Frequently Asked Questions

Section 8

 


I.  General

Who is my caseworker?
In the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program, caseworkers are assigned by the first letter of the participant’s (renter’s) last name.  Caseload assignments are rotated periodically.

Staff Directory  

Where are you located and what are your office hours?
  1936 University Avenue, Suite 150, Berkeley 
Our office is open Monday through Thursday 8:15 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. The office is closed on Fridays

How can I reach someone at the Housing Authority (phone, fax, email)
The general information number is (510) 981-5470; our fax number is (510) 981-5480; you can reach us by email at bha@cityofberkeley.info; and you can access information at our website www.cityofberkeley.info/bha.

 How do I go about sharing information about my experience with the Housing Authority?
We appreciate feedback from our clients about good service and areas of concern.  Your comments should be directed to Tia Ingram, Executive Director or email bha@ci.berkeley.ca.us.  A Customer service Feedback form is available on our website and in our office.

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II.  Applying for Housing Assistance

How do I apply for “emergency” housing?
The Housing Authority does not provide emergency housing.  The Housing Authority issues Section 8 Vouchers and Section 8 Project-Based assistance to persons after they’ve reach the top of an established Wait List managed by the Berkeley Housing Authority.  Our wait list is currently closed.

What Section 8 programs does the Housing Authority offer? (see the Public Housing Section for other programs)
The Berkeley Housing Authority administers three “Section 8” Programs:

a. The traditional Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program.  Anyone may apply, when the wait list is open; there are income, citizenship, and criminal backgrounds requirements.  Assisted families are required to locate a suitable unit in the private market with an owner willing to participate in the Section 8 Program.  The waitlist is currently closed.

b. The Section 8 Project-Based Voucher Program.  Anyone may apply, when the wait list is open; there are income, citizenship, and criminal backgrounds requirements.  Assisted families are offered quality rental units in buildings pre-approved by the Housing Authority for “project-based” assistance.  Some units are restricted to persons 62 years or older; or disabled individuals; or individuals with AIDS or HIV.  The waitlist is currently closed.

c. The Section 8 Moderate Rehabilitation Single Room Occupancy (SRO) Program. This program serves homeless individuals and couples.  Assisted individuals are offered housing at one of two properties in the City. 

How can I submit an application for S8 assistance?
Applications for the traditional Section 8 Housing Choice and Section 8 Project-Based* Voucher Programs are only accepted when the list is open.  Full and complete instructions detailing the application process, including dates and times, are provided in public notice and on the BHA website. The waitlist is currently closed and we do not anticipate opening within the next year.

Project-Based Assistance.  The Housing Authority may have limited openings of the Wait List in order to identify qualified applicants for vacancies at project-based developments that are reserved for “seniors” (62 or older) or “HOPWA” (Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS).

Section 8 Moderate Rehabilitation Program.  The “Interest List” for this program is open continuously.  Interested applicants may pick up applications at 1040 University Avenue or the BHA office at 1901 Fairview Street. All forms must be returned to 1040 University Avenue.

How do I find out my position on the wait list?
We do not provide applicants a waiting list number. This is because your position fluctuates as new applicants are added and others are taken off the waiting lists and qualification for preference points change. 

Why it is important to report changes in my address?
The Housing Authority uses the address you provided to (1) mail you notice when you are required to update your application to remain on the wait list and (2) to inform you that your name has reached the top of the wait list and we are ready to offer you assistance. If we try to contact you for assistance, but cannot reach you by mail, you may be removed from the wait list.  If you do not have stable housing, provide us a “mailing address” of a family friend, relative or organization who you trust will make sure you get your mail. 

How do I report changes to my application?
Put it in writing!  All changes must be reported in writing. You can use the “Update Form” we provide, or write a letter.  The most important change to report is a change in your address or your mailing address.  Most other changes can wait until your name reaches the top of the wait list and we begin the formal process to determine your eligibility for assistance.

Will the housing Authority deny my application if I have a criminal history?
The Housing Authority is required to perform a criminal background check on every person 18 years or older applying to any of our housing assistance programs.  The Housing Authority must deny you if you: (a) are subject to lifetime registration as a sex offender, or (b) have been convicted of drug-related criminal activity for manufacture or production of methamphetamine on the premises of federally assisted housing.  The Housing Authority may deny you admission if you: (a) have committed fraud in an assisted housing program, or (b) owe money to a housing authority, or (c) have a history of criminal behavior involving illegal drugs or violence or other criminal activity which may threaten the health, safety, or right to peaceful enjoyment of the premises by other residents or persons residing in the immediate vicinity.

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III.  Reasonable Accommodation

I am elderly or disabled, can I get assistance to complete forms and comply with processes required by the Housing Authority?
Yes. The Housing Authority has a reasonable accommodation policy and offers any reasonable assistance required to help a family enjoy the full benefits of program participation. For example, if you are unable to come to the office (or complete the forms via mail) for the annual reexamination, staff will come to your home to conduct the interview and gather forms.

I don’t speak or understand English very well; can I get translation assistance?
The Housing Authority offers a wide range of translation and interpretation services free of charge.  For assistance in Spanish, please call 981-5485 or 981-5483; for assistance in Tagalog, please call 981-5477; for assistance in Laotian, please call 981-5474.  For any other language translation assistance, please call 981-5470 and we will provide assistance using Language Lines© translation services.

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IV.  Portability

What is “portability”? 
Portability is a term used to describe the process of transferring your Section 8 rental assistance from a Housing Authority in one City/State to a Housing Authority in another City/State.  

Is Berkeley accepting portability?
The Housing Authority is currently accepting, but IS absorbing all incoming vouchers.  Note: bedroom size, extensions, etc., are all subject to provisions in the Berkeley Housing Authority Administrative Plan.  What this means is that if you come in from another Housing Authority the rules pertaining to the Berkeley Housing Authority must be followed and  we will bill the other Housing Authority for the voucher.

What do I need to do to move out of Berkeley with my Voucher?
If you have been a participant in the Section 8 Program for more than one year, you may exercise portability at any time provided you are not subject to program termination and you do not have any outstanding debts to the Housing Authority.

Families receiving a voucher for the first time may exercise portability immediately if you were a resident at the time of application; if you were a non-resident at the time of application, you must use the voucher in Berkeley for the first 12 months before qualifying for portability. 

Note:  you should check with the receiving Housing Authority to see if they are accepting incoming portable clients.

Are there specific times when you process clients porting into Berkeley?
Our portability intake hours are 8:30 – 11:00 a.m., Tuesday and Wednesday.  Other times are available upon request to accommodate special needs (i.e. employment).

Must my current housing authority mail my packet? 
We will accept your packet via mail, fax or hand-carried. Note: if hand-carried, the packet must be sealed by the initial Housing Authority and not show any evidence of tampering.  If the envelope appears to be tampered with, we will be unable to accept the envelope.

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V.  Leasing (Renting) a Unit with Section 8 Assistance

Does the Housing Authority help families find a unit with an owner willing to take Section 8 assistance?
We provide a free unit listing service for owners and tenants. The owner of every unit listed has indicated an interest in renting to someone with Section 8 assistance.  The list is updated every Thursday. Copies may be viewed in the office or on our website.  We also have brochures on the Section 8 Program that can be shared with prospective landlords.

How do I go about including my rental unit on the listing?
It is simple. Just complete a “Unit Listing Information” report. The form requests basic information about the unit. The form is available online or can be picked up in the office.  The information can also be phoned in by calling 981-5470.

What steps must be completed before an owner can get paid by the Berkeley Housing Authority?
1. We must have a completed Request for Tenancy Approval form signed by the landlord and Section 8 Voucher holder.
2. The unit must pass inspection in accordance with Housing Quality Standards (we encourage the owner and voucher holder to be present during the inspection).
3. The owner and Housing Authority must agree on a reasonable rent for the unit.
4. The owner must submit a copy of the lease, signed by the owner and Section 8 voucher holder.  No other “side agreements” are allowed.
5. The owner must provide proof of ownership and tax identification.
6. The owner must sign the Housing Assistance Payment contract.
7. The owner must give the Section 8 voucher holder possession of the unit (issue keys) and allow occupancy.

How long does it take to get an inspection of the unit to be rented with Section 8 assistance?
We typically schedule the initial inspection within 5-7 business days from the day the Request for Tenancy Approval is received.

What is the difference between the Fair Market Rents and Payment Standards?
Fair Market Rents are established by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and represent average rents by bedroom size, in a particular geographical area.  Payment Standards are set by each local Housing Authority to reflect the actual rental demands in the particular jurisdiction. The Payment Standard is between 90 and 110% of the Fair Market Rent.

How much does Berkeley pay for rent?
The contract rent is established based on the rent paid for similar unassisted units in the City of Berkeley.  The maximum subsidy the Housing Authority will pay is based on the payment standard. Details can be found on our Payment Standards, Income Limits and Utility Allowance page.

Can I pay extra to get a nicer unit?
“Affordable rent” is defined as 30% of the voucher holder’s adjusted monthly income. However, a family may pay up to 40% of adjusted monthly income at the initial contract.  Thereafter, there is no limit on what the family can pay, provided it is approved in advance, in writing by the Housing Authority.  When considering paying more than 30% of income for rent we strongly caution families to carefully consider all of their living expenses (rent, gas and electricity, home and cell telephones, groceries, car notes and insurance, etc.) when deciding how much “extra rent” they can afford to pay each month.

Can I get help with the Security Deposit?
For information on security deposit assistance programs contact EDEN I&R by dialing 2-1-1 or (888) 886-9660; East Bay Community Law Center at (510) 584-4040, or if you receive TANF, contact your Social Worker.

Do I have to use the Housing Authority lease?
The Housing Authority does not provide a lease.  The landlord may use his/her lease provided it has the same terms used for non-assisted tenancies and it is not discriminatory.  Landlords may purchase leases at office supply stores.

When can I move into the new unit?
The Housing Authority has no obligation to make any payment to the landlord if the family is allowed to move in before the owner signs the Housing Assistance Payment contract. 

Three important things to keep in mind:  (1) the earliest date the Housing Authority will begin the contract is the day the unit passes Housing Quality Standards inspection; (2) the tenant is responsible for 100% of the total rent for any days of occupancy prior to the start of the contract; and (3) if for any reason the Housing Authority and the landlord do not execute a contract, no payment will be made to the owner.

When will the landlord receive the first rent check from the Housing Authority?
The Housing Authority must process the first payment within 45 days of the effective date of the contract. The landlord can typically expect to receive the first Housing Assistance Payment within 10 calendar days of the date the Housing Authority receives the lease signed by the owner and tenant AND the Housing Assistance Payment Contract signed by the owner and the Housing Authority. 

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VI.  Rent Information

Does the Housing Authority allow for increases in the contract rent? 
No increase in the contract rent is allowed during the initial 12 months of the Housing Assistance Payment Contract.

After the first year, an owner may request a rent increase in the contract rent once every 12 months. The owner must specify the amount of rent requested, and the rent must be comparable to rents charged in the unassisted market for units of similar characteristics. If the subject unit is in a multi-unit building, they owner can provide comps from within the structure, if they are not assisted.

When is a change in the contract rent effective?
The owner must provide written notice of any request for an increase 60-calendar days prior to the contract anniversary; any increase approved will be effective the anniversary date of the contract. 

If the owner’s notice of the increase is received at least 60 days prior to the contact anniversary, any increase approved will be effective the month following the anniversary.

If the owner’s notice of an increase is not received at least 60 days prior to the contract anniversary, no increase will be granted until the next contract anniversary/renewal.

My utility allowance is not high enough to cover my PG&E bill.
The Housing Authority has a Utility Allowance Schedule that applies to every assisted family, based on the number of bedrooms in the unit.  If you use a lot of energy the allowance may not be enough to cover your bill.  Work with your landlord to make sure the unit is well-insulated and the appliances are energy efficient, then do your part to conserve.

All participants are encouraged to sign-up for PG&E’s Care Program. Applications are available at the Housing Authority Office.  Additional assistance may be obtained from the City of Berkeley’s Weatherization program. For more information, call (510) 981-7770 or (510) 981-7771.

How are utilities handled if the property has a single meter for gas, electric or water service?
An assisted family can only be responsible for utility consumption he/she controls.  So, if the unit leased does not have its own meter for service the landlord must:

a. Agree to pay for the service; or

b. Reach agreement with the tenant for a reasonable pro-ration of the utility expense.  For example, in a 4-unit building with all 2-bedroom units the owner could distribute the cost equally to the 4 residents. The Housing Authority reserves the right to deny the proration if it is not equitable, any agreement reached by the two parties and approved by the Housing Authority must be on file with the BHA.

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VII.  Family Rent

Why is it important to report changes in my income?
Families are required to report all changes in the income received by all family members at the annual reexamination, and in between reexaminations, within 14 days of the change.  Failure to report timely may result in termination of assistance. 

If the change is a decrease in household income the family may qualify for a reduction in family rent effective the following month.

If the change is an increase in household income the family’s rent portion may increase (following 30 days notice). In some instances, the Housing Authority will simply note that the family has met the reporting requirement, and there will not be any increase in family rent portion until the next annual reexamination.

What can I do if the housing authority didn’t calculate my rent correctly?
With every rent determination, the family is given an opportunity to appeal by requesting an Informal Hearing.  The family must pay the higher amount until the matter is resolved.  If there was an error, the Housing Authority will refund the overpayment to the family.  If there was an error, and the family did not pay enough in rent, the rent will be increased following 30 days notice. 

My tenant is consistently late paying rent. What can I do?
As the owner, you have a responsibility to enforce the terms of your lease with the tenant, as you would with unassisted tenants.  The Housing Authority suggests that landlords seek legal advice from an attorney for landlord/tenant issues.  There are also property management groups where landlords share information.

Because non-payment of rent is both a lease and program violation, the tenant may also be subject to termination from the program.  Be sure to provide the Housing Authority a copy of all late rent notices and other documentation.

I had an increase in my income, will the Housing Authority raise my rent?
All changes in income must be reported to the Housing Authority, in writing, within 14-calendar days of occurrence.  The Housing Authority will not increase your rent until your anniversary unless (a) there was a change in household composition, or (b) the household income was unstable at the last annual reexamination, or (c) the Housing Authority processed an interim (decrease) since the last annual reexamination.

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VIII.  Inspections/Housing Quality Standards

What can I do to increase the chances of my unit passing the inspection standards? 

1. The tenant should advise the owner of any and all problems experience in the unit;
2. The owner and tenant should use our pre-inspection check list to perform a joint inspection of the unit and identify any problems or non-working appliances or outlets;
3. Check for an operating smoke detector on every level AND inside every bedroom.  A lot of units fail because the battery has been removed
4. Make all noted repairs; and
5. The owner or his/her maintenance person should be present for the inspection so any small item identified by the inspector can be corrected.


Who do I call to reschedule my unit inspection?
To reschedule an inspection contact the Inspections Clerk at (510) 981-5490.  Please give us much advance notice as possible to avoid a “no show”.

I don’t agree with the items the inspector marked as “fail” items. How do I appeal his decision?
The first step is to contact the Inspections Clerk at 510) 981-5490.  The inpsections Clerk will give you a response as to why the item failed.  If you are not satisfied with the response, you should submit a letter to the attention of the Berkeley Housing Authority Executive Director.

What can I do if the tenant won’t allow me inside the unit to make repairs?
Your rental lease (and California law) grants you certain rights to enter the unit without the tenant’s permission.  For example you may do so (a) if you believe an emergency exists, or (b) you have given the family advance notice of your intent to enter. Caution – you should avoid entering the unit without the tenant’s permission if at all possible, and when done, should be in the presence of another adult.  The Housing Authority suggests that landlords seek legal advice from an attorney for landlord/tenant issues.  There are also property management groups where landlords share information.

I need more time to complete repairs; can I get an extension?
The Housing Authority may grant an extension of time to complete repairs when appropriate. All requests must be submitted in writing, and supported with appropriate documentation (link to form). ?

What happens if the owner refuses to make repairs required by the Housing Authority?
If the fail items are deemed the owners responsibility, and the owner refuses to complete the repairs within 30-days, the Housing Authority will begin abating rent.  If the owner continues to refuse to make repairs, the Housing Authority must terminate the contract.

If the fail items are deemed “tenant caused damage” and the family refuses to make the corrections the Housing Authority can propose termination of the Voucher.  The Housing Authority will work with the owner to continue rental subsidy payments if all life safety items are corrected.

Bottom line, the unit must meet all of the Housing Quality Standards or the Housing Authority must terminate the contract.  This is true whether the repair is the responsibility of the owner or the tenant. 

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IX. Moving Out

The tenant can move anytime after the first year of the lease by giving the owner proper 30-day written notice (link to form); a copy of the notice must also be given to the Housing Authority.  The Housing Authority will provide a confirming notice to the landlord to ensure all parties are aware of the lease termination and the fact that the Housing Authority will terminate subsidy payments to the landlord at the end of the 30-day period. If both parties agree to continue the tenancy or change the date the family will vacate the unit, written notice must be provided to the Housing Authority at least two days prior to the termination or subsidy payments will terminate as scheduled.

The tenant and owner can agree to terminate the lease during the first 12 months, or with less than 30-days notice after the initial lease term expires by signing a “Mutual Release Agreement”.  This form is an acknowledgement by both parties allowing the tenant to give less than the required notice. The Housing Authority will provide a confirming notice to the landlord to ensure all parties are aware of the lease termination and the fact that the Housing Authority will terminate subsidy payments to the landlord effective the date specified on the Mutual Release Agreement. (link to form)

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X. Managing your Section 8 Assistance

I received a letter from the Housing Authority but I misplaced it.  I am not sure what I need to do?
It is important to open your mail from the Housing Authority as soon as you receive it.  Often times you are required to take certain actions by a specific date. You don’t want to be late and risk loosing your assistance.  That said, the Housing Authority retains a copy of all correspondence we mail to you. If you misplace your annual reexamination notice or your inspection notice, call your caseworker or come into the office for assistance (Staff Directory).   

Can I let a family member or friend move-in with me?
Only the individuals approved by the Housing Authority as “household members” can reside in the unit.  If you want to add someone to the household you must request permission and get approval from the owner AND the Housing Authority before allowing the person to move-in the unit.

The Housing Authority must allow the addition to the approved household in the case of birth, adoption, marriage or court order (subject to a criminal background clearance).  All other requests are subject to review by the Housing Authority and may be approved or denied. NOTE: Before the individual is allowed to move-in, the family must obtain written approval from the landlord. 

Can my landlord deny my request to add someone to my lease?
Yes. Every assisted tenancy is subject to a lease between the owner and the tenant.  The lease specifies the individuals who are allowed to live in the unit.  The owner may not discriminate against anyone in any protected class, but he/she does have a right to not allow additional people to live in the unit who were not on the initial lease. If the owner denies the request to modify the lease to add a person who has been added to the Section 8 assistance, the Housing Authority will issue the family a transfer voucher so that it can move to a unit with the new household member.  

Can I pay the owner additional money for additional services?
Caution!  Side payments are prohibited in the Section 8 program. The only “rent” (payment) the owner may receive for the rental of the unit is the family rent (from the tenant) and the Housing Assistance Payment (from the Housing Authority) as described in the ‘Family Rent Notice”.  If there is an additional service that both parties agree to (i.e. parking space for a second vehicle), this written agreement should be submitted to the Housing Authority for approval prior to any payments being made.

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XI. Termination

How do I report criminal activity and/or fraud to the Housing Authority?
The Housing Authority welcomes the reporting of information in our effort to immediately address criminal activity and/or fraud.  Information may be submitted verbally or in writing; the reporting person can identify him/herself, or remain anonymous. 

Depending on the nature of the alleged fraud, in addition to the local administrative investigation, the Housing Authority may refer the case to the Office of the Inspector General for investigation and possible criminal prosecution.

Does the Housing Authority ever terminate or evict tenants with Section 8 Vouchers for bad behavior?
Participation in the Section 8 Program is not a right.  There are family obligations that every assisted household must obey to continue receiving assistance. Engaging in illegal drug and/or violent criminal behavior or nuisance activity that disturbs the peaceful enjoyment of other residents in the building or neighborhood are typical causes for the Housing Authority proposing termination.

Before any termination action is final, the family is given at least one opportunity for an administrative hearing. The family is encouraged to have legal or other representation during all hearings. 

Can a landlord evict a Section 8 tenant?
Yes.  The landlord is responsible for enforcing the terms of the lease up to and including eviction for serious and/or repeat violations.  Typical causes for eviction include non-payment of rent, illegal drug activity, and other nuisance behavior. The Housing Authority suggests that landlords seek legal advice from an attorney for landlord/tenant issues.  There are also property management groups where landlords share information.

Once in, must an owner stay an active participant in the Section 8 Program?
Yes. An owner may not terminate participation in the program without "good cause."  The rule is a HUD regulation.  See 24 CFR 982.309 and 24 CFR 982.310(a).   The latter regulation provides that a Section 8 tenancy may be terminated only upon good cause.  However, in Barrientos v. 1801 1825 Morton LLC (2009) 583 F.3d 1197, the Ninth Circuit clarified that HUD regulations as to what constitutes good cause for termination do not preempt local rent control provisions.  Accordingly, in order for a landlord to terminate a Section 8 tenancy in Berkeley, or any tenancy subject to the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Ordinance, the termination must be based on one of the “just causes” listed in the Rent Stabilization Ordinance.   You can get more information on those requirements from the Rent Stabilization Board. 

 

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