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What are Housing Choice Vouchers?

The Housing Choice Voucher program is the federal government’s major program for assisting very low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled to afford decent, safe, and sanitary housing in the private market. Since housing assistance is provided on behalf of the family or individual, participants are able to find their own housing, including single-family homes, townhouses and apartments.

The participant is free to choose any housing that meets the requirements of the program and is not limited to units located in subsidized housing projects.

Housing choice vouchers are administered locally by public housing agencies (PHAs), like the Berks County Housing Authority. The PHAs receive federal funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to administer the voucher program.

A family that is issued a voucher is responsible for finding a suitable housing unit of the family’s choice where the owner agrees to rent under the program. This unit may include the family’s current residence. Rental units must meet minimum standards of health and safety, as determined by the PHA, and the rent charged by the landlord must be affordable (in accordance with payment standards set by the PHA) and reasonable (compared to similar unassisted units in the same area).

The PHA pays a housing subsidy directly to the landlord on behalf of the participating family. The family then pays the difference between the actual rent charged by the landlord and the amount subsidized by the program.

The Berks County Housing Authority (BCHA) administers funds received from HUD, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and distributes them in the form of Housing Choice Vouchers to eligible families and individuals. A voucher allows participating households (tenants) to rent housing that meets their needs from a private landlord. The tenant pays a portion of the rent directly to the landlord. The BCHA pays the landlord the difference between the tenant’s portion of the rent and the total rental amount.

How is the HCV Program different from public housing?

Public housing is made up of apartment buildings and duplex houses that the BCHA owns and manages. In the Public Housing Program, the tenant pays rent directly to the BCHA as the landlord.

In contrast, the Housing Choice Voucher gives you the freedom to find your choice of decent, safe, and sanitary housing with a private landlord. This program lets you choose where you would like to live and the kind of apartment or house you would like to live in.

Are you accepting Housing Choice Voucher applications?

For information on the status of our waiting lists, visit our Waiting List/Application Process page.

What does it mean if the waiting list is closed?

If the Housing Choice Voucher waiting list is closed, this means that the HCV program is still operating; however, due to the large number of families who are currently on the waiting list for assistance, we are not accepting new applications until further notice.

Do you have emergency housing assistance?

No. The BCHA does not have any type of emergency housing in either its public housing or HCV programs. If you are in need of emergency housing, you may wish to contact the Berks Coalition to End Homelessness at (610) 372-7222 or BCAP at (610) 376-6571.

Am I eligible?

Eligibility for a housing voucher is determined by the BCHA based on the total annual gross income and family size, and is limited to U.S. citizens and specified categories of non-citizens who have eligible immigration status.

In general, the family’s income may not exceed 50% of the median income for the county or metropolitan area in which the family chooses to live. By law, the BCHA must provide 75 percent of vouchers to applicants whose incomes do not exceed 30 percent of the area median income. Median income levels are published by HUD and vary by location. The income limits for the Reading, PA metropolitan area can be found later in this page.

During the application process, the BCHA will collect information on family income, assets, and family composition. The BCHA will verify this information with other local agencies, your employer and bank, and will use the information to determine program eligibility and the amount of the housing assistance payment.

What are some of the reasons that could prevent me from getting housing assistance?

There are many reasons why an application may be denied, including, but not limited to:

  • Failed criminal background check
  • Previous evictions
  • Income over the federally-mandated income limits
  • Failure to appear for scheduled appointments
  • Failure to provide necessary documents or information for us to determine eligibility.

All denials are based on the policies and regulations found in the BCHA’s Administrative Plan. The BCHA is prohibited by federal law from discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, familial status, and disability.

May I add or remove family members from my application or my voucher?

You may request to add or remove family members from your application or voucher. Any request to add somebody to your voucher must be approved by the landlord before it can be approved by the BCHA. All adult members will be subject to a criminal background check as well as a check of whether they owe any money to us or to another housing authority. If you remove any member of the household from your voucher, they are prohibited from living in the subsidized unit.

If I have moved since the time I submitted my application, do I need to notify the BCHA?

Yes! You must report any change of address to the BCHA within 10 business days, either in person or in writing, to the following address:

BERKS COUNTY HOUSING AUTHORITY
1803 Butter Lane
Reading, PA 19606

Our office is located in the Richard B. Delp Townhouses. Office hours are Monday through Friday, 8:00 AM to 3:30 PM.

You may also report changes by writing a brief letter that includes your name, social security number, and both old and new addresses. Fax this letter to (610) 370-2766 or mail it to the BCHA at the address above. We do not accept changes by phone – they MUST be in writing.

Please note: changing your address with the post office will NOT change your address with the BCHA. You must update us separately.

Almost all of our communication with you will be conducted via mail. This is why it is extremely important to keep us updated with your current address. If a letter is returned by the post office, your name will be removed from the waiting list.

I have gotten married, had a baby, adopted a child, divorced, lost my job, started a new job, gotten a raise, etc. since I submitted my application. How will this affect me?

If your family size has changed in any way, you must notify the BCHA in writing. The addition or removal of family members may change the unit size (number of bedrooms) you qualify for.

Changes in your income may affect your eligibility or the amount of assistance you will be entitled to. You do not need to report changes of income before your intake interview, but after your intake interview you are required to keep us updated.

How do I cancel my application?

If you no longer want to be on the waiting list, please write to the BCHA at 1803 Butter Lane, Reading, PA 19606. Please include your name and social security number. Should you be interested in housing assistance again in the future, you may reapply when the waiting list is open.

Do I have to be a citizen to be eligible for housing assistance?

No, you do not have to be a citizen; however, you must have eligible immigration status. At the time of the eligibility interview, everyone in the household will be required to declare their citizenship status and provide proof of identity. Non-citizens with eligible immigration status will be required to provide proof of eligible immigration status as well.

What is the maximum amount of income that I can earn in order to qualify for Housing Choice Voucher assistance?

The income limits are determined by HUD and change every year. The following are the income limits effective April 14, 2017:

 Household Size: Public Housing Income Limit Housing Choice Voucher Income Limit Extremely Low Income (ELI)
1 $38,600 $24,150 $14,500
2 $44,100 $27,600 $16,550
3 $49,600 $31,050 $20,420
4 $55,100 $34,450 $24,600
5 $59,550 $37,250 $28,780
6 $63,950 $40,000 $32,960
7 $68,350 $42,750 $37,140
8 $72,750 $45,500 $41,320

Your income must be under the HCV income limit in order to be eligible for the HCV program. In addition, HUD requires that 75% of voucher holders also meet the Extremely Low Income (ELI) limits.

How much rent can a landlord ask for?

The HCV payment standards are determined by HUD and change every year. The following are our current payment standards effective October 1, 2017:

 

Bedroom Size: Efficiency 1 2 3 4 5 6
Payment Standard: $551 $658 $864 $1,083 $1,176 $1,353 $1,529

 

However, these payment standards can only be used as a general guideline in determining whether a unit may be eligible for assistance. We will also take into consideration which utilities the landlord pays, the estimated utility costs of the unit, and your income to determine what rent amount can be approved. In addition, we conduct a comparability test at the time of the housing inspection to insure that the amount being requested by the landlord is not excessive when compared to other similar units in the general area.

How does the BCHA approve a unit?

The housing choice voucher program places the choice of housing in the hands of the individual family. Participants are encouraged to consider several housing choices to secure the best housing for their family’s needs. A voucher holder is advised of the unit size for which they are eligible based on family size and composition.

The housing unit selected by the family must meet an acceptable level of health and safety before the BCHA can approve the unit. When the voucher holder finds a unit that it wishes to occupy and reaches an agreement with the landlord over the lease terms, the BCHA must inspect the dwelling and determine that the rent requested is reasonable.

PHAs determine a payment standard that is the amount generally needed to rent a moderately-priced dwelling unit in the local housing market and that is used to calculate the amount of housing assistance a family will receive. However the payment standard does not limit or affect the amount of rent a landlord may charge or the family may pay. A family which receives a housing voucher can select a unit with a rent that is below or above the payment standard.

The housing voucher family must pay 30% of its monthly adjusted gross income for rent and utilities, and if the unit rent is greater than the payment standard the family is required to pay the additional amount. By law, whenever a family moves to a new unit where the rent exceeds the payment standard, the family may not pay more than 40 percent of its adjusted monthly income for rent.

How is the unit size (number of bedrooms) determined?

The BCHA generally assigns one bedroom for every two persons within the household. Any exceptions are outlined in our Administrative Plan.

If the BCHA does not approve the rent the landlord asks for, can I pay the difference?

No. That is illegal and a violation of BCHA and HUD regulations. You should never pay more than the BCHA states you should pay.

How much of the rent would I have to pay?

This depends on a number of factors including your income, the deductions to which you are entitled, the number of people in your household (which determines your voucher size), the applicable payment standard, and the utility allowance for the unit you have chosen. Generally speaking, you will pay between 30% and 40% of your monthly-adjusted income for rent.

For more information, please refer to the HUD fact sheet on how your rent is determined, as well as a worksheet showing how we calculate your rent amount.

Can I rent from a relative?

The owner/landlord cannot be the parent, child, grandparent, grandchild, sister, brother, or spouse of any member of the assisted family. Any exceptions are outlined in our Administrative Plan.

Can I ask for a voucher extension?

All vouchers are issued for 60 days. A voucher extension of up to 60 additional days may be issued at the discretion of the BCHA.

After the “Extension Expiration Date” written on the voucher, the voucher will expire. If your voucher has expired, you will have to reapply when the waiting list is open. Any exceptions are outlined in our Administrative Plan.

Where is the voucher valid?

The Housing Choice Voucher is valid anywhere in Berks County, OUTSIDE THE CITY OF READING. This means that any unit you wish to rent must be located in this jurisdiction.

Can I move outside Berks County and still use my voucher?

Subject to certain restrictions, you may transfer your voucher to another housing authority, anywhere in the country where an HCV program is operating. This is called “portability”.

You must live in the BCHA’s jurisdiction with your voucher for one year before you are eligible to transfer, or “port”, your voucher. This means that when you receive a voucher from the BCHA, you must find a suitable unit, move in, and live there for one year before being able to use portability.

If you wish to transfer, or “port”, your voucher to another jurisdiction, you must complete the Request for Portability form found on the Forms page and return it to our office.

How can I move to Berks County from another housing authority?

The process of moving from one housing authority’s jurisdiction to another, while keeping your Housing Choice Voucher assistance, is called “portability”.

If you wish to move to Berks County, Pennsylvania under portability, you MUST contact your CURRENT housing authority for more information. Housing authorities should send portability paperwork to:

Berks County Housing Authority
Attn. Carolina Espinal
1803 Butter Lane
Reading, PA 19606
Phone: (610) 370-0822, ext. 209
Fax: (610) 370-2766
Email: cespinal@berksha.org

Please be advised that the BCHA’s jurisdiction does NOT include the city of Reading.

Do you have a list of landlords that accept the voucher?

Our most recent list of available units is available below.

Available Units

File Action
HCV List of Available Units.pdf Download 

Landlords are welcome to advertise their units with us. We will pass any information we receive about available units on to tenants and will advertise the units on this website. You may also check our bulletin board in our administrative office for updated listings. However, you are not limited to any units or landlords that we provide. In addition, it is against the law for the BCHA to steer prospective tenants to any particular landlord.

I found a unit! What happens now?

Give the Request for Tenancy Approval (RFT) form to the landlord to complete. Return this form to the BCHA. The rent will be reviewed to ensure it is reasonable and affordable. If the rent is approved, the unit will be scheduled for an inspection, usually within 14 business days. The landlord will be contacted by McCright & Associates, our inspection contractors, to schedule this. Your landlord will notify you if the unit passes or fails the inspection. It is very important that you keep close contact with your prospective landlord during the process.

My unit hasn’t passed inspection, but the landlord said I can move in.

The BCHA will not pay any subsidy on your behalf until the unit passes inspection and is under contract. If you move in before this time, the BCHA will NOT pay any portion of your rent. The landlord may be able to charge you the full amount of rent.

What is a reasonable accommodation? Can I get one?

Sometimes people with disabilities may need a reasonable accommodation in order to take full advantage of the BCHA’s housing programs and related services.

A reasonable accommodation is a change, adaptation, or modification to the BCHA’s rules, policies, practices, or services which is necessary to provide a qualified individual with a handicap or disability an equal opportunity to participate fully in the services, programs, or activities provided by the BCHA.

You may request a reasonable accommodation.  A request may also be made on behalf of the individual by a family member or other agent.

I have a specific question that isn’t answered here. Where can I ask?

If your question isn’t answered in this section, please email your question(s) to HCVinfo@berksha.org. We will respond by email.

If you do not have access to the internet, you may contact Carolina Hernandez at (610) 370-0822, extension 209. We will respond to all calls as soon as possible.

Can you tell me if my fax or paperwork has been received?

Please do not call our office to find out if your fax or paperwork was received. Due to the large volume of calls and paperwork we receive, it is impossible to respond to every phone call asking this question. You may contact us by email at the above address.

This page has been adapted from the Housing Choice Voucher Fact Sheet on HUD’s website at: http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/program_offices/public_indian_housing/programs/hcv/about/fact_sheet..

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