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Your Local PHA: The Realities - Part 2

Eligibility
The PHA uses HUD guidelines to determine eligibility for program participation: Gross annual income, U.S citizenship or immigration status, and whether the applicants are elderly, disabled, or qualifies as a family under HUD rules. Although the limits vary by county or metropolitan location, limits typically apply to family size and income. Government-funded programs cannot use race, gender, ethnicity or any similar factor as a criterion for approval, with one exception: there are some programs specifically serving Native Americans. Eligibility standards may vary among different PHAs. Some groups usually receive priority attention:

Homeless families
Age 62 or older
Veteran/widow of veteran of US armed services
Disabled
Working more than 42 hours/week
Currently living in a shelter
Family separated due to housing issues
Paying over 50% of income for rent or mortgage
Displaced families
If you belong to one or more of these categories, you should certainly visit your local authority to see if you may be eligible for assistance. If you are not in one of these groups, go anyway. It's always worth a try.

The Application Process
Applications for most programs will require basic data about everyone in the household, including their date of birth, income, and relation to the person applying for assistance. You will also need to provide an address and telephone contact information, special circumstances or needs that might affect eligibility, and information regarding previous living arrangements and landlords along with an estimate of income for the next 12 months and employment and bank information. The PHA sometimes also conducts home visits to families or individuals applying for assistance. Be prepared to provide documents verifying your employment and income. Always be honest. PHA staff review and check application data, and if you are caught cheating you will lose any benefits you have and may face legal liabilities.

Some Harsh Realities
Most PHAs are staffed by knowledgeable, dedicated people who will do their best to help those who need it. That doesn't mean help is always available, though, and you should not expect magic. Many programs have seen cuts in budgets that were already inadequate, and the supply of subsidized housing often does not meet demand. The PHA can't provide a space in public housing or a voucher if there are none available and there's a mile-long waiting list. The staff are constrained by masses of regulations and requirements at multiple levels, and there will be red tape, forms, required documents, and all kinds of bureaucratic requirements with no assurance that help is available. Don't blame the PHA or the people who work there for that. They don't make the rules, but they have to follow them. Some staff even end up discouraged and unmotivated from years of trying to do too much with too little.

None of these realities should keep you from using the help that your local PHA can offer. Just keep your expectations reasonable, and be prepared to meet many requirements and face the possibility of considerable waiting times. That's not an ideal situation, but it is the reality. The help that your local PHA can provide is real and substantial, though, and it's worth working your way through the paperwork and the waiting time if the outcome is a safe, affordable home for your family.