Housing Assistance for Low Income Families and Single Parents

Danika McClure  | 

There are many factors to personal finance that single parents have to grapple with on a daily basis. Perhaps the most expensive (and no doubt one of the most important) is housing. For low income single parents, especially, finding affordable housing can be a pain point that affects your day-to-day experience.

In a recent NPR piece, contributor Pam Fessler explains how low income individuals, and single mothers especially, are consistently on the edge of eviction.

Following the story of Meagen Limes, Fessler writes, “Limes is among the hundreds of thousands of Americans who face eviction because they simply can’t afford their rent. One in four low-income families pays more than 70 percent of its income on rent, leaving little money for other bills and almost no room for an unexpected expense.”

This is due, in part, to stagnating wages and a lack of affordable housing for renters and homeowners, situations that overwhelmingly affect single parents.

Below, we highlight how single mothers, single fathers, and other single-parent families can access resources to help them best find affordable housing that meets their individual needs.

Emergency Shelter and Housing Assistance

Emergency shelter and housing assistance programs vary greatly depending on the state that you live in. However, there are a multitude of government resources available that can direct you to the options that you have in your specific state.

We’ve listed some of the most prominent Federal Government resources that apply to single and/or low income parents below:

There are also a number of smaller organizations that offer families the resources necessary to help them find emergency shelter and housing assistance. If you’re having a hard time finding state-specific information, or finding information about your specific circumstances, try visiting the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s homepage.

Women’s Shelters

Women’s shelters are a temporary place of refuge where women, and/or women with children, can turn to when leaving situations that are less than ideal in their home life. Typically, these shelters are places where women can expect to safely escape from domestic and intimate partner violence. Though typical nomenclature describes them as “women’s shelters,” in many states, they are a location where people of any gender who are at risk can find refuge.

These shelters are particularly important as women, and others who are at risk, decide how to take next steps and transition back into situations where they are no longer being threatened with domestic or intimate partner violence. Many of these institutions offer a variety of services including counseling, and legal guidance, which aid in helping these women move forward.

Typically, you can expect to have space in a safe, and private location. You should not have to pay fees, or rent in these shelters. Many offer free transportation to the shelter. You should expect food, clothing, and toiletries to be provided as well as proper sleeping arrangements. Most shelters have laundry facilities that you will have access to.

Before entering a safe housing program, you’ll likely meet with an advocate to determine if the particular program has enough space or is a good fit for you. If this is not the case, the case worker will work to help you find another safe place to go, if you choose.

If you find yourself in a situation where you need to access help through a women’s or domestic violence shelter, there are a number of resources available to you, though they vary by state. Check to see if any of the following shelters or housing resources exist in your area.

Government Subsidized Housing

Subsidized housing is a government sponsored program that aims to assist housing costs for low income individuals in the United States. These can include direct housing subsidies, non-profit housing, public housing, rent supplements, and co-op housing.

Government subsidized housing is necessary, due in part due to the private housing market becoming more and more competitive. As this process happens, an increasing number of low income or single parents are spending an exorbitant amount of their monthly income on rent, or are unable to find housing at all. Subsidized housing offers individuals, especially low-income or otherwise marginalized single-parent families, the opportunity to find affordable housing situations.

Privately Owned Subsidized Housing

Privately owned subsidized housing is available due, in part, to efforts made by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. In essence, landlords across the U.S. receive funding which allows them to rent apartments in privately-owned buildings to tenants at reduced rent prices.

The process is simple, as the U.S. HUD has an online database that is updated daily. You can also get a sense of whether or not you might qualify for housing assistance by looking at the HUD income limits page.

When applying for subsidized housing, it’s important to understand that the HUD develops it’s income limits based on the area that you live in, meaning that income limits are based on the specific city you live in, the median family income in your area, and fair market rent estimates for your area.

Public Housing

Public housing was initially established to provide safe, stable housing for eligible low-income individuals, families, the elderly, and persons who have physical and mental disabilities. These houses can come in a number of sizes, and types. According to the latest data available from the HUD, there are approximately 1.2 million households living in public housing units.

These units are limited to low-income families and individuals. Eligibility is determined by your annual gross income; your status as either an elderly person, a person with a disability, or a family unit; and your citizenship or eligible immigration status.

Should you qualify, the government facility managing the particular housing unit you are applying to live in will check your references and previous housing patterns to determine that you will be a positive addition to the project’s environment.

If you are interested in applying for public housing, contact your local HA.

Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers

Section 8 housing is a government based program that is aimed to help very-low income families, the elderly, and disabled individuals find safe, accessible, and affordable housing in the private market. The difference between Section 8 housing and government subsidized housing is that the applicant is free to choose any housing that meets the program’s requirements, and applicants are not limited to units located in housing projects.

These vouchers are administered locally by public housing agencies (PHAs) who receive federal funds from HUD. An individual or family who is issued one of these vouchers is responsible for finding a suitable housing unit where the owner of the property agrees to rent under the Section 8 program. These units must meet minimum standards of health and safety.

Once the agreement has been reached, a housing subsidy is paid to the landlord by PHA on behalf of the family who is planning on renting the home. From there, the family pays the difference between rent charged by the landlord and the amount that is subsidized by the government.

Eligibility for this program is based on your annual gross income, family size, and citizenship status. If the PHA determines that your family is eligible, your name will be placed on a waiting list until your voucher arrives.

If you are interested in applying for a voucher, contact your local PHA.

The Continuum of Care (CoC) Program

If you’re a single parent experiencing homelessness, a Continuum of Care (CoC) program might be a worth looking into.

A CoC is a planning body that coordinates housing and services for homeless families and individuals. Typically, they provide funding that allows State and local governments to quickly re-house homeless individuals and families to further prevent trauma and dislocation.

According to HUD, the program “offer[s] through a competitive process for new construction; acquisition, rehabilitation, or leasing of buildings to provide transitional or permanent housing; rental assistance; payment of operating costs; supportive services; re-housing services; payment of administrative costs; and grants for technical assistance.”

The long term goal of these programs is to assist families and individuals (including unaccompanied youth) to help them find stable housing.

For more information about this service, visit the HUD webpage.

USDA Rural Development Housing Assistance

This program offers a variety of services that aim to build or improve housing and community facilities in rural areas of the United States. According to their website, they offer “loans, grants, and loan guarantees for single- and multi-family housing, child care centers, fire and police stations, hospitals, libraries, nursing homes, schools, first responder vehicles and equipment, housing for farm laborers and more.”

If you live in a rural part of the United States, this program may be something worth looking into.

State-Sponsored Housing Programs

As previously mentioned, there are a number of state specific resources that are aimed to help their low income, single-parent, or otherwise marginalized communities. If you are ineligible for federal government resources, you  might find a state-specific resource that is more able to accommodate you and your needs. Find more information on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s website.


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This post was updated July 3, 2018. It was originally published July 3, 2018.