Low-Income Apartment and Affordable Housing Renter’s Guide

Home and rent prices are through the roof in a lot of areas right now, leaving a lot of people struggling.

Every person deserves to live in the home of their dreams. Unfortunately, due to the economy and other circumstances, homes and apartments for rent are out of many people's price range. In some cases, circumstances are so difficult that renters aren't even able to afford what many would deem “affordable rentals."

During these times, you may need extra support. That's why there are state and federal programs available to renters who are not only looking for low-income apartments but who also need assistance paying for them.

In this guide, you'll learn about a variety of programs that can help renters find a comfortable, safe place to call home. You'll also learn how to find out if you qualify for these programs and how to apply for them.

In this guide:

What are low-income and affordable housing?

Low-income or affordable housing is affordable to people with a household income that is at or below the national average. Low-income is also based on state and local income and affordability indexes.

Low-income apartments for rent are those that cost less to the tenants than the median rental price for a particular city. The goal of low-income apartments is to allow people a safe, comfortable place to call home and reduce homelessness, making decent housing something that anyone can afford.

Those who benefit from these housing programs include:

  • Low-income individuals and families
  • People with disabilities
  • The elderly

Besides those qualifications, eligibility requirements include:

  • U.S. citizenship
  • Eligible immigration status
  • Total annual gross income

Even if you fit the criteria, the housing association can deny admission if you have habits or practices that are detrimental to the tenants or the property itself.

Section 8 housing

What is Section 8?

The most well-known housing program is Section 8, which is a housing choice voucher program. Regional housing authorities receive federal funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) so that they can administer housing choice vouchers.

HUD or the PHA issues housing choice vouchers to the family or individual, which allows renters to choose their own low-income apartments, not just ones in subsidized housing projects. Or, if they prefer, they can search for townhouses or single-family homes that are part of the Section 8 program.

Landlords that own Section 8 apartments for rent agree to participate in the program. A suitable housing unit meets HUD's health and safety standards. The landlord receives a subsidy directly from their local Public Housing Agency, called a housing assistance payments contract, on behalf of the individual or family participating in the housing choice voucher program. Required in the housing assistance payments contract is that the landlord has to keep the housing unit up to quality standards. Then, the individual/family pays the difference between the actual rent charged by the landlord and the subsidized amount paid out by the housing voucher.

Section 8 requirements

If you're looking for Section 8 apartments for rent, you need to know that there are requirements that both the landlord and tenant need to abide by. These requirements may vary by state:

  • Passing housing quality standards
  • Passing yearly inspections
  • Adhering to the terms of the lease agreement
  • Notifying Section 8 office of rental fee increases
  • Requirements to accept Section 8 tenants (Some states require that all landlords rent to Section 8 tenants, as well as higher-earning tenants)

As a Section 8 tenant, you must:

  • Actually live in the rental unit
  • Pay rent on time each month
  • Pay a security deposit
  • Avoid illegal activity (on and off the premises)
  • Follow the terms of your lease
  • Avoid having guests stay in your rental for more than 14 consecutive days
  • Allow PHA inspections
  • Report any changes in family income or family composition
  • Request approval for roommates (or for new roommates)

Eligibility of low income families

The main factor to determine eligibility for housing assistance is income and family size. Typically, your household income can't exceed 50 percent of the average income for the city or county in which you live. Tenants who earn even less (30 percent and below), by law, receive 75 percent of vouchers from the housing choice voucher program.

To find out if you're eligible for Section 8 housing assistance, you can check the Housing and Urban Development website, which publishes median income levels by location. Additionally, the Public Housing Agency (PHA) that serves your community can provide more information about family income limits for the city/county in which you live, as well as your family size.

How to apply for Section 8 housing choice voucher program

To start, you should contact your local Public Housing Agency. This organization will collect information from you regarding:

  • Family composition
  • U.S. Citizenship/eligible immigration status
  • Total family income
  • Assets

Then, the PHA will verify the information with:

  • Your employer
  • Your bank
  • Other local agencies

Based on the information they receive, they'll determine program eligibility status and how much you're able to receive in housing choice vouchers. Once you receive notification that you're eligible for Section 8 apartments for rent, the PHA will put you on a waiting list, though in some areas, they're able to help individuals and families immediately. When they reach your name on the waiting list, the PHA will contact you to inform you and issue a Section 8 housing voucher.

For more information, you can contact your local HUD office.

How to find low-income apartments for rent under Section 8

When your PHA notifies you that they've reached your name on the waitlist and they send you your housing choice vouchers, you'll have 90 days to find an apartment that you consider decent, sanitary and safe. They must also pass a HUD inspection before you can move in.

Finding an apartment to rent in 90 days is doable with a bit of planning. As soon as your name goes on the housing choice voucher program waitlist, start thinking about the type of apartment you want. Ask your PHA how long they expect your name to stay on the waiting list. Then, use that as a baseline timeline to plan your move.

Use Rent. to narrow your search to affordable apartments that fit the quality, location, safety and price you're looking for, as well as any other search criteria, like amenity or neighborhood must-haves. You can also use HUDs online map, which is an interactive tool that shows you which apartments in your area are HUD-approved for either Section 8, Section 42 or USDA Rural Housing.

Section 42 means building more apartments

What is Section 42 housing?

Section 42 is the short name for tax credit apartments. It refers to that section in the IRS Tax Code. The program is similar to Section 8 in that it helps low-income individuals and families find affordable housing.

The main differences are that Section 42:

  • Benefits builders, as well as tenants, because builders get a tax credit for building affordable housing.
  • Has fixed rental fees. Once the landlord sets rent, it won't increase each year.
  • Rental costs aren't based on individual income alone. Section 42 takes into account your area's median income, as well as student status and employment status.

Basically, Section 42 benefits low-income residents by providing tax cuts for builders, who in turn, develop more low-income rentals. The nice thing about Section 42 is that there's a rental fee cap, which includes utilities. The tenant is responsible for this amount in full. Section 42 is different in that it's not a housing choice voucher program, so there are no government subsidies paying a portion of the rental fee. However, because of the rental/utility cost cap, they don't have to worry about rising costs year after year.

Section 42 requirements

Income qualifications for Section 42 housing depend on Housing and Urban Development income levels in your city or county. Your income includes:

  • Wages
  • Child support
  • Pensions
  • Social security
  • Alimony
  • Income from assets (savings accounts, bonds, etc.)

Personal assets like your vehicle or furniture are not included in your income.

The rental property owner or manager verifies you or your family's income before acceptance into a Section 42 community. It's also reviewed annually. You'll need to show that you still qualify when it's time to renew your lease. Any changes in the size of your family or the amount of income you earn will determine whether you're still eligible for affordable housing or not.

Typically, your family's income needs to fall within 30 to 50 percent of the median income limits for your city/county/state. The size of your family will also determine your eligibility for Section 42 low-income apartments for rent.

As with Section 8 apartments for rent, property owners have requirements to determine eligibility, as well. Eligibility for tax credit apartments includes the following factors:

  • At least 20 percent of the units must house renters who qualify for Section 42 (meeting the requirement of 30 to 50 percent of the area's average income)
  • At least 40 percent of the units house tenants who earn 60 percent or less than the area's average income or area median adjusted income (AMI)
  • At least 40 percent of the units house renters that average no more than 60 percent of the area's adjusted income
  • No housing unit has tenants who earn over 80 percent of the AMI

Compliance with those requirements includes income and rent tests for 15 years, though many have an imposed extended compliance period (another 15 years).

How to apply for Section 42 low-income apartments

If you qualify for Section 42 apartments, you can apply directly to a community made up of tax credit apartments.

As with Section 8, you can find Section 42 apartments by:

  • Using HUD's online map
  • Doing a Google search (“Section 42 apartments in [city]" or “tax credit apartments in [city]")
  • Getting assistance from local non-profit organizations that help low-income renters
  • Using Rent.'s income-restricted search filter (simply change the minimum rental amount to the amount that fits your budget)

Because Section 42 is not a government housing subsidy program, you don't need to apply directly to HUD for eligibility. Simply apply directly to the apartment complex, the leasing agent or the property manager. When you talk to these people, you'll likely need to:

  • Complete an application
  • Show U.S. Citizenship/eligible immigration status
  • Provide proof of income
  • Provide a list of assets
  • Inform them of the size of your family

You'll need to supply much of this information annually not only to prove that you're still eligible but also because the rental property owner needs this information to earn their tax credit each year when they file their taxes. Without this information, they aren't eligible for the credit.

public housing

Public housing and more: Lesser-known sections for affordable housing

Another option is a public housing program, which consists of state-owned houses or apartments through local public housing agencies. Public housing programs are available through HUD and are often ideal for:

  • Low-income families
  • People with disabilities
  • Seniors

Unfortunately, long wait times are typical for public housing programs since the demand is high. Sometimes, the demand for housing is so high that the local Public Housing Agency freezes the waitlist since they're barely able to serve the needs of those already on the list in the near future.

Eligibility for public housing programs depends upon:

  • Your annual gross income
  • U.S. citizenship
  • Immigration status
  • The size of your family
  • Whether you have a disability
  • Your age

As with Section 8 and Section 42 housing, your income must be less than the median income for the area in which you live — typically between 50 and 80 percent. It's important to note that median income levels — and therefore, eligibility requirements — differ from city to city and/or county to county. To find out if you're eligible, contact your local PHA. They'll inform you of the income requirements and let you know if you qualify for a public housing program such as Section 8 or Section 42.

Housing assistance for seniors

The Supportive Housing for the Elderly program (Section 202) provides affordable, subsidized housing for seniors. Thirty percent of the renter's net income goes to their monthly rent payments. Property owners are private individuals or management companies — these are not government public housing units operated by HUD.

Eligible renters include those that are:

  • Single
  • Married
  • Have children
  • At least one member of the household is age 62 or older
  • Make less than 50 percent of the AMI for the area in which they're applying

Housing assistance for veterans

HUD and the VA collaborate to provide housing vouchers and housing support to veterans and their families. The goal is to provide and sustain permanent housing and reduce veteran homelessness.

VA case managers can connect the veteran to their local HUD or PHA, which will then provide housing vouchers. In addition to the affordable housing assistance, the VA also provides the following services to ensure the veteran's ability to maintain housing.

  • Physical health care
  • Mental health care
  • Substance use counseling

Additionally, the VA also supports veterans by providing housing grants, lease programs and support services for families of veterans.

Non-Elderly Disabled (NED)

Supportive Housing for Persons with Disabilities (Section 811) provides affordable, subsidized, low-income apartments to people with disabilities. Participants only pay 30 percent of their net income or 10 percent of their gross family income each month in rental fees (whichever is higher). These properties are privately owned by individuals or management companies. They're not operated by HUD.

Eligibility requirements:

  • At least one member of the household (an adult) must have some type of disability, including physical or developmental disabilities or chronic mental illness.
  • Everyone with a disability is eligible regardless of marital status or whether or not they have children.
  • There's typically no citizenship requirement but double-check with the property owner to make sure their property isn't subject to other housing requirements that include citizenship guidelines.
  • The household income is less than 50 percent of the AMI.

housing assistance

How to get emergency housing assistance

A person's circumstances can change in the blink of an eye. Thankfully, there's further assistance for people who are:

  • Homeless
  • At risk of homelessness
  • Fleeing or attempting to flee from domestic or dating violence, sexual assault, human trafficking or stalking
  • At high risk of housing instability
  • Have lost a home due to the financial costs of illness or injury (like COVID-19)
  • Have lost their home due to a natural disaster

The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) provides a program through HUD called the Emergency Housing Voucher program (EHV). HUD provides vouchers to local PHAs to assist individuals and families who need emergency affordable housing.

The government COVID-19 eviction moratorium is complete, which means a lot of renters are in a bind. Their landlords have the ability to evict them if they're unable to pay their rent even though the pandemic is still raging.

HUD provides assistance to both landlords and renters to help them work out payment plans, as well as to help renters find new low-income apartments to rent. In an emergency, though, where eviction is imminent and you need emergency housing, call 211 for immediate assistance.

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

Even if you have affordable housing, you can still face circumstances that make paying for utilities and rental fees especially difficult. If you find yourself in this type of situation, you may qualify for Emergency Rental Assistance.

The U.S. Congress has allocated over $45 billion to this program to help keep people in their homes. The money helps property owners, as well as renters, who are struggling. The website helps you find local programs in your state/county. They also have a frequently asked question section to find out if you're eligible and what renters/landlords can use the money for.

The National Low-Income Housing Coalition

This Coalition provides information about federal eviction moratoriums (particularly pertinent during the COVID-19 pandemic), as well as the latest information about efforts to reduce eviction rates. Their ultimate goal is to advance anti-racist policies and reforms that ensure very low-income renters have affordable housing options.


This organization provides legal aid information for all 50 states. You'll find self-help videos, forms and fact sheets, all of which will help you understand your legal rights as a tenant/renter. An associated organization, Pro Bono Net, helps connect attorneys with people in need, whether through interpersonal interactions or free legal resources on their website.


Just Shelter is essentially a directory of organizations that helps protect tenant rights and prevent eviction. The directory includes organizations throughout the 50 states. They provide community, as well as national, resources.

The Eviction Lab

The goal of The Eviction Lab at Princeton University is to learn about the prevalence and causes (as well as the consequences) of evicting very low-income families and housing insecurity. It's made up of a team of students and researchers who believe the best way to help everyone in the U.S. achieve stable, affordable housing is to understand eviction and poverty in America. Through their research, the Lab continues to help people understand how eviction shapes communities, raises awareness about the impact of eviction and housing insecurity, as well as looks for solutions to those issues.


211 is a free, confidential service that connects you to a variety of resources if you're struggling with:

  • Paying rent
  • Obtaining assistance for essentials, like food
  • Paying your basic, monthly bills
  • Paying for medical expenses
  • Getting help for mental health issues

The team at 211 is caring and compassionate. They want to help. They want to point you to the resources that can help you through this difficult time and stay healthy in the process.

To get in touch with the 211 team, simply dial 2-1-1 on your phone or visit their website.

Financial assistance counseling

USDA Rural Development Program

The USDA Rural Development Program offers USDA-financed projects for renters in rural areas (USDA Rural Rental Housing), as well as farm laborers (USDA Farm Labor Housing). These programs assist low-income tenants so that they can pay their full rental fees each month.

Properties that have low or very low-income tenants receive money from this program on the tenants' behalf.

Modest Needs

Modest Needs is a non-profit organization that's been around for 20 years. Their goal is to help individuals and families that work and live just above the poverty level, which makes them ineligible for most social assistance programs. If this describes you, you know what it's like to live paycheck to paycheck and how devastating a temporary crisis is to you and your family.

Modest Needs offers Self-Sufficiency Grants to help cover an emergency expense of up to $1,000. The money goes straight to the vendor, not to the person who applied for the grant.

Another goal of this agency is to reduce the load that social assistance entities face. Poverty is a big problem in this country and many individuals and families rely on these programs to survive. Modest Needs is here to help people who need temporary, not long-term, assistance. The grants are not loans. Repayment is not required and there are no application fees attached.

Salvation Army

The Salvation Army understands that life can throw you curveballs and they want to help. They offer one-time assistance to help pay rental fees. You can do a Google search for “Salvation Army rental assistance + the name of your state" to find the organization in your area that can help.

Catholic charities

Like the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities have grants to help pay rent in emergency situations (like when you have unexpected bills, medical expenses, loss of a job or something like the COVID-19 pandemic). Simply do a Google search for “Catholic Charities rental assistance + the name of your state." You can also search by city or county.

Housing and Urban Development-Approved Housing Counseling Agencies

In addition to contacting HUD directly, you can get assistance for rent or finding low-income apartments for rent from HUD-approved agencies. These agencies can help with:

  • Financial management
  • Budget counseling
  • Budget/financial/debt counseling
  • Rental housing counseling
  • Rental housing workshops

Agencies include Habitat for Humanity, Balance and Catholic Charities, just to name a few. You can narrow your search to specific organizations that are faith-based or those that cater to migrant workers. The easiest way to find agencies in your state is to do a Google search for “HUD Approved Housing Counseling Agencies + the name of your state."

Additional resources

Below are links to the websites for low-income housing resources for every U.S. state. If you dig a bit deeper — either on Google or on some of the sites listed below — you'll find that some cities and counties offer additional support and resources. Some even point renters to various county housing authorities' websites that can provide even more guidance and assistance regarding housing choice voucher programs, tax credit apartments and how to get emergency housing assistance from other local agencies.

The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal or financial advice. Readers are encouraged to seek professional legal or financial advice as they may deem it necessary.