People can apply for a voucher through their local public housing agencies. But those agencies may close their waiting lists or have specific windows of time when they accept applications. (Sarahbeth Maney/Detroit Free Press)

The state’s housing authority will open the waiting list for its federal housing voucher program from March 22 to April 5 for 61 counties stretching from those along Michigan’s southern border to the Upper Peninsula.

This story also appeared in Detroit Free Press

Locally, the window includes Livingston County. Most of the counties where the window will open are outside of southeast Michigan. 

The federally funded housing choice voucher program helps low income families pay for rent. Commonly known as “Section 8,” the program is widely regarded as a tool to help families land housing they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford. But barriers such as long waiting lists, a shortage of vouchers and landlords willing to accept them can stand in the way of participants successfully using the subsidies. 

In Michigan, 65 public housing agencies, including MSHDA, distribute housing choice vouchers, according to a HUD dashboard

Here’s a brief rundown of what to know about the program: 

How to apply 

MSHDA’s voucher waiting list is open for the following counties from March 22 at 11 a.m. to April 5 at 11 a.m.: Alcona, Alger, Allegan, Alpena, Antrim, Arenac, Baraga, Barry, Benzie, Berrien, Branch, Calhoun, Cass, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, Chippewa, Clinton, Crawford, Delta, Dickinson, Emmet, Gladwin, Gogebic, Grand Traverse, Gratiot, Hillsdale, Houghton, Ionia, Iosco, Iron, Isabella, Kalkaska, Keweenaw, Lake, Leelanau, Lenawee, Livingston, Luce, Mackinac, Manistee, Marquette, Mason, Mecosta, Menominee, Missaukee, Montcalm, Montmorency, Newaygo, Oceana, Ogemaw, Ontonagon, Osceola, Oscoda, Otsego, Presque Isle, Roscommon, Schoolcraft, Shiawassee, St. Joseph, Van Buren and Wexford County. 

Applications are available online and based on income and family size.

Although anyone in the country can apply, MSHDA says it will give preference to county residents and those in Michigan. For information, go to

There are currently more than 74,000 households on MSHDA’s waiting list, with the majority saying they are from within the state. 

MSHDA said it does not anticipate opening up the list for Wayne, Macomb and Oakland, since the latter two counties were opened last year and all three counties have enough applicants to fill vacancies. MSHDA says it will open the list as needed. 

People interested in applying for a voucher should contact their local housing agency, according to HUD. For more information, go to or call the HUD rental programs line at 1-800-955-2232. 

How the program works

People can apply for a voucher through their local public housing agencies. But those agencies may close their waiting lists or have specific windows of time when they accept applications. Generally, that varies by each agency. 

If a family is selected from a waiting list, they are encouraged to find an apartment or home. That housing must meet several criteria: health and safety approvals based on inspections and a “payment standard,” which is the cost of a rental unit in a local market that is then used to calculate how much assistance the family will get, according to HUD. 

The family pays 30% of its adjusted gross income including rent and utilities, while the voucher covers the rest. The rent may go above the payment standard, but the family must pay the additional cost. By law, in that case, they can’t pay more than 40% of their monthly income for rent. Families generally have 60 days to find a home, a timeframe that the housing agency administering the voucher can extend. 

Who qualifies

Public housing agencies consider a family’s size and annual gross income to determine eligibility. The family’s income shouldn’t be above 50% of the median income for the county or metro area, according to HUD. In Wayne County, for a three-person household, that is $40,300. 

Housing agencies determine eligibility and place families on waiting lists if they can’t issue a voucher right away. 

Why are there waitlists and long wait times?

Waiting lists for the federal housing choice voucher program are common across the country. Only one in 4 households eligible for rent aid receive it because of funding limitations, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which analyzed HUD data. In Michigan, the average wait time for vouchers was about two years — on par with the national average.

Long wait lists demonstrate high need, housing experts said. That’s exacerbated by a shortage of vouchers and affordable housing options. 

Nushrat Rahman covers issues related to economic mobility for the Detroit Free Press and BridgeDetroit as a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project.

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