Category Archives: Low Income Housing Information

Providing Affordable Housing to Those Using Government Money

There are many pros and cons in providing affordable housing to those using government money—whether the funds are in the form of Section 8 vouchers or federally insured loans.

All landlords in the United States are expected to abide by the fair housing laws which were instituted to prevent discrimination in housing due to race, religion, gender or national origin; however there is no law that requires a landlord to provide affordable housing as it is defined by the government.  The rental market in the US is largely dependent on levels of personal income—and rents tend to run as high as an individual market will bear.

Unfortunately for the needs of those requiring low cost housing, many landlords will not participate in programs such as HUD’s Section 8 “Housing Choice Voucher” program.  Reasons for this are many but several of the most often cited are:

  • Not wishing to be subjected to government involvement in their property up , especially the mandatory on site inspections which are required to maintain the quality, safety and health of units in the program
  • Distrust of so called “low income” renters and their families to treat the property with care and respect.  Horror stories of properties being trashed by irresponsible program members abound, though in truth many may be apocryphal.
  • In markets where fair market rents are high, the desire to make the most money possible from their rental property
  • Unwillingness to agree to the judicial method of eviction that federal programs require for eviction of a Section 8 tenant.
  • Unwillingness to risk potential loss of property value on the surrounding community due to perceived (and not necessarily real) problems that are inherent in the populations that occupy low income housing, most often cited: crime, vandalism, drug abuse, and littering.

However, many landlords recognize the benefits of participating in the Federal Low Income Housing programs.  There is most generally a backlog on waiting lists for housing assistance, which means that the population of potential renters among those with low income is high.  Also, the programs involved are noted for quick and regular payment of the Housing Authority share of the rent of the property.  There are also tax incentives for landlords who participate in these programs, which make offering at least a percentage of units as low income housing attractive.  Further, the standards these federal programs impose on the quality and safety of low income units and the federal assistance programs that exist to help fund improvement of existing properties to make them suitable for the programs increase the value inherent in the property.

There are benefits too, to selling properties to FHA buyers, under the first time and lower income buyer programs.  While the Department of Housing and Urban Development has rules and regulations in place to ensure that a potential home meets program requirements before financing, the costs and responsibilities tend to fall on the buyer (and are generally allowed to be covered the loan itself), which may not be the case for purchases outside of these programs.  Too often a potential seller will be required to make repairs and upgrades to properties being purchased under non federal loan programs as a condition of the sale; so generally speaking, there are incentives to sell to an FHA financed buyer that may justify the frustration of dealing with federal policy restrictions.

Bottom line, an abundance of low cost housing is the sign of a healthy community, and landlords and prospective sellers should consider cooperation with the federal programs that are designed to make sure that every citizen, regardless of income level is entitled to an affordable, safe, sanity and good quality place to live.

Where Do Single Moms Go for Housing Needs?

In a world where a woman makes substantially less than a man doing equivalent work, the deck is stacked against women who head single parent families.  Statistics prove that a female single parent is more likely to be categorized as being low income than families with a single male parent at their head.  In the current depressed economic climate this disparity has grown, as employers happily faced with a glut of potential employees, have slashed wages, even while living expenses have not declined but risen.

There are resources for single moms who find themselves needing help finding affordably priced housing and programs to exist to lend a helping hand.

The federal government has a number of programs aimed at helping low income families—single parent included, find and pay for affordable housing.  The most famous of these is the “Section 8” program which is a voucher program that assists in finding and paying for affordable rental units.  The government also subsidizes public housing maintained and promoted by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.   The feds also offer a variety of low income direct and guaranteed/insured loans to enable single parents and other very low income parents buy their own homes.  Some of this mortgage programs also assist in refinancing existing homes for needed repairs, and converting fixer uppers into permanent residences.

There are state programs available for low income families as well, and some states have programs that are specifically designed to aid single women with children.  Programs vary from state to state not only in availability but their requirements.  Research into these state level programs should begin with a web search of the Department of Health and Social services or its equivalent agency in the state of current residence.  The state office in charge of programs to assist families should be able to assist qualifying moms in the application process and also re able to refer women to programs on the county and city level as well.

A number of private organizations also offer housing assistance. The Salvation Army, St Vincent De Paul, Volunteers of America all offer some form of assistance to single moms in need, including those in need of help with rent, mortgage or finding safe and sanitary housing.

Other nonprofit organizations such as Mercy Housing and  Habitat for Humanity promote the development and assist with placement in affordable housing, at the same time as they advocate for the development of more programs at the state and federal levels to assist women in need.

A good low tech place to start for mothers in need of affordable housing is the local 2-1-1 call center service.  This is a service available in most states that seeks to be a clearing house for information on social and health programs available in your local area as well as a referral service for food, housing, employment, healthcare and counseling services.

You can find your local 2-1-1 service by doing a search here:

http://www.211.org/

Or by looking up via directory assistance the local call center number.

 

Home Financing for Low Income People

Owning one’s own home has always been the American Dream—one that in recent years has seemed to become more inaccessible than ever, with the economic decline in the United States.  However, there are programs available for home financing for low income people which can help make the dream a reality for those other than the very wealthy.

The federal government has several programs to make home ownership accessible to low income people.

One program is directed primarily at rural areas.  This program is managed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) under its rural development program.  Called the Very Low to Moderate Income Housing Loan Program it provides direct loans as well as guaranteed/ insured loans.

To qualify applicants must be purchasing a property intended to be their permanent, primary residence in a federally designated rural area. Home value cannot exceed the local limit (as determined by USDA program criteria). Properties must be decent, safe and sanitary.  Applicants must have good credit and have their income fall in the very low, low to moderate income range as specified by the federal government (see HUD guidelines at http://www.hud.gov).  They must lack adequate housing but be able to afford payments including principal, interests, insurance and taxes.  The direct loans offer a payment assistance feature that reduces the installment, depending on adjusted family income, to an effective interest rate as low as one percent with repayment term of 33-38 years. Guaranteed loans are amortized over 30 years and interest rates are negotiated with the lender.

For more information on this program:

http://www.rurdev.usda.gov

For those not in rural areas the Federal Housing Authority part of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, similar programs are available.  The FHA offers insured loans which feature low down payments; low closing costs and easy credit qualification. While traditionally the FHA aims to help first time home buyers, it also offers other programs for low income people to repair an existing home as well as buy a “fixer upper”, make existing homes more energy efficient, and reserve mortgages for seniors to enable them to convert a portion of their equity in a property to cash.   The FHA also has specialized loan products for mobile and manufactured homes which are often the most affordable types of housing for low income people.

For advice on qualifications the best source of information is a HUD approved housing counselor

http://www.hud.gov/offices/hsg/sfh/hcc/hccprof14.cfm

One can also search for HUD approved lenders at:

http://www.hud.gov/ll/code/llslcrit.cfm

Finding Apartments for Low Income Single Moms

As never before in history, the number of single parent families in the United States is growing exponentially.  It is estimated that in 2002 (last census information available) there were 1,355,000 single fathers raising children under age 18; 5,714,000  is of single mothers raising children under age 18 which is an astonishing number of single parent families—it is expected these numbers have increased greatly in the intervening ten years.

Single parent families, most especially those headed by women are more than twice as likely to be categorized as low income than are two parent families. And sadly, more likely as well to be unable to find affordable, safe and sanitary housing.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has programs aimed at both increasing home ownership and providing for affordable housing.  The program popularly called “Section 8” or more properly as the Housing Choice Voucher program makes it possible for qualifying individuals to have rental costs for apartments or public housing reduced.  There are income limits and other qualifications for this federal assistance, which can be viewed at:

http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/topics/housing_choice_voucher_program_section_8

There are also state programs which offer living assistance, and the portal above links to a search engine for finding such programs within a particular state, territory or U.S. possession.

There are also private sources of housing assistance.  Mercy Housing is a national, nonprofit organization with a state purpose of attempting to create “a more humane world where poverty is alleviated, communities are healthy and all people can develop their full potential”.  Towards this end Mercy Housing develops, preserves, manages and finances affordable housing in 41 states in the United States for low income, special needs citizens, and seniors.  The basic thrust of Mercy Housing is to provide affordable rental housing, although in some states the organization also is able to offer home ownership programs.   The organization acquires and renovates existing housing, as well as developing new projects and properties. Mercy Housing also promotes public policy education and advocacy to increase across the board the availability of affordable housing and programs to guarantee the right of every citizen to have a decent, safe and sustainable place to live.

Mercy Housing has an application process that begins when an interested low income renter calls the property and speaks with one of their representatives who then guide them through the application process as well as detailing available units at the property.  Because of high demand some properties have long waiting lists and no availability, but the representative might also be able to direct a potential renter to other equivalent Mercy Housing projects.

For more information on Mercy Housing, visit their website at:

https://www.mercyhousing.org/

How to Apply for Low Cost Housing

The application process for Low Cost Housing begins with determining which program and at what government or private sector level is best for the applicant’s circumstances.  There are a number of federal, state and private sector agencies that have programs available to assist with housing needs.

A first step is to identify your housing requirements and their immediacy. A number of low cost housing options require a lengthy application process and extended periods of time spent on waiting lists for units to become available.  Even programs such as the federal government’s Housing Voucher program may have waiting lists which depend on the availability and amount of funding for the applicants geographic area.  If a housing need is time critical it may be necessary to search out other options among those available in the private sector and on the state and local level which have the flexibility to offer short term emergency assistance with housing needs.

Once an applicant has identified the programs that are the best fit for their situation, knowing where to apply for low cost housing is the next logical step.  Some programs such as the Section 8 Housing Voucher program require that an applicant first identify a prospective property and approach the landlord to determine if the property owner will accept the terms, conditions and realities of being involved in the program.  Only then can the applicant proceed through the actual application process.  Other programs, such as applying for federal public housing involve establishing eligibility in advance of locating housing.  Federal housing programs require that applicants contact a local designated “Housing Authority” to begin their journey along the paper trail.  These Housing Authorities are local entities established to manage the programs and properties under the Department of Housing and Urban Development control and by their regulations.

All applicants must be prepared to submit extensive documentation regarding their family which includes identifying the individuals and providing information about each family member.  Documentation of a family’s annual gross income, proof of citizenship, and which supports their status as income, disabled or elderly will be required.  Applicants will also be expected to submit testimonials and references from current and prior landlords attesting to the fact that they will be good tenants who will not present a danger or disruption to existing communities. Housing agencies always maintain the absolute right to deny anyone with known habits or histories that might jeopardize other tenants or public housing environments. Financial documentations including proof of wages, bank accounts, and any existing financial assets or liabilities will also be required.

Most programs will require a “site visit” which generally takes place in the current resident of the applicant and which is conducted by a representative of the housing authority.

Once the paperwork has been submitted, a lengthy review process begins, which will lead to a determination of eligibility for the program applied for which is generally received in the form of an eligibility letter which will direct the applicant regarding the next steps needing to be taken and what to expect. .  Most often even once approved, a significant amount of time will be spent on a waiting list before actual housing placement or rent assistance occurs.

Those seeking to apply for low cost housing must be aware of and willing to accept the realities of the application process, which can be slow moving, demanding and frustrating. The benefits of these programs are worth the time difficulties inherent in the process.

What are Low Income Apartments?

Anyone finding themselves in need of low income apartments may first want to understand how low income housing is defined.  Affordable housing is generally considered to be a dwelling whose total cost—either rented or purchased is considered reasonable to those with a median household income.  The statistical term “median” refers to a point precisely mid range between the lowest and highest levels of the item being compared.  In income this would be the dollar amount (generally within a previously defined geographic area) exactly at the midpoint between the lowest incomes and the highest.

Guidelines for “affordable housing” vary, but the commonly accepted guideline in the U.S. is a cost which does not exceed 30% of a particular household’s gross (before taxes) income on a monthly basis.  Carrying costs which exceed 35% of household income classifies a dwelling as unaffordable for the household.

In recent decades the cost of housing has risen so dramatically that this rule of thumb has become increasingly under fire as unrealistic.  The world real estate market since the year 2000 has experienced a housing pricing “boom” cycle which has put the affordability of both purchased and rental units out of the reach of lower to mid income families. Income—which is the driving factor in housing affordability—has not kept pace with inflated real estate prices, which further complicates the equation.

The recent economic downturn has resulted in a flattening of real property values which are then reflected in lowered sales prices, but unfortunately at the same time, the recent financial crisis has also severely impacted income levels which have dropped as the free market adjusts based on the laws of supply and demand. With larger numbers of employees seeking work, employers have increasingly driven down the real wages of new hires.

There are severe social and economic costs to a lack of affordable housing which impact the overall health of a community as defined by urban planners.  Lack of affordable apartment rentals in a geographic location have the end result of driving potential renters farther away from economic centers where the best employment opportunities are, to outlying lower cost areas.  This results in longer commutes which effectively erase any financial benefits to reduced housing costs, especially as the price of gasoline continues to escalate.  Increasing congestion on roadways and highway systems, lack of low cost labor, and even declines in school enrollment have all be directly linked to a lack of affordable housing in most U.S. cities.

So what exactly are low income apartments?  For a family of four making less than 80% of the median income for their area (the federal definition of a low income family unit), with an income of 25,000, rental and associated costs should come to no more than approximately $625 dollars a month.  In many areas of the United States today, that amount of rent will not pay for a one bedroom apartment, let alone a living space comfortably able to accommodate a family of four.

A lack of affordable housing will continue to be not only a reality of modern living but a controversial and contentious issue with great social implications as the world moves forward into the future.