Housing Choice Voucher

Housing Choice Voucher Program

What is a Housing Choice Voucher?

Your housing voucher is a document issued by your local Public Housing Authority (PHA) that describes the housing program that you are a part of. Your housing voucher also details the obligations you and your family owe to the PHA. 

If I have a Housing Choice Voucher, can I be evicted?

If you are evicted or fail to meet any of the participant family obligations of the Housing Choice program, your local PHA may terminate your voucher. 

What are my family obligations?

To maintain your housing voucher:

  1. You must provide any requested information.
  2. You must maintain the PHA’s Housing Quality Standards. 
  3. You must let the Public Housing Authority inspect the assisted unit.
  4. You must adhere to all the requirements of the lease (However, there is a victim of domestic violence exemption).
  5. You must notify your Public Housing Authority if you are evicted.
  6. You must notify your Public Housing Authority if you want to move.
  7. The assisted unit must be your one and only residence.
  8. You must notify your Public Housing Authority if you plan on being away from the assisted unit for an extended period of time.
  9. You may not have an ownership stake in the property.
  10. You and your family may not engage in criminal activity.
  11. You may only receive housing assistance from one program at a time.

You must provide any requested information. (Or: My PHA is asking for a lot of personal information, do I have to give it to them?)

In order to keep your housing voucher, your family is obligated to provide the Public Housing Authority or the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) with all the information they request. This includes providing sensitive information you may not want to, like citizenship or eligible immigration status. You also have to provide information about your income and family composition so that your PHA or HUD can perform regularly scheduled or interim reexaminations of your voucher. You must also disclose or verify social security numbers for people in your family or provide the PHA or HUD with a release authorizing them to obtain this information. Keep in mind that all the information you provide must be true and complete.

You must maintain the PHA’s Housing Quality Standards. 

Your family is obligated to maintain the Housing Quality standards (HQS) set by HUD for your rental unit. This means that your must pay for any utilities that the owner is not required to pay. You must also provide and maintain any appliances the owner is not required to provide, but are required to be provided by you. Finally, you are required to prevent any damages beyond wear and tear, and if you fail to prevent a household member or guest from damaging the property, that will be considered a breach of the HQS set by HUD.

I breached the PHA’s Housing Quality Standards, is there any way that I can keep my housing voucher?

Any HQS breach that is life threatening must be corrected within no more than 24 hours, and a non-life threatening HQS breach must be corrected within 30 calendar days. If you fail to meet the HQS set by HUD, your PHA must take prompt and vigorous action to enforce your family obligations, and the PHA may terminate assistance for your family. 

What are Housing Quality Standards?

Housing Quality Standards are requirements that all subsidized rental units must meet. These requirements are separated into performance and acceptability requirements. The Housing Quality Standards consist of:

  1. Sanitary facilities

The assisted unit must have sanitary facilities that are in proper operating condition, and adequate for personal cleanliness and the disposal of human waste. The sanitary facilities must also be usable in privacy. Specific sanitary acceptability criteria include the following: the bathroom must be located in a separate private room and have a flush toilet in proper working condition, there must be a fixed basin in proper working condition with a sink trap, running hot water, and running cold water; there must be a shower or a tub in proper working condition with hot and cold running water; and the facilities must use an approved sewer or septic system.

  • Food preparation and refuse disposal.

The assisted unit must have a suitable space and equipment to store, prepare, and serve foods in a sanitary manner. The unit must also have the ability to store and dispose of food waste and refuse in a sanitary way, like through the use of a garbage can or trash compactor. Specific food preparation and refuse disposal requirements include the following: The assisted unit must have an oven, a stove or a range, and a refrigerator appropriate for the size of the family (you may supply a microwave or agree to a microwave as a substitute for a traditional oven/stove/range); there must be a kitchen sink in proper working condition, with a sink trap, with running hot and cold water, and it must drain into an approvable sewer or septic system; there must be a safe storage, preparation, and serving space; there must be a trash can or trash compactor.

  • Space and security.

The assisted unit must provide adequate space and security for your family. Specific acceptability criteria include the following: there must be a living room, kitchen area, and a bathroom; there must also be at least one bedroom or sleeping area for every 2 members of your family, and children of opposite sex who are not very young may not be required to share the same bedroom or sleeping area; there must be locks on all windows that are accessible from the outside, and windows that are nailed shut are acceptable so long as they are not needed for ventilation or as a fire escape; all doors that can be used to enter or exit the unit must be lockable.

  • Thermal environment.

The assisted unit must be able to maintain a thermal environment that is healthy for a human body. For example, there must be a safe system for heating the assisted unit, and if there is a cooling system is must also be safe. The system must be able to provide adequate heat to each room to maintain a health living environment. The heaters may not be unvented gas, oil or kerosene burning, but unvented electric heaters are acceptable. 

  • Illumination and electricity.

Each room of the assisted unit must have adequate natural or artificial light that allows you to engage in normal indoor activities and that supports the health and safety of all occupants. The assisted unit must have sufficient electricity to use essential electrical appliances, and the electrical fixtures and wiring must be safely installed to avoid the risk of fire. There must be at least one window in the living room and in each sleeping room. The kitchen and the bathroom must have a permanent ceiling or wall light fixture in working order, and the kitchen must have at least one electrical outlet in proper working order. The living room and each bedroom must have at least two electrical outlets in working condition, but a permanent overhead or wall-mounted light fixture may count as one of the required electrical outlets.

  • Structure and materials.

The assisted unit must be structurally sound, must not present any threat to the health and safety of you and your family, and must protect you from the environment. The ceilings, walls, and floors must not have any serious defects like bulging or leaning walls, large holes, loose surface materials, severe buckling, missing parts, or other serious damage. The roof must be structurally sound and weathertight. The exterior walls must not have any serious defects like leaning, buckling, sagging, large holes, or any defects that may result in air infiltration or vermin infestation. The condition of interior and exterior halls, stairs, porches, and walkways, etc., must not be dangerous (like loose boards or steps that could cause a tripping hazard. And all elevators must be in working and safe condition. 

  • Interior air quality.

The assisted unit must have clean air, with pollutant levels lower than those that threaten the health of you and your family. This includes carbon monoxide, sewer gas, fuel gas, dust, and other harmful pollutants. There must be adequate air circulation. The bathroom areas must have an openable window or an adequate exhaust system. And any room used for sleeping must have one window, and if the window is openable it must work.

  •  Water supply.

The water in the assisted unit must be free from contamination. The water must be served by an approvable public or private water supply that is sanitary and free from contamination. 

  • Lead-based paint.

The assisted unit must comply with the Lead-Based Paint Poisoning Prevention Act, the Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act of 1992, and Part 35 (subpart A, B, M, and R).

  1. Access.

You must be able to have control over the access of the assisted unit, meaning that you should be able to prevent other people from using the unit without your permission. Additionally, there must be at least one alternative exit in the case of fire.

  1. Site and neighborhood.

The assisted unit must be located in a neighborhood that is reasonably free from disturbing noises, reverberations, and other dangers to your health, safety, and general welfare. The assisted unit must not be located in an area with any serious adverse environmental conditions, such as dangerous walkways or stairs; flooding or poor drainage, septic tank back-ups or sewage hazards; mudslides; abnormal air pollution, smoke, or dust; excessive noise, vibrations, or vehicle traffic; excessive accumulation of trash; vermin or rodent infestations; or fire hazards.

  1. Sanitary Conditions.

The assisted unit and all its equipment must be in sanitary condition. For example, your rental unit must be free from vermin and rodent infestation.

  1. Smoke detectors.

The assisted unit must have at least one working hardwired or battery-operated smoke detector on each level, including basements. Smoke detectors must be installed according to the National Fire Protection Association Standard (NFPA) 74). If you or anyone in your household is hearing impaired, the smoke detectors must have an alarm system that is designed for hearing impaired persons. However, for any unit that had a hardwired or battery-operated smoke detector installed before April 24, 1993 will not be expected to comply with additional smoke detector requirements, as long as they were properly installed.

You must let the Public Housing Authority inspect the assisted unit. (Or: Do I have to let my Public Housing Authority inspect my rental?)

To maintain your housing voucher, you must also allow the PHA to inspect your unit at reasonable times and after a reasonable notice period.

You must adhere to all the requirements of the lease (However, there is a victim of domestic violence exemption). (Or: If I was the victim of domestic violence, will I be in violation of my lease/Housing Assistance Payment contract?)

You and your family are required to adhere to all the requirements of the lease between you and the owner of the unit (your landlord). However, if you or a family member violated your lease because you were a victim of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking the PHA and HUD will not interpret that violation to be a serious or repeated violation by a victim, or a threatened victim. The PHA and HUD will not use these violations as a reason to terminate your tenancy, occupancy rights, or housing assistance if you were the victim.

You must notify your Public Housing Authority if you want to move. (Or: Can I move to a different rental unit and keep my voucher?)

If you want to move out of the unit or terminate your lease, you must notify your PHA and the unit owner before doing so. If you want to move to a new unit that is located outside your current Public Housing Authority your notice must include where you want to move.

You must notify your Public Housing Authority if you are evicted. (Or: What do I do if I was evicted?)

If you are evicted by the owner of the rental unit, you must promptly give that notice to the PHA.

The assisted unit must be your one and only residence. (Or: Can I live somewhere else and let my family keep the assisted unit? Or: Can I live in more than one assisted unit?)

You are obligated to use the assisted unit as your residence, and it must be your only residence. Additionally, your family composition must be approved by the PHA. You are obligated to inform the PHA of any birth, adoption, or court awarded custody of a child. Moreover, you must request PHA approval before letting another family member move in with you. No other person, other than those listed in your agreement with the PHA, may live in the unit. You must notify the PHA if any family member moves out of the unit. If your Public Housing Authority has given you approval, you may have a foster child or a live-in-caregiver live with you, but the PHA is able to create reasonable policies for foster children and live-in-caregivers, and they are able to define when a foster child or live-in-caregiver is allowed to live in the unit. You and the members of the household are allowed to engage in profit making activity, so long as the primary use of the rental unit is still as a residence. You must not sublease or rent out the rental unit to anyone else. Finally, you may not assign the lease or transfer the unit to anyone else.

You must notify your Public Housing Authority if you plan on being away from the assisted unit for an extended period of time. (Or: Can I take a long vacation or live somewhere else for part of the year?).

You are obligated to promptly notify the Public Housing Authority of any absence you may take from the unit. You must cooperate with the PHA and supply any information or documents it requests to verify that you are still living in the unit, as well as any documents related to any absences you take from the unit.

You may not have an ownership stake in the property. (Or: Can I rent a unit from a company that I own/co-own?

You are not allowed to have any ownership or other interest in the rental unit.

You and your family may not engage in criminal activity. (Or: Someone in my house was engaged in illegal activity, will I lose my voucher?)

You and your family must not commit fraud, bribery, or any other corrupt or criminal act in connection with any voucher or Public Housing Authority program.

You and your family may not engage in any drug-related criminal activity, any violent criminal activity, or any other criminal activity that threatens the health, safety, or right to peaceful enjoyment of other residents or persons in the immediate vicinity of your rental unit. However, if you are the victim of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking by a member of your household (like a spouse/partner, parent, brother, sister, or child), the PHA will not use that as a reason to terminate your tenancy, occupancy rights, or housing assistance.

You may not abuse alcohol in a way that threatens the health, safety, or the right to peaceful enjoyment of other residents and persons that live in the immediate vicinity of your rental unit.

You may only receive housing assistance from one program at a time. (Or: Can I combine housing assistance from different programs?)

You may not receive any other housing assistance while you have a Section 8 voucher. This includes any duplicative federal, state, or local housing assistance programs.

For what reasons can the Public Housing Authority take away my voucher?

The Public Housing Authority must establish standards that allow it to terminate assistance for a family under the Housing Choice Voucher program if the PHA determines that any household member is currently engaged in any illegal use of a drug, or that there is a pattern of illegal use of a drug by a household member that interferes with the health, safety, or the right to peacefully enjoy the premises by other residents.

The Public Housing Authority must immediately terminate your assistance if the PHA determines that any member of your household has ever been convicted for the manufacture or production of methamphetamine on the premises of any federally assisted housing.

The Public Housing Authority is allowed to terminate your assistance if any member of your household has violated your family’s obligation not to engage in any drug-related criminal activity.

The Public Housing Authority is allowed to terminate your assistance if it determines that any member of your household has violated your family’s obligation not to engage in any violent criminal activity.

The Public Housing Authority is allowed to terminate your assistance if any member of your household abuses alcohol in a way that threatens the health, safety, or the right to peaceful enjoyment of the surrounding area by other residents.

The Public Housing Authority may terminate your assistance for the criminal activity of you or a member of your household even if you or that household member have not been arrested or convicted, they need only to show that there is more than a 50% chance that you or a household member engaged in the activity.

If the Public Housing Authority is trying to terminate your assistance by using a criminal record, they must provide you with a copy of the criminal record and give you an opportunity to dispute the accuracy or relevance of the criminal record at an informal hearing. The PHA may not charge you for a copy of the criminal record. Note that the protections for Victims of Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, Sexual Assault, or Stalking apply.

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If I lost my housing voucher, is there anything that I can do?

Yes. Your Public Housing Authority must provide you with an informal hearing to consider certain decisions they make, including the decision to terminate your housing voucher. 

What kind of decisions made by my Public Housing Authority can I request an informal hearing?

You are entitled to an informal hearing: to review the PHA’s determination of your family’s annual or adjusted income; to review the PHA’s determination of your utility allowance and how much you have to pay for utilities; to review the PHA’s determination of your family unit size; to review the PHA’s decision to terminate your assistance because of something you did, or because you did not do something you were supposed to do; and, to review the PHA’s decision to terminate your assistance because you have been gone from your assisted rental unit for too long.

If you still have a Housing Assistance Payment contract and you lost your voucher because of something you did or failed to do, or because you were away from the rental unit for too long, your Public Housing Authority must give you the opportunity for an informal hearing before they stop paying your landlord.

What kind of notice is the Public Housing Authority required to give me when they make a reviewable decision?

When your Public Housing Authority makes a determination about your income, your utility allowance, or your family size, they must notify you that you may ask for an explanation for their decision, and that if you do not agree with their determination that you may request an informal hearing on the decision. 

When your Public Housing Authority makes the decision to terminate your assistance because you failed to meet one of the family obligations or because you have been away from the assisted unit too long, they must provide you with prompt notice that you may request an informal hearing. The notice must contain a brief statement of the reasons for the decision, state that if you don’t agree with the decision you may request an informal hearing, and state the deadline for requesting an informal hearing.

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How do I request a hearing?

You must simply request the hearing in writing within the allotted time. Please see Appendix A for a sample hearing request letter from the Tenant’s Union of Washington State.

How long will I have to wait for my hearing?

When an informal hearing is required, your Public Housing Authority must proceed with the hearing in a reasonably quick manner once you request it.

What kind of procedures should I expect when requesting an informal hearing?

Each Public Housing Authority is required to have an administrative plan that details the hearing procedures specific to the PHA. Generally, you must be given the opportunity to examine any PHA documents before your hearing. The PHA may only rely on documents that it provides you at the hearing. At the same time, the PHA may require that you provide them with any documents they need to examine before the hearing, and they must be allowed to copy the documents at their own expense. If you do not make a document available, you may not rely on it at the hearing.

May I hire an attorney to represent me at a Public Housing Authority Hearing?

Yes. You may, at your own expense, hire an attorney to assist you with the hearing.

May I offer evidence at the informal hearing?

Yes. The Public Housing Authority and you must be given the opportunity to present evidence and question any witnesses. This evidence may be considered without regard to admissibility under the rules of evidence applicable to judicial proceedings.

How will I get a decision after the hearing?

The person who conducts the hearing must provide you with a written decision stating the reasons for the decision. Any factual determinations relating to your individual circumstances must be based on a preponderance of the evidence, meaning that the person making the decision must believe any fact they accept is more than 50% likely to be true. Once a decision is made, the written determination must be promptly provided to you.

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What kind of decisions made by my Public Housing Authority are not subject to an informal hearing?

Your Public Housing Authority is not required to give you an informal hearing to consider decisions they make about: discretionary administrative determinations; general policy issues or class grievances; the Public Housing Authority’s utility allowance schedule; the Public Housing Authority’s decision not to approve the extension of a voucher term; the Public Housing Authority’s decision not to approve a unit or tenancy; the Public Housing Authority’s decision that an assisted unit is not in compliance with Housing Quality-standards (you still get an informal hearing if the PHA determined you were the cause of the breach in Housing Quality standards); the Public Housing Authority’s determination that a unit does not meet Housing Quality standards (HQS) due to your family size; the Public Housing Authority’s decision not to exercise any right or remedy against a unit owner under a Housing Assistance Payment contract.

APPENDIX A

Seattle Housing Authority  

Porchlight Housing Center 

907 NW Ballard Way

Suite 200 

Seattle, WA 98107-4637 

Fax: 206-239-1770 

Date: _____________________ 

From: ____________________________________ _________________________________________ _________________________________________ 

To: _____________________________________ 

I am writing regarding the notice I received that Seattle Housing Authority is terminating my Section 8 voucher. I dispute this termination and formally request an informal hearing before a qualified, unbiased decision maker.   I also want to request that SHA provide me with all the documentation and evidence that will be used against me in the hearing. I understand that I must request this at least three days in advance, and that SHA has the right to request all of my information and evidence at least three days in advance. I understand that no evidence can be used against me in the hearing that has not been provided to me at least three days in advance.  I also want to request that this hearing be tape recorded, and that a copy of this recording be provided to me.  I am currently seeking legal counsel to represent me at this hearing. I understand that I can reschedule this hearing once if I provide at least 24 hours’ notice. Please provide me information on the hearing date, location, and the name of the hearing officer as soon as possible.  

In addition, I request interpretation in the following language:         

Sincerely, 

XXX

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