If you have a Housing Voucher and you are looking for a place to live, the first thing you need to know is how much your voucher will pay for rent. This is called “Payment Standard.”
Some Housing Authorities are extremely confusing in the way they give you this information. As a result, some of our readers report that they spent weeks or months looking in the wrong price range.
Figuring out your payment standard yourself can come in handy.
What Is a Payment Standard?
Payment standards are the amount your voucher will pay. You will pay some of that amount, and your Housing Authority will pay the rest.
For example: Jane’s payment standard is $1,000. Jane pays $100 and the Housing Authority pays $900. The landlord gets $1,000.
How Much Is My Payment Standard?
Ideally, your payment standard will be written on the paperwork the Housing Authority gives you. Some Housing Authorities don’t use the words “payment standard.” They will write “proposed amount” or “shopping range” or some other confusing terminology.
If you feel unsure, you can request a copy of their payment standard chart. Or look on their website to see if it is listed there. Some charts are simpler than others. Here’s an example: Sample payment standard chart.
Hint #1: In some Housing Authorities, “Fair Market Rent” and “Payment Standard” are the same thing.
Hint #2: In other Housing Authorities, they are not the same thing at all! The HUD website has a database for “fair market rent.” This may or may not be the same numbers your Housing Authority uses. Payment standard can be set at 90%-110% of fair market rent.
How to Figure Out What Place You Can Rent
Below are three ways to figure out payment standards:
- Easy way: takes no work, but also gives you no information
- Medium way: Works sometimes
- Hard way: Learn all the nitty gritty details and get an exact number
Payment Standards the Easy Way
If you don’t want to figure out payment standards, just find a place you like that appears to be within whatever number the Housing Authority gave you. Have the landlord fill out the paperwork. Send the paperwork to your housing authority.
Your Housing Authority will do all the math tell you if it’s in payment standard and if you are allowed to rent it. Done!
Payment Standards the Medium Way
The easy way sounds great, but does not always work out so great. Some readers find that all their rentals get rejected and they have no idea why. If you want to get a rough estimate what to expect, you can try this:
Find out your payment standard. You can find this by looking on your housing paperwork, or requesting a copy of the payment standard chart, or checking your Housing Authority website.
Ask your new landlord who will pay for utilities: Heat, gas, water, sewer, electric. (Ignore cable and internet)
If you find a place where you pay all or most utilities, subtract roughly $100-$200.
If you find a place where the landlord pays utilities, skip this step.
Example: Susan’s voucher is for $800. She looks for a place where rent is $600 plus utilities.
Step Four (Optional)
If you you want to rent a place that is too expensive, the Housing Authority will allow you to pay more in some cases. You pay this money yourself. Learn more: How to Go Up to 40% of Income
Done! That’s it.
Tip: Some people think it’s a better to find a place with utilities paid by the landlord, but this is not true. Both ways are equally good or equally bad. It depends on the situation. See below for more details.
Payment Standards The Hard Way
The hard way will force you to do math, but it will give you a more exact number, plus give you more options:
Step One: Get Payment Standard Chart
You can request one from your housing worker. Some Housing Authorities post this chart on their website.
Step Two: Figure Out Approved Bedrooms
You will need to know how many bedrooms you are approved for so you can look up the correct number on the payment standard chart.
The number of bedrooms should be written on your voucher or on the paperwork you were given at your briefing meeting. It may be called “bedrooms” or “units”.
Step Three: Adjust Bedrooms (Optional)
If you are happy with your number of bedrooms you are approved for, skip step three. If you want to rent a place with more or less bedrooms, look here: How Bedrooms Work
Step Four: Get Utility Allowance Chart
Ask for a copy of the utility allowance chart or look to see if it’s on the website. It might look something like this: Sample Utility Allowance.
Step Five: Subtract Utilities
Start with your payment standard
Then subtract all utilities you pay
Then ignore all utilities your landlord pays
That’s it! If you wish to learn more: How Utility Allowances Work
Step Six: Pay More (Optional)
If you you want to rent a place that is too expensive, the Housing Authority will allow you to pay more in some cases.
How much extra are you allowed to pay? You can get a rough estimate by adding up your household income. Then figure out 10%. That’s the amount extra you can pay, if you want to. Learn more: How to Go Up to 40% of Income
Step Seven: Explore More Options (Optional)
There are a few other legal ways that you can rent a place that is more expensive than your payment standard: How to Use Your Voucher When the Rent is Too High
Step Eight: Done!
Landlord fills out paperwork and you submit it. Should work this time!
Some people think it’s a better to find a place with utilities included, but this is not necessarily true. If utilities are included:
- Your monthly tenant payment will be higher
- Your food stamps might go down
- You might not be eligible for local utility assistance programs
Depending on your circumstances, it may be better to have utilities in the rent, or it may be better not to. So what way best for you?
It doesn’t really matter. It’s super hard to find a place that is a good match and takes a voucher. So the best thing to do is just explore all possible options no matter what the utility arrangement is.
Unfortunately, the housing authority won’t always tell you when they move you to 40% of income. If you submit a request to rent a place that’s too expensive, they will just adjust how much you pay. Later you may wonder why your rent is so high.
If you feel unsure, you can always ask, or request a copy of the calculations, or read the rest of this page and do the math yourself.
🌷If you are already in a house and the landlord raises the rent above the payment standard, your Housing Authority will allow you to stay there if you pay the extra amount.
🌷Some Housing Authorities participate in a program called Moving to Work Housing Authority. If you are in a moving to work agency, some of the rules above will not apply. Your rent will be different, and may be higher, or may raise over time.
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