What is Public Housing? A Simple Answer To a Tough Question

What is Public Housing?

There is often a lot of misunderstanding around what public housing is.  I am not going to give a written history of what is public housing.  For the history you can simply read up on quality websites like this one.

If you are simply wondering what is public housing, I will attempt to give you a simple answer with links to high quality resources.  Public housing in the United States is simply apartments, homes, duplexes, triplex and other types of living spaces that are cheaper than normal rental spaces by comparison. The landlord of public housing units are public housing authorities.  There are 3300 public housing authorities in the USA so you likely have one somewhere in your city or county.   Click here to find one close to you.

The reason public housing rent is cheaper than normal rent is because it is income based.  What does that mean?

How Much Do You Pay?

You earn only $1,000 a month.  In public housing, you pay 30% of your income for rent.  In this situation, you would pay $300 a month for rent.  This is a simplified explanation of what is public housing rent.    For more on public housing rent calculation go here.  The public housing authority does not make enough money off rent alone.  That means the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) gives housing authorities extra money to help them operate.  Most of the time it is not enough.   We will not get into the politics since the question being answered is, “What is public housing?”

Can I Live In Public Housing?

Applying for public housing depends on where you live and your income.  Public Housing is for low income households.   I cannot give you an answer on if you earn too much to live in public housing.  Call the housing authority closest to you to see if you qualify.  Here is a tool to help you find the closest housing authority.  Click here.  You will need to pass other background checks in addition to not earning too much.  I will not get into too much detail but some criminal background issues like being a sex offender or cooking meth could keep you out of public housing.

How Do I Apply For Public Housing:

We answered the question of, “What is Public Housing?” and now you might wonder how you get in.  Go to your local public housing authority and see if the wait list is open.  Every public housing authority is different.  Some might have dozens of properties and only wait list.  Others might have dozens of wait lists and you can choose which one you want to apply to.  Either way you need to see if the wait-list is open.  If the wait list is open, you can work with staff at your local public housing authority to find out how many properties you can apply to.  Again, each public housing authority might be different.  Here is a warning*****Be Ready To Wait*****-  Most public housing units have a long wait list.  It might be 1-5 years long.


When someone asks, “What is Public Housing?”, it is not always easy to reply.  Sometimes the answers are too complicated.  I hope that this was a simple explanation.  If you do go into public housing, you will need to make sure you follow all the program rules.  Talk to your public housing authority staff to make sure you understand rules and program regulations.

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