Affordable housing lingo can be confusing


By Marianne Delorey

Q: Oh, so you’re in affordable housing? Do you have LIHTC? 

A: No, I have 236 with S8 overlay. 

Q: Are you at 30 percent of AMI? 

A: No, 50 percent, but of course we have to aim for 40 percent ELI in our S8 units.

It is easy to see why unless you’ve been working in affordable housing for years, the system might be a bit confusing.

In a nutshell, affordable housing is usually an apartment where the tenant pays a lower rent. There are many entities that subsidize housing to keep it affordable. The most common of them is a local housing authority with funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Within HUD, there are several programs that subsidize housing; the most well known is Section 8. With this kind of subsidy, residents pay approximately 30 percent of the household income for rent.

There are two types of Section 8 programs, one that stays with the apartment, regardless who occupies it and one that stays with the person, regardless where they live.

Both types of Section 8 programs have similar eligibility standards. In order to qualify, you must be low income (these change every year) and a U.S. citizen or eligible resident. When the Section 8 program is project based (follows the apartment) there may be other eligibility criteria such as age or disability.

In addition, each organization that administers Section 8 subsidies may have other factors they consider such as standards for credit score, landlord reference and criminal background. All Section 8 programs refuse admission to lifetime registered sex offenders.

Some organizations give preference to people who were displaced by a federally declared disaster, people from a certain geographic area or other factors. Housing agencies should all have a Tenant Selection Plan that outlines eligibility, suitability and preference standards so applicants know they are being treated fairly.

There are two major obstacles to obtaining a Section 8 apartment. First is finding one. There are many organizations that administer subsidies. Most have their own application and admission standards. There are some centralized lists (see links below) that help people find these organizations, but a typical person may end up calling 30 places to get 10 applications.

Many places are not currently accepting applications, only accept applications from certain people, or the average person will not fit into their criteria.

The second obstacle is waiting. Most housing agencies have a two- to- five-year waiting list for their apartments. There are some shorter lists, but often they are for smaller studios. Preference is often given to people who are considered “extremely low income” which helps the poorest Americans. Often, however, the units most available to this group are sometimes further away from public transportation.

There are other affordable housing programs such as the Low Income Housing Tax Credit, which basically ensures that the rent stays affordable and low. This program and others have different eligibility factors. If you need more information about a program, ask the housing agency where you are applying. Professional property managers understand these programs thoroughly.

The best thing to do is to look for affordable housing early. It takes only a few minutes to apply for an apartment. By the time you actually need the apartment, you might be near the top of the list for your ideal unit. You can’t get in if you don’t apply.

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Marianne Delorey, Ph.D., is the executive director of Colony Retirement Homes. She can be reached at 508-755-0444 or and Archives of articles from previous issues can be read at