How To Get Preferences on Housing Waiting Lists

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Art: Robin Mead

Many housing programs have preferences for certain groups. These groups can move to the top of the waiting list more quickly.

Where to Find Preferences

Preferences will usually be listed somewhere on the application. They may not be called “preferences” but there will often be somewhere on the application that asks you if you are in a certain group.

For Housing Authorities, you can also find their preferences in a document called “administrative plan” which may be listed on their website.

Common Preferences

Common preferences are: Local resident, homeless, disabled, veteran, or elderly.

Other Preferences

Other preferences might include: domestic violence, reuniting families in foster care, displaced by natural disaster, local job or job offer, rent burdened (high rent), or other things.

What If I Can’t Figure Out the Preferences?

Don’t worry about it. Just apply and answer the questions honestly.

What if I Don’t Meet Any Preferences?

You can still apply. It will just take longer to get to the top of the list.

Preference Tips

Here’s a few tips on preferences:

Homeless: Sometimes this includes people at risk for homelessness. If you are sleeping on a friend’s couch or floor, or have an eviction or foreclosure notice, or you are in a transitional housing program. sometimes you will qualify, depending on the program.

Disabled: You do not need to be receiving disability benefits to be considered disabled. You can also qualify by having your doctor fill out a form. When you reach the top of the waiting list, ask for the form.

Elderly/Disabled: This usually means either elderly or disabled. Not both.

Elderly or Disabled: This usually means ONE person in household needs to be either elderly or disabled. Not everyone.

Disabled Head of Household: This means ONE adult needs to be disabled, and you must list this person as “Head of Household” on the application. Any adult age 18+ can be listed as Head of Household. A child can be Head of Household if they are age 18+.

In Nursing Home/Institution: If you read the fine print, this often includes people who are at risk for nursing home placement, but have not actually lived in one. Many people in Medicaid home care programs have already be found to be at risk for placement and would meet this criteria.

Local Job: Sometimes just having a job offer in that area will count.

“I Can’t Tell If I Meet a Preference”

If you are not sure you meet a preference, you can always ask.

If you think you might meet a preference, but you’re not sure, you can just check the box to indicate that you’d like to be considered for this preference.

When you get to the top of the list, they will tell you more details about that preference and how to qualify. For example, if you checked “homeless” they may require a letter from a homeless agency.

What Happens If I Check a Box for a Preference and Then It Turns Out I Don’t Meet the Preference?

Sometimes people check the box for a preference, and then when they reach the top of the list, they realize they don’t meet the criteria for that preference.

For example, someone might be homeless when they apply, but when they reach the top of the wait list, they are not longer homeless.

Or someone could check the box for homeless because they are homeless, but then when they reach the top of the list they discover that the housing authority is only giving the homeless preference to people who are referred by certain agencies.

Several of our readers were in this kind of situation. Don’t worry, nothing terrible happened.Β The Housing Authority just removed the preference. The people applying were returned to the waiting list at the spot they would be at without that preference.

Tulip’s Story

Tulip lived in Kansas City when she applied, and she checked the box for “live/work in Kansas city.”

Then she was on the wait list for two years. During this time, she moved to Nevada. When she reached the top of the list, she told them she no longer lived in Kansas City. They removed the preference and returned her to the spot she would be in without that preference. Six months later she came to the top of the list and got a voucher.

“My Preferences Changed”

After you get on the list, you can notify the housing program about any preference changes. This may move you up or down the list.