs or if you know you meet the requirements and want to discuss the steps for getting assistance, contact a local Housing Agency (HA) or HUD Field Office.