What is the Difference Between Section 8 and Public Housing? A Practical Guide for Finding and Applying for Affordable Housing

Affordable housing is a critical topic in today’s society, where the gap between the high cost of living and the average income continues to widen. In the United States, two main programs aim to bridge this gap: Section 8, also known as the Housing Choice Voucher Program, and Public Housing.

Both programs are under the oversight of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and provide essential support to low-income families, the elderly, and people with disabilities.

Section 8: The Voucher Program

The Section 8 program, officially known as the Housing Choice Voucher Program, is a federal initiative designed to help low-income families afford safe and decent housing.

Unlike Public Housing, where the government owns the housing units, Section 8 provides vouchers to eligible families, which they can use to rent housing in the private market. This program covers approximately 70% of housing costs, offering significant financial relief to its beneficiaries.

Type of Housing Private market rentals
Choice of Location Flexible, anywhere vouchers are accepted
Rent Determination Based on family income, covers about 70% of housing cost
Eligibility Based on income, family size, and citizenship status

Eligibility and Application Process

Eligibility for Section 8 is based on several factors, including total annual gross income, family size, and U.S. citizenship or eligible immigration status. The program primarily targets families whose income is below 50% of the median income in their area.

HUD also requires that 75% of new admissions be allocated to applicants whose incomes do not exceed 30% of the area median income.

How to Apply?

Applying for Section 8 involves several steps. Interested individuals must submit an application to their local Public Housing Agency (PHA). This process typically includes providing detailed personal and financial information.

Once approved, families receive a voucher and can start searching for suitable housing that meets HUD’s standards and where the landlord accepts Section 8 vouchers.

How it Works?

After receiving a voucher, the beneficiary pays a portion of their income (usually around 30%) towards rent, with the voucher covering the rest. The PHA pays the subsidy directly to the landlord.

The amount of the voucher is determined by several factors, including family size, income, and the local housing market.


  • Provides more choice in housing locations.
  • Promotes diversity and integration by allowing tenants to live in a variety of neighborhoods.
  • Offers the possibility for tenants to eventually own their homes through certain program options.


  • Finding landlords willing to accept vouchers can be difficult.
  • The program is subject to the availability of funding and political shifts.
  • Annual inspections and bureaucratic processes can be cumbersome for both tenants and landlords.

Public Housing

Public Housing is a program where the government provides affordable housing to low-income families, the elderly, and people with disabilities. These housing units are owned and operated by local Public Housing Agencies (PHAs).

Public Housing aims to offer safe and decent living environments at rents lower than the market rates.

Type of Housing Government-owned units
Choice of Location Fixed, specific locations
Rent Determination Based on adjusted gross income, typically 30% of income
Eligibility Low-income families, the elderly, and people with disabilities

Who Qualifies for Public Housing?

Similar to Section 8, eligibility for Public Housing is based on annual gross income, family size, and citizenship status. Families paying more than 30% of their income for rent may qualify. Income limits for eligibility are set by HUD and vary by location and family size.

The Application Process

Applying for Public Housing requires contacting the local PHA. Applicants must provide detailed personal and financial information. Once accepted, they are placed on a waiting list, as the demand for Public Housing often exceeds the available units.

How it Works?

Tenants in Public Housing pay rent based on their adjusted gross income, typically capped at 30%. The rent includes utilities and is heavily subsidized by the government. The local PHAs are responsible for the maintenance and management of these properties.


  • Ensures affordable housing for the most vulnerable populations.
  • Centralized management can lead to consistent standards across properties.
  • Typically provides longer-term housing stability.


  • Limited availability and long waiting lists.
  • Potential for lower maintenance standards due to budget constraints.
  • Lack of choice in housing location can limit opportunities for residents.

Differences Between Section 8 and Public Housing

The most striking difference between Section 8 and Public Housing is in their approach to housing provision. Section 8 offers flexibility through a voucher system, allowing beneficiaries to choose their housing within the private market.

In contrast, Public Housing provides government-owned housing units at fixed locations. This fundamental difference impacts the choices and living experiences of the residents in each program.

Feature Section 8 Public Housing
Type of Housing Private market rentals Government-owned units
Choice of Location Flexible, anywhere vouchers are accepted Fixed, specific locations
Rent Calculation Based on family income, covers part of the rent Based on adjusted gross income, often 30% of income
Eligibility Based on total annual gross income, family size, citizenship Similar to Section 8, but also prioritizes the elderly and disabled
Application Process Apply through local PHA, then find a qualifying rental Apply and get placed in available units through local PHA
Landlord Involvement Must agree to accept vouchers, comply with program regulations Managed by PHA, no individual landlord involvement
Mobility of Tenants Can move and retain voucher benefits Limited to specific housing units

Impact of Affordable Housing

Affordable housing programs like Section 8 and Public Housing play a crucial role in stabilizing and revitalizing communities. They provide economic benefits by reducing housing insecurity and homelessness, which can lead to improved job stability and community engagement.

Socially, these programs can promote diversity and inclusion in neighborhoods, offering residents opportunities to live in safer, more desirable areas. While beneficial, these programs also face challenges.

Budget constraints, stigmatization of affordable housing, and balancing community interests with the needs of low-income residents are ongoing issues. However, these challenges present opportunities for policy improvements, community involvement, and innovative approaches to affordable housing.

Legal Rights and Responsibilities

Tenants in both programs have specific legal rights, including the right to a safe and habitable living environment, non-discriminatory treatment, and due process in case of eviction.

They are also entitled to privacy and respect from landlords and housing authorities. Understanding these rights can help tenants navigate challenges and ensure fair treatment. It is important to learn more about all details that could lead to disqualification and how to avoid it.

Landlords’ Responsibilities and Compliance

Landlords in the Section 8 program must comply with HUD’s safety and health standards and are subject to annual inspections. They are also required to manage their properties fairly and without discrimination.

Understanding these responsibilities is crucial for landlords to maintain eligibility in the program and foster positive relations with tenants.

Which One is Better?

The question of which program is “better” depends on individual needs, circumstances, and preferences. Both programs have distinct advantages and challenges, and their suitability varies based on what the applicant or tenant values most in their housing situation.

Evaluate Personal Circumstances and Preferences

  • Flexibility and Choice: If you value the ability to choose your living location and prefer the private housing market, Section 8 offers more flexibility. It allows you to use vouchers in various housing types and neighborhoods.
  • Stability and Consistency: Public Housing may be a better fit if you prioritize stability and the ease of a fixed location. It offers government-owned housing with set standards and rent based on income, including utilities.


How long is Section 8 for NYC?

The Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program in New York City is administered by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) and the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD). The waiting time for a voucher depends on the availability of funding and the number of applicants on the waiting list. According to NYCHA, the average waiting time for a voucher is about 10 years.

How much is a 3 bedroom voucher in Vegas?

The amount of a Section 8 voucher for a 3 bedroom unit in Las Vegas depends on the payment standard set by the Southern Nevada Regional Housing Authority (SNRHA), which administers the program in Clark County. The payment standard is the maximum amount that SNRHA will pay for rent and utilities. As of January 1, 2023, the payment standard for a 3 bedroom unit in Las Vegas is $1,450.

Does San Francisco have public housing?

Yes, San Francisco has public housing, which is owned and managed by the San Francisco Housing Authority (SFHA). Public housing is rental housing for low-income families, seniors, and people with disabilities. SFHA operates about 6,000 public housing units in 43 developments throughout the city.

Is it hard to get a house in Las Vegas?

The difficulty of getting a house in Las Vegas depends on various factors, such as the availability of inventory, the demand from buyers, the price range, the location, and the financing options. According to Zillow, the median home value in Las Vegas as of November 2023 was $439,000, which is a 19.9% increase from the previous year. The median listing price was $449,900, and the median sale price was $420,000. The inventory of homes for sale was 2,011, which is a 40.7% decrease from the previous year. These statistics suggest that the housing market in Las Vegas is very competitive and favors sellers over buyers.

How do I get Section 8 immediately in California?

There is no way to get Section 8 immediately in California, as the program has long waiting lists and limited funding. To apply for Section 8, you need to contact your local public housing agency (PHA) and submit an application when the waiting list is open. The waiting time for a voucher varies by PHA and depends on the number of applicants, the availability of vouchers, and the preferences and priorities established by the PHA. Some PHAs may have emergency or special programs that can help you get Section 8 faster, but you need to meet certain criteria and provide documentation to qualify.

What is the HUD?

HUD stands for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which is a federal agency that oversees housing and urban development programs and policies in the U.S. HUD’s mission is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all. HUD administers various programs, such as public housing, Section 8, FHA loans, fair housing, disaster recovery, and community development.

Last Words

While each program has its unique features, benefits, and challenges, they share a common goal: to provide safe, decent, and affordable housing to those in need.

Factors such as lifestyle preferences, desired location, the need for stability or flexibility, and the availability of resources play significant roles in this decision. It’s about finding a balance between personal requirements and the options available within the framework of these programs.