A housing authority is the local administrative agency for housing assistance programs funded by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Large cities have their own housing authority, and smaller towns are served by a county authority. All authorities provide rental housing or rental assistance to low-income families, the elderly and people with disabilities.
A local housing authority is the first place to go to find out about what housing assistance programs are available in your area, and whether they are accepting applications. Often there are long waiting lists for housing assistance programs, especially the Housing Choice Voucher, or Section 8 voucher programs and for public housing units managed and maintained by the housing authority.
Not all housing authorities manage and maintain public housing units, although virtually all authorities serving large urban areas do. Public housing units usually suffer from deferred maintenance issues, and many urban developments have reputations as dangerous places. Despite this, there are always long waiting lists for units. Currently, many public housing developments nationwide are being rebuilt and restructured into mixed-income developments.
A Housing Choice or Section 8 voucher provides rental assistance to citizens who would otherwise not be able to afford to rent an apartment. Voucher holders look for rental housing in the private market. There are different voucher programs, and all have different criteria for acceptable units, where a family can live, and whether assistance follows a family if they move. Generally, a voucher holder pays 30% of their monthly income in rent, and the voucher makes up the difference and covers the rental deposit. To qualify for a voucher, family income cannot exceed 50% of the median income, as determined by the last census, of the area where the family lives.
People seeking housing assistance will need to visit the offices of their local housing authority to fill out the necessary paperwork. If accepted for assistance, you will likely be assigned a caseworker and will need to visit the authority periodically to document that you are still eligible for assistance. A housing authority also usually holds workshops about various topics related to financial self-sufficiency, disaster preparedness for program participants.