The availability of housing assistance for felons is fairly limited, and finding housing is the number one obstacle the majority of ex-offenders face upon release from prison.
Finding affordable housing as a felon is a struggle for many people, and with your felony, there’s an extra barrier in your way. But if you access the right resources, you’ll get the help you need.
Let’s run through your best options.
Recently Released? Get Felon Housing Assistance From A Reentry Organization
Reentry organizations usually work with ex-offenders during the first 12 months of their release from prison. But you can contact them at any time for housing advice.
Why use a reentry service?
Reentering society after incarceration is one of the hardest tasks you’ll take on in your life. You’ve served your sentence, but your felony will stay on the public databases used by employers and landlords when they make hiring and rental decisions.
Discrimination against felons is widespread, and unlike other groups facing discrimination, felons are not a protected class. So when help is offered, grab hold of it, there’s no need to struggle alone.
A reentry service won’t hand you the keys to an apartment, but they will know which landlords in your area rent to felons.
Another way reentry organizations provide housing assistance for convicted felons is by guiding you through the steps you’ll need to take if you want to apply for public housing or housing vouchers.
Plus, if your state runs any housing assistance programs for felons, the reentry advisors will know about them.
To find reentry organizations in your area, run a Google search for reentry assistance, reentry programs, or reentry organization, followed by your city or your state.
Housing Assistance For Felons Via Public Housing or Housing Vouchers
There’s enormous demand for public housing and housing vouchers, and even though you may qualify for assistance, you’ll usually need to go on a waiting list. Waiting lists are long, so the sooner you apply and get on the waiting list, the better.
Are You Eligible For Public Housing?
Public housing doesn’t provide any special forms of housing assistance for convicted felons, but you’ll be eligible for help if you fall into the moderate or low-income category.
What counts as a qualifying moderate or low income depends on your family composition and your location.
Public housing is owned by local Public Housing Authorities (PHA) and funded by HUD, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, and HUD sets the income eligibility limits.
To qualify for public housing, your income must be less than 80% of the median income for your family size and location.
The median income is simply the figure used to divide incomes into 2 groups. Half of the local population will have an income above that amount and the other half will have an income below that figure.
The median income is not the same as the average income.
For example, in Dallas, the average household income for a 1 person household is approximately $88,000, whereas the median household income is far lower at $54,747.
Therefore, in Dallas, an income below $46,000 would qualify under the HUD guidelines.
The HUD income limits for each housing authority are available online and they’re broken down into:
- Moderate income – 80% of median income
- Low income – 50% of median income
- Very low income – 30% of median income
Your income will determine how much rent you’re asked to pay.
Can You Qualify For A Section 8 Housing Voucher?
The Section 8 housing voucher program is another HUD program that provides housing assistance based on income eligibility and family composition guidelines.
With a Section 8 voucher, you pay a portion of the rent (based on your income) and the voucher covers the rest.
The main difference between public housing and Section 8 vouchers is that Section 8 vouchers are used to pay rent to private landlords, and you aren’t limited to government-owned housing.
The landlord must participate in the Section 8 program, though, and most landlords don’t take part, which makes finding a rental more difficult.
The income eligibility guidelines are the same as those set for public housing. If your income is within the guidelines, you can apply for a housing voucher.
However, as a former felon, your offense could be an issue.
You’ll be ineligible for HUD programs if you were convicted of manufacturing methamphetamine in federally assisted housing. Sex offenders subject to lifetime registration on the sex offenders register are also ineligible.
Individual housing authorities may also set some restrictions.
Applying For HUD Programs
To obtain public housing or a Section 8 voucher, you need to apply to the programs and provide evidence of your income and your family composition.
Documents you’ll need to provide include:
- Birth certificate
- Proof of citizenship
- Social security number
- At least 3 months’ pay stubs
- Bank statements
- Tax forms
- Welfare and food stamp documentation
- Addresses over the last 5 years
You’ll also face a background check which includes a criminal records check and a credit check.
If your application is accepted, you’ll be placed on a waiting list. Waiting lists are often long, so neither of these programs will provide an immediate solution for you, but if your income remains low over the long term, you’ll be glad you joined the waiting list when your rent assistance finally comes through.
PHAs often prioritize vulnerable applicants and move them higher on the waiting list or approve an emergency housing voucher.
You may be classed as vulnerable if you (or a family member) are:
- A veteran
- Over 62
- Living in a shelter
- Facing a no-fault eviction
- On a very low income
It’s always worth finding out if you qualify for an emergency housing voucher. Go to your local Public Housing Authority website and follow the steps to apply online, or call the number listed on their website and speak to a housing advisor.
Salvation Army Housing Assistance For Convicted Felons
The Salvation Army is an evangelical Christian organization providing housing assistance and other forms of help to vulnerable people. This includes felon housing assistance.
If you’re currently homeless or about to be homeless, contact the Salvation Army in your area. Their doors are always open, and they serve all individuals and families in need without discrimination.
The Salvation Army operates its own homeless shelters in many towns and cities, providing a warm, safe place for individuals and families.
In areas without a Salvation Army shelter, their advisors will refer you to a partner shelter or arrange financial assistance for emergency housing.
Salvation Army housing assistance doesn’t end with homeless shelters. They also run transitional housing where you’ll receive food and lodging, along with support services to help you find employment and permanent housing.
There’s also the possibility of being eligible for permanent supportive housing depending on your situation.
To find your nearest Salvation Army center, use the location search at https://www.salvationarmyusa.org/usn/location-search/
Enter your city, state, or Zip Code into the search box, then hit the search button.
You’ll see all of their service locations marked on an interactive map. To find homeless shelters or transitional housing, use the category filter and select “homelessness” or “housing”.
The shelter’s contact information will be shown below the map. Either call the number provided or head directly to the shelter at the street address shown.
Call 211 to Find Out About Felon Housing Assistance Options In Your Area
You know to call 911 if you need emergency services, but there’s another number – 211 – you can call to get help with housing.
Calls to 211 are confidential and free, and the service is open 24/7. When you call 211, you’ll be connected to a local community specialist who can advise you and refer you to organizations in your area offering housing assistance for convicted felons.
211 receives more calls about housing than any other issue, and each year they connect millions of callers with housing resources dedicated to preventing homelessness and finding affordable housing.
They can also provide advice if you’re struggling to pay your bills or if you can’t afford food or healthcare.
Call 211 from any phone, or visit the 211 websites at https://www.211.org/
Over The Long Term, Buying A Home Could be An Option For You
When you’re in the rental market, your felony will make finding suitable accommodation difficult. Unless you find landlords that don’t run background checks, your felony will come up when you put in a rental application.
But when you’re in the market to buy a home, your felony isn’t an issue at all because you don’t need to go through a background check.
Obviously, you’ll need a steady source of income, but as long as you qualify for a mortgage, you can pick any property in your price range. Monthly mortgage repayments are often lower than rent, and your payments benefit you instead of a landlord.
The most affordable way to purchase a home is with an FHA mortgage.
An FHA mortgage is a loan backed by the Federal Housing Administration, and the lending criteria for FHA-backed mortgages are more relaxed than the criteria for traditional home loans.
You’ll need a credit score of at least 580 to qualify for a loan with a low 3.5% down payment.
If your credit score is between 500 – 579, you need to put down 10%.
On a property with a purchase price of $100,000 (yes, they still exist) your down payment could be as low as $3,500.
Compare that to a rental security deposit and one month’s advance rent, and it doesn’t look too bad.
Plus, there are several down payment assistance options available to you if you’re a first-time buyer or if you haven’t owned a home in the last 3 years. Down payment assistance options include:
- Low-interest loans
- Deferred payment loans
- Forgivable loans
- Matched savings accounts
The best way to find a down payment assistance program is through a HUD-approved counselor. Find a counselor in your area by entering your Zip Code at the following website.
If you’re interested in this type of housing assistance for felons, you’ll need:
- Qualifying income.
- 2 years of income and employment history.
- A credit score of at least 500.
- No delinquencies on federal debts or taxes.
- Qualifying income to debt ratio.
There’s a lot to consider before you purchase a home, and you’ll need to maintain steady employment and run a controlled budget so you don’t risk your home and investment falling into payment difficulties.
Both the Salvation Army and 211 will put you in touch with advisors who will help you decide if home ownership is the right choice for you, and show you how to improve your credit score.
You’ll need to tap into multiple resources to access housing assistance for convicted felons.
Reentry organizations are the best option when you’re looking for help soon after release. Their advisors are familiar with the problems felons face with housing and employment.
They’ll know what resources are available in your area, and they’ll be able to help you make applications for HUD programs.
The Salvation Army is another fantastic resource for you. They’ll help you with emergency shelter accommodation and with longer-term transitional housing.
Their case workers will also help you with employment, skills, and education, and with accessing medical care and food.
A call to 211 is a one-stop shop to get expert housing assistance in your area.
And for the longer term, an FHA loan and down payment assistance program could be a way out of the capricious rental market for good.
Read Also: List of Apartments That Accept Evictions.
Robert Eric (a lover of Cats and Dogs) is the co-founder of HireFelonsJobs. In our search for a better life, after… A platform was created for the purpose of easing the search for ex-convicts.