How much rent can your clients afford to pay? The general rule is that rent should not exceed 30% of gross household income. That’s why your clients need rent assistance – to keep their housing costs in line with their income.
Filling out the initial housing application requires proof of homelessness, personal identification and a declaration of citizenship. This initial application generally pre-screens the applicant for the right programs. In other words, her name can be added to any appropriate list based on this information and her preferences.
It’s exciting when your client gets the call or the letter telling her rent assistance is available. She will finally have a home of her own that is safe, decent and affordable. Before she can pack her bags, though, she will need to meet with the housing agency and learn its process for getting from the paperwork to move-in day. This series on creating a housing application portfolio puts that paperwork into categories. We have talked about different forms of identification and documentation of homelessness. Your client has a good start on building her portfolio.
Most of the information discussed so far is needed to get on waiting lists. Once a rent voucher or affordable apartment is available the housing provider has to ask questions about her income, assets and expenses. This information is used to determine what she can actually afford and how much assistance she will need.
Most of us don’t like talking about how much money we make. We don’t feel like it’s anyone’s business whether we have money in a savings account or how much our medicine costs. But revealing this information goes with the territory. Whether HUD or another agency is paying for the housing assistance this kind of information is required. You can reassure your client it is held in strict confidence.
Having said this, no one can collect information about your client without his or her consent. The housing provider probably has its own Release of Information form that authorizes it to research information. HUD has its own release of information, creatively named Form 9887. A companion form, known affectionately as 9887-A, lists all the resources the housing agency can use to verify income as well as necessary expenses. HUD expects them to research income using the Social Security Administration, the IRS, the unemployment system, employer records and so on.
The housing agency must go through Release of Information forms carefully with your client. It is her option to take the forms home with her if she would like. It may raise her comfort level to read through it privately with you, or with another family member or friend. That’s okay. She should understand what privacy rights she has to concede about her economic situation. She also must understand the housing provider is mandated to collect it.
Even though your client will have to return the forms to the housing agency advise her to keep copies in her application portfolio. It adds to the complete record of information needed for housing. It also serves as a reminder that she is responsible to keep the housing agency informed about changes in income as long as she is receiving rent assistance.
Having a rent payment that is only 30% of income is the goal. It’s HUD’s mission for people to obtain stable housing. That’s why its target rent is 30% of income. Even so it can still feel like a lot of money to people who don’t have very much.
That does not relieve them of their obligation to report income and pay a share of rent accordingly. Reporting income based on a pay check seems clear enough. However, circumstances change. Her income may rise if she gets a pay raise, or go down if she gets fewer work hours. Changes in child support, unemployment compensation and income from a cash based business all should be reported They may not be as obvious as income that has to be reported. Your client may require some support from you to understanding her financial obligations and stick to them.
Forms 9887 and 9887-A stay in a client’s file as long as she receives assistance. The housing agency must check income sources regularly, not just once. Remind your client that there shouldn’t be any income surprises.