11 tips for preparing for your Section 8/ Housing Choice Voucher interview

So, after years of waiting, your application has been selected for your local Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) Progam (colloquially known as Section 8). Congratulations! Now what? The process of interviewing and gathering documentation can be daunting, and this is the stage where many people lose their opportunity to receive a voucher. Public housing websites are not always helpful and Housing Specialists (the people who handle the files of applicants and participants) are often burdened with absurdly large case loads and cannot always followup with applicants as quickly as might be desired.

Below is a list of 10 tips for preparing for your HCV interview, gathered during my tenure as a clerk for the Chicago Housing Authority’s HCV Program and training as a Housing Specialist.

1) Determine who is going to be part of your household. This is important because without knowing who you will live with you cannot gather the appropriate documents. Members of the household do not need to be related, but must be able to demonstrate they have lived together previously or they are willing to share all income and other resources. Note, if you need a live-in aide for medical reasons they count as part of the household and are subject to the same basic requirements as other household members.

2) Ensure no member of the desired household meets any HUD-mandated denial criteria for violent or drug-related criminal activity. This includes anyone who is subject to a lifetime sex-offender registration; who has been convicted of manufacture of methamphetamine on the premises of federally assisted housing; who is currently engaging in the use of an illegal drug; or who has been evicted from federally assisted housing for drug-related criminal activity in the last three years. If anyone meets this criteria and (in the case of drug use and drug-related crimes) cannot prove rehabilitation the application will automatically be denied. Applicants are given a chance (once the criminal record is spotted by a Housing Soecialist) to remove the person in question, but the process is streamlined if they are not on the initial application.

(There are additional denial requirements, most of which I will touch on in this post. A follow-up post will explain the denial criteria in more detail.)

2) Determine the citizen status of each proposed household member. You must be able to prove that all members are legal US citizens or eligible immigrants (have a green card and alien registration number). At least one household member must meet this requirement. (Members who do not must sign a form stating they are noncontending individuals and they will not be counted when determining the bedroom size allotted by the voucher.) This is also a good time to gather alien registration cards for eligible non-citizens.

3) Gather birth certificates and social security cards for all family members. Note it can take two weeks for the Social Security Association to issue a new card. Birth certificates also may require a waiting period. It is a good idea to apply for these documents well before you are even assigned an interview date to expedite the process.

4) Make sure all household members 18 and older have a valid government-issued photo ID. This can be a state ID, driver’s license or passport. Remember, this is a long process, so if someone in your household is 17 and may turn 18 before the interview date (or before the voucher is issued), they should be prepared to produce an ID as well.

5) Gather all income documents. This includes non-wage income such as Food Stamps, TANF, Social Security, Supplemental Security and regular monetary contributions by family members outside your household. If you are employed, you need to provide your three most recent paystubs. For other non-wage income, please have your most recent benefits statement or award letter. If you receive contributions from family for expenses such as a phone bill, utilities, groceries, ask the person providing the money to write, date and sign a statement noting how much money they give, and how often.

6) If you have any assets (such as bank account, pension fund, retirement fund, trust fund or property) less than $5,000 all you need to provide is the name of the bank or company name, type of account, account number  and cash value of the asset. You do not need bank statements, account statements or other third-party documentation. If, however, your assets are valued at more than $5,000, you must provide a printout of your most recent statement and account information.

7) If you have any unreimbursed childcare expenses for a child 12 or younger (who is not a foster child), please bring a statement from your childcare provider (even if it is a family member) stating their name, the name(s) of the child(ren) for whom care is given, how many hours per week they provide care, how much you pay and how often. This documents, like all certification documents, must be signed and dated. Housing authorities will only consider expenses that allow an adult family member to work, look for work, or attend school as a full-time student.

8) If you have any unreimbursed medical expenses (such as prescription drugs) please be prepared to provide receipts for the last year. This can include a printout from your pharmacy, bills from medical procedures, or the cost of medical equipment not covered by Medicare/Medicaid or other insurance plans. It does not cover insurance premiums.

9) If you have a disability and need a live-in aide, please have documents supporting their citizenship and ability to work in the United States. Remember that they are subject to criminal background checks as well. You will also need the name and phone number of your doctor, so the housing authority can send them a Reasonable Accommodation form, which the doctor will then fill out to confirm your need for an aide and any other accommodations you may request.

10) If you have a disabled family member who requires care in order for an adult family member to work, the expense of this care may be deducted from your income. Please bring a statement from the care provider that (like the childcare statement) lists the providers name, person for whom care is provided, how many hours per week they provide care, how much is paid and how often.

11) Finally, once you have gathered documents and certifications, remember to bring all adult family members with you to interview! There are many forms for adults to sign and, while they can be turned in after the appointment, it is easier to fill everything out at the time of this interview. The forms can be confusing and most applicants benefit from the in-person assistance of their housing specialist.

Two bonus tips for after the interview:

11) If you are missing documents at the time of the interview (and I know, it is a lot to have on hand and organized at once), be prepared to provide them within 10 days of the interview, otherwise you will face denial from the program.

12) Do not hesitate to call your Housing Specialist if you have not received confirmation of a fax or any provided docs. Specialists are very busy and sometimes faxes and documents are lost or misplaced. Do not count on the organization of the office to receive your voucher in a timely manner. The more often you call, the more attention your file will receive.

Housing authorities love to provide vouchers (that is, after all, their business model) but they must adhere to the guidelines provided by HUD, which are complicated and thorough, and cannot break rules. The process of receiving (and keeping) your voucher will go most smoothly if you follow all directions, ask questions when you are uncertain, and are proactive.

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