The Housing Choice Voucher Program in Minnesota is accepting applications from renters who want to join a waitlist to receive federal assistance. Credit: Ben Hovland | Sahan Journal

Renters seeking financial assistance have until noon on June 28 to get on a waiting list for federal Section 8 vouchers that help pay for housing. 

The Housing Choice Voucher Program in Minnesota rarely opens up applications for its waiting list, because demand is much higher than the amount of Section 8 housing vouchers available. The last two times the program opened applications was in 2019 and 2015. 

“It only happens every couple of years,” said Terri Smith, director of the Housing and Redevelopment Authority at the Metropolitan Council, the regional government agency that administers federal Section 8 housing. “So we really want to encourage folks, if they think they may be eligible, to take action and apply.” 

To be eligible, households must make no more than 50 percent of the median income for the region they live in. For a family of four, the income cap for eligibility equals $58,650 in the Twin Cities metro area. 

Renters who are admitted to the waitlist could eventually receive a Section 8 voucher. Each recipient receives a different amount of financial aid toward their housing costs based on their income and rent payment. People with a voucher will pay no more than 30 to 40 percent of their income to rent, and whatever rent payment is leftover will be paid by the federal government.

The Housing Choice Voucher Program covers housing in roughly 100 communities in the northwest suburbs of the Twin Cities metropolitan area, including Anoka, Carver, and suburban Hennepin and Ramsey Counties. The program excludes Minneapolis and St. Paul, which have their own Section 8 voucher programs. 

The federal government pays Section 8 money directly to the private landlord that the voucher holder is renting from. Private landlords must opt to participate in the Section 8 program. Smith said 1,800 landlords in the metro area accept the vouchers, and that the Met Council works to recruit landlords into the program. 

Currently, 70 percent of people using Section 8 vouchers in the Housing Choice Voucher Program are people of color.

Ninety-five percent of applicants that make it onto the waiting list will have to work, live, or go to school in the seven-county Twin Cities metro area, Smith said, with the remaining 5 percent coming from outstate Minnesota. 

Demand ‘much greater than what’s available

Getting on the Housing Choice Voucher Program’s waitlist and obtaining a Section 8 voucher can be difficult.

The Met Council is making 2,000 spots available on the waitlist for this application window, and expects many more applications. In 2019, more than 17,000 people applied for a similar number of openings on the waitlist. The Met Council uses a random number generator to determine which applicants are added to the waitlist. 

Spots on the waitlist open up as people leave the Section 8 program, usually because their income levels increase and they are no longer eligible. People stay on Section 8 for an average of eight years, Smith said, and the Met Council reviews their eligibility each year. 

The Met Council distributes 7,200 vouchers through the program; the total number of renters using the vouchers stays the same from year to year. Limited federal resources explain why the number of vouchers is so small and the waitlist is tough to get on, Smith said. 

“The demand is much greater than what’s available,” Smith said. “That’s true not only here, but across the country.”

Still, she and others at the Met Council want people to apply. That goes for people who are interested but aren’t sure if they’re eligible. The Met Council starts vetting applicants’ eligibility when a voucher becomes available to them, which could occur several years after they are first added to the waitlist.

Renters who are unsure whether their immigration status bars them from accessing Section 8 are also encouraged to apply. Immigrants with permanent residence status, asylum, and refugee status are eligible for the vouchers.

Undocumented immigrants are not eligible, but families with mixed residency status are eligible to receive part of the voucher. For example, if a family includes two undocumented parents and two children who are U.S. citizens because they were born in the United States, that family would be eligible to receive half of the subsidy. 

Regardless, Housing and Redevelopment Authority Assistant Director Stephanie Paulson said people shouldn’t worry about whether their immigration status affects their eligibility, because it’s the Met Council’s responsibility to vet each applicant. The Met Council doesn’t report applicants’ immigration statuses to federal immigration authorities and isn’t required to do so, added Met Council spokesperson John Schadl.

“I would encourage people to please just apply,” Paulson said. “When they are selected, we would go through the verification process to determine if they met eligibility requirements.”

Immigration status can change over time, meaning renters could be ineligible when they first apply, but become eligible by the time they are selected, she added.

Here’s how to apply for the waitlist online and over the phone:

  • Renters interested in applying for the Section 8 voucher can do so by clicking here to apply online at the Met Council’s website.
  • The application is available in English, Spanish, Afrikaans, Amharic, Arabic, and Azerbaijani.
  • Interpreters are available upon request to help with the application process over the phone. They can be reached at the Housing and Redevelopment Authority at (651) 602-1428 during business hours on weekdays.
  • Applications are open now until noon on Tuesday, June 28.

The Met Council is holding in-person information sessions on the application process:

Friday, June 24:

  • Minneapolis Central Library, 300 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • Hennepin County Sumner Library, 611 Van White Memorial Blvd, Minneapolis, from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • Hennepin County Brookdale Library, 6125 Shingle Creek Parkway, Brooklyn Center, from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • Al-lhsan Islamic Center, 955 Minnehaha Ave, St. Paul, from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Saturday, June 25 

  • Oromo Resource Center, 6875 Hwy 65 NE, Fridley, from 9:00 a.m to 11:00 a.m. and from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.

Sunday, June 26

  • Oromo Resource Center, 6875 Hwy 65 NE, Fridley, from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. and from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.

Joey Peters is a reporter for Sahan Journal. He has been a journalist for 15 years. Before joining Sahan Journal, he worked for close to a decade in New Mexico, where his reporting prompted the resignation...