Housing Assistance for Single Parents

Danika McClure
Housing Assistance for Low Income Families and Single Parents

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. When you are a single parent, this can often mean only one income coming in — which presents financial difficulties on its own.

Finding affordable housing can be a pain point that affects your day-to-day experience. An article written by NPR 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.” A study by the Pew Research Center shows that American families face a growing rent burden.

According to the study, the rising demand for rental properties has fueled a rapid increase in rental market prices that has outpaced many household incomes. This has 38% of renters nationally spending 30% or more of their pre-taxed income on housing, leaving little money for other bills and almost no room for dealing with an unexpected expense.

According to the Harvard Research Center’s 2015 housing report, this is due (in part) to stagnating wages and a lack of affordable housing for renters and homeowners — situations that overwhelmingly affect single parents.

There are a number of financial resources available for single parents. Below, we highlight how single mothers, single fathers, and other single-parent families can access housing-specific resources to help them best find affordable housing that meets their individual needs.

Table of Contents

Government-Subsidized Housing

Subsidized housing is a government-sponsored program that aims to assist with 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, 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 made available through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. In essence, landlords across the U.S. receive funding that allows them to rent apartments in privately-owned buildings to tenants at reduced rent prices. The U.S. HUD website has an online database full of privately owned subsidized housing that is updated daily.

When applying for subsidized housing, it’s important to understand that HUD develops its 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. Be sure to check out the HUD income limits table to see if you qualify for your area.

Public Housing

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

These units are limited to low-income families and individuals. Your eligibility is determined by:

  • Your annual gross income;
  • Your status as either a senior citizen, a person with a disability, or a family unit;
  • 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, reach out to your local Public Housing Agency (PHA).

Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers

Section 8 housing is a government-based program that aims to help very-low-income families, the elderly, and disabled individuals as well as parents of disabled children 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 PHAs that 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 a PHA on behalf of the family who is planning on renting the home. From there, the family pays the difference between the rent charged by the landlord and the amount that is subsidized by the government.

If the PHA determines that your family is eligible, your name will be placed on a waiting list until your voucher arrives.

Section 8 Eligibility Requirements

Section 8 housing choice voucher eligibility requirements are as follows:

  • The government provides 75% of its vouchers to families that earn less than 30% of the median income in that respective area;
  • The recipient’s total income cannot exceed 50% of the median income in that respective area;
  • Eligibility varies depending on your income as well as the size of your family (dependents vs. income).

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 worth looking into. The 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 offers grants 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;
  • Technical assistance.

The long-term goal of these programs is to assist families and individuals (including unaccompanied youth) to help them find stable housing. There are a number of CoC program eligibility requirements, but eligible applicants include:

  • Nonprofit organizations;
  • State and local governments;
  • Instrumentalities of local governments;
  • Public housing agencies.

The following criteria should also be noted:

  • The CoC will designate eligible applicants to apply for HUD grant funds;
  • The Continuum’s designation requires applicants to apply individually, or apply as a “Collaborative Applicant” if there is more than one applicant.

You can find additional information surrounding this program on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) website.

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.

If you live in a rural part of the United States, this program may be worth looking into. Eligibility requirements vary depending on your income, property, and family, but you can check this using the USDA income and property eligibility tool on their site.

State-Sponsored Housing Programs

As previously mentioned, there are a number of state-specific resources aimed at helping 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 appropriate for accommodating you and your needs.

State-sponsored housing is similar to government-subsidized housing, but it is facilitated at the state level. This potentially eliminates the need to move to a new state. You can find additional program-specific information on the HUD website.

Emergency Shelter and Housing Assistance

Emergency shelter and housing assistance programs vary greatly depending on the state you live in. However, there are a number 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 HUD homepage.

Women’s Shelters

Women’s shelters are a temporary place of refuge where women and 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 the 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 specific 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 caseworker will work to help you find another safe place to go, if you so 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:

Additional Resources

There are more resources and organizations available that single parents should take advantage of. Although these options may not be available to just single parents, they are useful resources to become aware of — some include:

  • Habitat for Humanity: This is a global nonprofit housing organization that helps families in need build their own homes while offering an affordable mortgage;
  • Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA): In the case of a disaster, FEMA offers financial help for families. They offer temporary housing, housing replacement, and home repair funding;
  • Mercy Housing: This charity organization offers low-cost housing for seniors, single mothers, individuals with disabilities, and low-income families. It can be found in most states;
  • Catholic Charities USA: This organization offers help with utility bills regardless of your background/story. The amount of funding varies depending on the state;
  • The National Coalition for the Homeless: This organization is a national network that is dedicated to meeting the immediate needs of those dealing with homelessness. They offer legal help, short-term housing, emergency funding, and a number of other offerings for individuals who are facing eviction, or are currently homeless;
  • GreenPath Financial Wellness: This is a nonprofit organization that helps individuals get out of debt, manage their money, and make smart housing decisions through free counseling;
  • Personal finance apps: Knowing how to manage your finances can help you get rid of unnecessary spending, allowing you to allocate additional funding into housing costs. Technology is changing personal finance, so it is important to understand the different personal finance apps readily available at your fingertips.

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