How Utility Allowances Work (Housing Voucher)

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Art: Robin Mead

How do utilities impact your rent? Let’s find out.

Before you start:

Get a copy of your utility allowance chart. Ask your housing worker to email you a copy, or you may be able to find it on their website. It might look something like this: Sample Utility Allowance. 

If you don’t have or can’t get the utility chart, you can just do a rough estimate in your head. For example, for a two bedroom, you might estimate utilities to be $200/month. That might not be correct, but it gives you a starting place.

When you go to rent a place:

🌸 Look at the rent number on your voucher

🌸 Then SUBTRACT all the utilities you pay.

🌸 Then ignore all the utilities your landlord pays.

🌸 That’s how much your voucher is worth!

After you move in: 

Your housing program will tell you how much your rent is. You do not need to do any math. If you want to do math:

🌸 Figure out how much your share of rent will be. (Hint: It’s usually 30% of your income)

🌸 Then SUBTRACT all utilities you pay.

🌸 Then ignore all utilities your landlord pays.

🌸 That’s how much you will actually pay each month.

“I Don’t Know How Much The Rent is On My Voucher”

Sometimes the voucher is written is a weird or confusing way. Here’s where you can figure it out: How Payment Standards Work

“This Utility Number Doesn’t Look Right”

The numbers on the utility chart may bear no resemblance to how much you actually pay for utilities. Such is the mysterious ways of HUD.

Even if your actual utilities are really low or really high, the Housing Authority does not change the numbers. They do not take your actual bills into account.

Bad News: Some readers report that their actual utilities turned out to be much higher, so they lost money on utilities.

Good News: Some readers report that their actual utilities came out low. This can happen if you have a place that is small, well insulated, or you do not use a lot of heat or air conditioning. It can also happen if you receive other types of assistance that lower utilities, such as Liheap. If your utilities are lowered by government assistance, this does not change the amount of rent you pay.

Bonus News: In addition, food stamps also has a standard utility allowance so your food stamps may also go up or down depending on whether utilities are included in your rent (even if you are paying the exact same total amount either way!) It is different in every state. In some states, utilities that are separated from the rent lead to higher food stamps.

Will I Get a Utility Allowance Check? 

Sometimes. There are two ways this can happen:

After your utility allowance is deducted, you pay the rest of the rent you owe. But wait! What if your income is really low so your rent is really low? In this case, they can deduct so much that you go into the negative! Now you get a check.

There is a second way that someone can get their utilities in a check, but it is not common: Most Housing Authorities just deduct your utility allowance off of the amount off of the rent you pay each month. However, some readers report that their Housing Authority did not deduct the utilities but sent a check instead. This is rare, but apparently happens in a few places.

Example 1: John’s tenant payment is $300. His utility allowance is $200. His tenant payment for rent each month is $100.

Example 2: John’s tenant payment is $50. His utility allowance is $100. His tenant payment drops to $0 and he receives a check for $50.

Exception

If your housing authority participates in Moving to Work, they may have a different way of calculating utilities.

Reasonable Accommodations

If someone in your household is disabled:

If your disability causes you to use more heat, cooling, water, or electricity, you can make a request for a higher utility allowance. You can also request ths on behalf of a child or other family member. If you pay your own utilities, your share of rent will go down. If landlord pays utilities, there will be no impact on the rent. 

Learn more: Epic Master List of Disability Accommodation Letters (Utility Allowance)

Thanks for Reading

🌷 This page is part of the free online guide: The Sleepy Girl Affordable Housing Survival Guide

🌷 Art on this page by Robin Mead and Elizabeth D’Angelo.

🌷 Page Updated: 8/1/19

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20 thoughts on “How Utility Allowances Work (Housing Voucher)”

  1. I live in Chandler, AZ and when they switched over to tenant paid utilities I was really worried but after living with it for a while it is actually better, at least for me. It all started when our property was bought by another company and they did a whole bunch of renovations and installed new HVAC, solar paneled covered parking and so on. It works like this. HUD works out a utility allowance based on factors like rent and unit size and what they estimate your costs will be. Our new HVAC was installed with the renovations (air conditioning) which does an OK job. Seems weak but that is because it is supposed to be super efficient. It can linger near 80 inside if its around 110+ outside but overall it gets the job done. Our bills tend to lag behind the current month so I just paid for July. They charge rent minus whatever your HUD utility allowance is, mine is $73. My total electric came to about $45 for the month of July which I just paid (lagging behind). that is generally our hottest month. Out of that $45, $10 was the cost for the chilled water provided by the cooling system, or HVAC (which cools our apartments during summer and heats during winter but there’s only like five days a year on average you actually need heat here). So far it has actually made it so I am paying less than what I would be paying otherwise but that is just me. I live alone in a 1 bedroom. II use LED light bulbs, keep my thermostat at 76-77 and turn off lights when not in use and I put my computers in standby or off when not in use.

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  2. I recently recertified my sec8. I questioned the share of my rent. The response in an email was it is expected that ur utilities are going to go down based on last years utility chart. I have emphysema and require an air conditioner my worker stated in an email we included your air conditioner. I have since submitted a Reasonable Accommodation how are they allowed to do that they have a copy of the providers letter

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  3. I recently recertified my sec 8 It was stated tome in an email from the head of the sec 8 dept. that it is expected or anticipated that my utilities are expected to decrease. I have emphysema I require an air conditioner. I just as of this writing sent in a Reasonable Accommodation for a higher utility allowance hopefully my share of the rent will go down.

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  4. I found a great place and everything is a go! However I am totally confused I live in Lee county fl and my pha is adding the utility allowance making me over 40% for the unit. I always thought that the utility allowance was SUBTRACTED from the gross lowering your adj income for the unit? Did something change or is she doing it wrong?

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    1. If you pay for the utilities, the amount would get subtracted from the payment standard. That means that you need to rent a place with a lower rent. Unfortunately, they may be doing it correctly. If someone in your household is disabled, and this particular place is uniquely suited to their disabilities, you could request an exception to payment standard. It is explained here: https://howtogeton.wordpress.com/sample-disability-accommodation-letters-housing/

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  5. I have never received any utility allowance and I pay for water and lights. But my rent just went up from $90 to $108. I got a letter stating my housing amount was being reduced. It was 1,705. How come I never get Utility Allowance?

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    1. No one should ever have to pay back money, unless there was a mistake made or something was not reported. When someone starts to work, their amount of tenant rent may increase.

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  6. I was doing research and on my lease utility allowance with my PHA allows 53 dollars, however I am paying all electric out of pocket and the electric is in my name. Do I get to deduct the electricity I pay out of pocket or is 53 dollars all credit I get and I pay full amount of the electric bill ?

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  7. My new apt manager keeps planning taped notices on our doors making access to our personal info publicly available to anyone outside.. Not only that she has requested each HOH contact our electric company and get copies of our last 12 months electric bills.. Although we each signed the HUD form granting permission to request said info when needed for certification… Stating that HUD requested current charges from our Duke energy bills.. Basically staying in notice that it’s just easier for her if we do it and turn it in to her..a couple months ago we were mandated by them to open up an online account with Duke and provide password for each account to the manager here.. And anyone that did not have one had to come to office to set one up immediately … What was the point of the release of information form? Where do I stand when threatened with eviction? Once the travel ban for the covid-19 went into force she notified us that if we were caught allowing anyone entry into or residence e would be violated and visitors would be removed via law enforcement.. Please help us in Indiana

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    1. The notices may depend what is written. If it has confidential info like income or social security number, you might consult with local legal aide. If notices are being taken or stolen, send her a certified letter and/or email stating this so you have a papertrail.

      I didn’t understand the utilities question.

      Did you get an eviction notice?

      Are you sure it’s no visitors at all? Can you post the exact language in the notice?

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  8. The hsg with of contra Costa county in calif did not receive a utility allowance in 2016 and raised our rents to make up the money. Since then, they did get it 3 months later but did not adjust our rent accordingly.. Most tenants paid an average of $17 but my increase was over $37! They have never mentioned “utility allowance” since.
    Why do they get the utility allowance if we pay utilities?

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