- The Washington Times - Friday, November 15, 2002

If you're trying to get on that first rung of the homeownership ladder I'm referring to renting your first house there are a couple of government programs that pack a powerful punch for low-income home shoppers. Section 8 is the most popular, geared toward low-income renters, and Section 42 helps developers create affordable housing communities, thus increasing the pool of housing opportunities for low-income families.

Households with 50 percent to 60 percent of the median income in a particular area can get assistance from a local or state housing authority that uses funds from a Housing and Urban Development program called Section 8. This program was the successor to public housing as we know it in this country. Instead of the government taking on the task of building and maintaining housing projects, like it did in during the 1960s and 1970s, now it provides financial assistance to home dwellers who need a helping hand.

Basically, Section 8 funds pay a portion of the rent. The renter applies for a voucher and there are several types to choose from, check out HUD's renting section at its Web site (www.hud.gov). They include:

• Conversion vouchers.

• Family unification vouchers.

• Homeownership vouchers.

• Project-based vouchers.

• Tenant-based vouchers.

• Vouchers for peoplewith disabilities.

• Welfare-to-work vouchers.

The value of the voucher varies. The Public Housing Authority (PHA) pays the owner the difference between 30 percent of adjusted family income and a PHA-determined payment standard or the gross rent for the unit, whichever is lower. The family may choose a unit with a higher rent than the payment standard and pay the owner the difference. It's a tough formula to figure, but your local PHA staff can help determine your voucher level.

This voucher is what the renter then uses to rent a unit. I use the word unit, because it can be an apartment, condo, town house or single-family home. In some states, accepting Section 8 vouchers is optional while other states require investors to use them if they're going to offer rental properties in the state.

Section 8 housing has helped a lot of people when they need it most, giving them a leg up on the tough job of saving money for a down payment. By using the Section 8 program, the renter can now save more of his own money in preparation for buying a house in the future.

Many low-income renters know about Section 8. What they may not know about is Section 42 the government program that can give Section 8 voucher holders extra punch for their dollar.

Section 42 administers the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC), introduced in 1986. The LIHTC is a tax-credit program developers use to construct or refurbish multifamily housing with the understanding that only residents who make 50 percent or 60 percent of the local median income can rent the units.

With that limitation, developers can save hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars in tax payments because they are helping fill the need for low-income housing. With these savings, they can then offer apartments under the market-rate rent.

Although there is considerable variation among properties, tax-credit properties tend to be small, newly constructed and managed by their owners. Most are situated in city centers. The properties are intended to serve families, the elderly and disabled, according to www.huduser.org, an online information source for housing and community development researchers and policy-makers.

Some potential renters have been caught lying to get into these properties. Basically, the application process is the reverse of most housing processes the landlord tries to eliminate you because you make too much money, rather than the other way around.

The vouchers are administered by the state, but the properties that accept Section 8 properties are privately owned and maintained and that's where you findthe disconnect.

Interested renters can find their state public housing authority Web site by visiting the National Council of State Housing Agencies Web site (www.ncsha.org). There's no national or state-by-state database available for voucher holders to find private homes that accept Section 8 vouchers. I hope HUD and state-level PHAs can rectify this problem to make the process less painful.

M. Anthony Carr has written about the real estate industry for more than 13 years. Reach him by e-mail ([email protected]).

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