Housing Choice Vouchers FAQ

What are Housing Choice Vouchers (HCVs)?

The Wilkes-Barre Housing Authority (WBHA) administers funds received from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and distributes them in the form of Housing Choice Vouchers (HCVs) to eligible families and individuals.

The HCV program is the federal government's program for assisting very low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled to afford decent, safe, and sanitary housing in the private market. Since housing assistance is provided on behalf of the family or individual, participants are able to find their own housing, including single-family homes, townhouses, and apartments.

The participant is free to choose any housing that meets the requirements of the program and is not limited to units located in subsidized housing projects.

A family that is issued a housing voucher is responsible for finding a suitable housing unit of the family's choice where the owner agrees to rent under the program. This unit may include the family's present residence. Rental units must meet minimum standards of health and safety, as determined by the WBHA. The rent charged by the landlord must be affordable (in accordance with payment standards set by the WBHA) and reasonable (compared to similar unassisted units in the same area).

A housing subsidy is paid to the landlord directly by the WBHA on behalf of the participating family. The family then pays the difference between the actual rent charged by the landlord and the amount subsidized by the program.

How is the HCV program different from Public Housing?

Public Housing is made up of apartment buildings and duplex houses that the WBHA owns and manages. In the Public Housing Program, the tenant pays rent directly to the WBHA as the landlord.

In contrast, the HCV program gives you the freedom to find your choice of decent, safe, and sanitary housing with a private landlord. This program lets you choose where you would like to live and the kind of apartment or house you would like to live in.

Are you accepting Housing Choice Voucher applications?

For information on the status of our waiting lists, please see our Waiting Lists page.

What does it mean if the waiting list is closed?

If the HCV waiting list is closed, this means that the HCV program is still operating; however, due to the large number of families who are currently on the waiting list for assistance, we are not accepting new applications until further notice.

Local preferences and waiting list - what are they and how do they affect me?

Since the demand for housing assistance often exceeds the limited resources available to HUD and the local housing agencies, long waiting periods are common. In fact, a Public Housing Authority (PHA) may close its waiting list when it has more families on the list than can be assisted in the near future.

The WBHA HCV program has the following preferences: a residency preference for adult applicants who live and/or work in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania; a working/elderly/disabled preference for those households whose head, spouse, or sole member is employed, is age 62 or older and/or is a person with disabilities; a veteran’s preference for veterans and their spouses; and a job training preference. Applicants who do not qualify for any of these preferences will still be placed on the waiting list.

Do you have emergency housing assistance?

No.  The WBHA does not have any type of emergency housing in either its Public Housing or HCV programs.  If you are in need of emergency housing, you may wish to contact the following:

  • Women's Shelter:  Ruth's Place (570) 822-6817
  • Men's Shelter:        Mother Theresa Haven (570) 825-9948
  • Family Shelter:        Kirby Family House (570) 824-8380

What is the maximum amount of income that I can earn in order to qualify for HCV assistance?

The income limits are determined by HUD and change every year. Please see the Publications page for current income limits.

Am I eligible?

Eligibility for a housing voucher is determined by the WBHA based on the total annual gross income and family size and is limited to U.S. citizens and specified categories of non-citizens who have eligible immigration status.

During the application process, the WBHA will collect information on family income, assets, and family composition. If the WBHA determines that your family is eligible, the WBHA will put your name on a waiting list. Once your name is reached on the waiting list, the WBHA will contact you.

What are some of the reasons that could prevent me from getting housing assistance?

There are many reasons why an application may be denied including, but not limited to:

  • Failed criminal background check
  • Income over the federally-mandated income limits
  • Whether you or your household members owe any debt to us or to another subsidized housing property
  • Failure to appear for scheduled appointments
  • Failure to provide necessary documents or information for us to determine eligibility

Once this is finished, we will determine whether you are eligible or not. We will contact you by mail with our decision.

If we determine that you are ineligible, we will state the reason(s) why. If you believe our decision was made in error, you have the right to request an informal hearing.

All denials are based on the policies and regulations found in the WBHA’s Administrative Plan. The WBHA is prohibited by federal law from discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, familial status, and disability.

May I add or remove family members from my application or my voucher?

You may request to add or remove family members from your application or voucher. Any request to add somebody to your voucher must be approved by the landlord before it can be approved by the WBHA. All adult members will be subject to a criminal background check as well as a check of whether they owe any money to us or to another subsidized housing property. If you remove any member of the household from your voucher, they are prohibited from living in the subsidized unit.

If I have moved since the time I submitted my application, do I need to notify the WBHA?

Yes. You must report any changes of address to the WBHA in person. Please note: changing your address with the post office will NOT change your address with the WBHA. You must update us separately.

Almost all of our communication with you will be conducted via mail. This is why it is extremely important to keep us updated with your current address. If a letter is returned by the post office, your name will be removed from the waiting list.

Do I have to be a citizen to be eligible for housing assistance?

No. You do not have to be a citizen; however, you must have eligible immigration status. Everyone in the household will be required to declare their citizenship status and provide proof of identity. Non-citizens with eligible immigration status will be required to provide proof of eligible immigration status as well.

How much rent can a landlord charge?

The HCV payment standards are determined by HUD and the WBHA and change every year. Please see the Publications page for our current payment standards.

However, the payment standards can only be used as a general guideline in determining whether a unit may be eligible for assistance. We will also take into consideration which utilities the landlord pays, the estimated utility costs of the unit, and your income to determine what rent amount can be approved. In addition, we conduct a comparability test at the time of the housing inspection to ensure that the amount being requested by the landlord is not excessive when compared to other similar units in the general area.

How does the WBHA approve a unit?

The HCV program places the choice of housing in the hands of the individual family. Participants are encouraged to consider several housing choices to secure the best housing for their family’s needs. A voucher holder is advised of the unit size for which they are eligible based on family size and composition.

The housing unit selected by the family must meet an acceptable level of health and safety before the WBHA can approve the unit. When the voucher holder finds a unit that it wishes to occupy and reaches an agreement with the landlord over the lease terms, the WBHA must inspect the dwelling and determine that the rent requested is reasonable.

PHAs determine a payment standard that is the amount generally needed to rent a moderately-priced dwelling unit in the local housing market and that is used to calculate the amount of housing assistance a family will receive. However, the payment standard does not limit or affect the amount of rent a landlord may charge or the family may pay. A family which receives a housing choice voucher can select a unit with a rent that is below or above the payment standard.

The housing choice voucher family must pay 30% of its monthly adjusted gross income for rent and utilities, and if the unit rent is greater than the payment standard the family is required to pay the additional amount. By law, whenever a family moves to a new unit where the rent exceeds the payment standard, the family may not pay more than 40 percent of its adjusted monthly income for rent.

How is the unit size (number of bedrooms) determined?

Assignment of bedroom size eligibility is outlined in our Administrative Plan.

If the WBHA does not approve the rent the landlord asks for, can I pay the difference?

No. It is illegal and a violation of WBHA and HUD regulations. You should never pay more than the WBHA states you should pay.

How much of the rent would I have to pay?

This depends on a number of factors including your income, the deductions to which you are entitled, the number of people in your household (which determines your voucher size), the applicable payment standard, and the utility allowance for the unit you have chosen. Generally, speaking, you will pay between 30% and 40% of your monthly adjusted income for rent.

Can I rent from a relative?

The owner/landlord cannot be the parent, child, grandparent, grandchild, sister, brother, or spouse of any member of the assisted family. Any exceptions are outlined in our Administrative Plan.

Can I ask for a voucher extension?

All vouchers are issued for 120 days.

After the "Extension Expiration Date" written on the voucher, the voucher will expire. If your voucher has expired, you will have to reapply when the waiting list is open. Any exceptions are outlined in our Administrative Plan.

Where is the voucher valid?

The HCV is valid anywhere in Wilkes-Barre City. This means that any unit you wish to rent must be located in this jurisdiction.

Can I move outside of Wilkes-Barre City and still use my voucher?

Subject to certain restrictions, you may transfer your voucher to another housing authority, anywhere in the country where an HCV program is operating. This is called "portability".

You must live in the WBHA’s jurisdiction with your voucher for one year before you are eligible to transfer, or "port", your voucher. This means that when you receive a voucher from the WBHA, you must find a suitable unit, move in, and live there for one year before being able to use portability.

If you wish to transfer, or "port", your voucher to another jurisdiction, you must notify the HCV Department in writing.

How can I move to WBHA from another housing authority?

The process of moving from one housing authority’s jurisdiction to another, while keeping HCV assistance, is called "portability".

If you wish to move to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania under portability, you MUST contact your CURRENT housing authority for more information. Housing authorities should send portability paperwork to:

Wilkes-Barre Housing Authority
Section 8 Department
50 Lincoln Plaza
Wilkes-Barre, PA 18702
Phone: (570) 825-6657
Fax: (570) 825-0395

Do you have a list of landlords that accept the voucher?

Please see our Housing Availability List on the Publications page.

I found a unit! What happens now?

When you receive your HCV, you will be given a Request for Tenancy Approval (RFT) form. Give the Request for Tenancy Approval (RFT) form to the landlord to complete. Return this form to the WBHA. The rent will be reviewed to ensure it is reasonable and affordable. If the rent is approved, the unit will be scheduled for an inspection. The landlord will be contacted to schedule the inspection. Your landlord will notify you if the unit passes or fails the inspection. It is very important that you keep close contact with your prospective landlord during the process.

My unit hasn’t passed the inspection, but the landlord said I can move in. Can I move in?

The WBHA will not pay any subsidy on your behalf until the unit passes inspection and is under contract. If you move in before this time, the WBHA will NOT pay any portion of your rent. The landlord may be able to charge you the full amount of the rent.

Roles - the tenant, the landlord, the housing agency and HUD

Once a PHA approves an eligible family's housing unit, the family and the landlord sign a lease and, at the same time, the landlord and the WBHA sign a housing assistance payments (HAP) contract that runs for the same term as the lease. This means that everyone -- tenant, landlord and PHA -- has obligations and responsibilities under the voucher program.

Tenant's Obligations: When a family selects a housing unit, and the WBHA approves the unit and lease, the family signs a lease with the landlord for at least one year. The tenant may be required to pay a security deposit to the landlord. After the first year, the landlord may initiate a new lease or allow the family to remain in the unit on a month-to-month lease. When the family is settled in a new home, the family is expected to comply with the lease and the program requirements, pay its share of rent on time, maintain the unit in good condition, and notify the WBHA of any changes in income or family composition.

Landlord's Obligations: The role of the landlord in the voucher program is to provide decent, safe, and sanitary housing to a tenant at a reasonable rent. The dwelling unit must pass the program's housing quality standards and be maintained up to those standards as long as the owner receives housing assistance payments. In addition, the landlord is expected to provide the services agreed to as part of the lease signed with the tenant and the contract signed with the WBHA.

WBHA Obligations: The WBHA administers the voucher program locally. The WBHA provides a family with the housing assistance that enables the family to seek out suitable housing and the WBHA enters into a contract with the landlord to provide housing assistance payments on behalf of the family. If the landlord fails to meet the owner's obligations under the lease, the WBHA has the right to terminate assistance payments. The WBHA must reexamine the family's income and composition at least annually and must inspect each unit at least annually to ensure that it meets minimum housing quality standards.

HUD's Role: To cover the cost of the program, HUD provides funds to allow the WBHA to make housing assistance payments on behalf of the families. HUD also pays the WBHA a fee for the costs of administering the program. When additional funds become available to assist new families, HUD invites Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) to submit applications for funds for additional housing vouchers. Applications are then reviewed and funds awarded to the selected PHAs on a competitive basis. HUD monitors PHA administration of the program to ensure program rules are properly followed.

What is a reasonable accommodation? Can I get one?

Sometimes people with disabilities may need a reasonable accommodation in order to take full advantage of the WBHA’s housing programs and related services.

A reasonable accommodation is a change, adaptation, or modification to the WBHA’s rules, policies, practices, or services which is necessary to provide a qualified individual with a handicap or disability an equal opportunity to participate fully in the services, programs, or activities provided by the WBHA.

You may request a reasonable accommodation. A request may be made on behalf of the individual by a family member or other agent.

I have a specific question that isn’t answered here. Where can I ask?

If your question isn’t answered in this section, please contact the WBHA Section 8 Department at (570) 825-6657. We will respond to all calls as soon as possible.

These frequently asked questions (FAQs) have been adapted from those found on the website of the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development.