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Resource Center

Public Housing

Public housing originated with the United States Housing Act of 1937. The program produced nearly 1.4 million housing units. Currently, there are approximately 1.2 million units. On the federal level, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) administers the public housing program. Locally, public housing is owned by public housing agencies (PHAs) and governed by a local board of commissioners. HUD maintains information on how to locate PHAs in your community.

Public housing is supported by public funding. Congress appropriates funds to support public housing, primarily through an operating fund and a capital fund, and HUD distributes those funds to PHAs. Except for funding that is available under the HOPE VI program, Congress has not appropriated money for any new public housing in many years. In expending these federal funds, PHAs are subject to Section 3, which is designed to provide economic and employment opportunities to low and very low-income residents, including public housing residents.

Congress and HUD establish the federal rules for the public housing program that PHAs must follow. PHAs have discretion to adopt local rules that do not conflict with these rules. In consultation with a Resident Advisory Board (RAB), PHAs are required to develop Five-Year and Annual Plans in which they set forth their local policies.

To be eligible for public housing, applicants must have income at or below 80% of the area median income (AMI). The HUD website has information on median income. The 80% of AMI limit notwithstanding, most public housing residents are extremely low-income, having incomes below 30% of AMI. The national average income level of a public housing resident is approximately 20% of AMI. In addition, applicants must meet other admission criteria including whether they are suitable tenants. Because there is not enough public housing to meet the need, most households that are admitted to public housing also fit within a priority admission category.

Tenants’ rents are generally set at 30% of their adjusted income.

Public housing residents have security of tenure and may only be evicted for good cause, such as a substantial lease violation. However, certain tenants must complete a community service requirement or be subject to eviction. Prior to eviction, public housing tenants are usually entitled to a grievance hearing.

PHAs must seek HUD approval to demolish or dispose of public housing. Advocates and tenants have sought to stop proposed demolitions or dispositions and/or to condition any HUD approval to dispose of or demolish public housing.

Nationwide there are 32 PHAs that have been selected for a program called Moving to Work (MTW), in which the participating PHAs are permitted to experiment with different policies and are not bound by many of the statutory or regulatory rules that govern public housing and the voucher program.

Many residents in public housing have come together to form resident councils (RCs) or resident organizations (ROs).


Public Housing

This outline of the key components of the public housing program and the accompanying PowerPoint were part of the training materials from the NHLP training at the Housing Justice Network (HJN) meeting in December 2008.

NHLP Submitted Comments to HUD on the Template, HUD 50075, for the PHA 5-Year and Annual Plan and Related Certifications

On June 13, 2011, NHLP submitted comments to HUD on the template, HUD 50075, for the PHA 5-Year and Annual Plan and related certifications. The comments focused on recommended changes that would make the planning process more transparent and accessible to residents. They also urged strengthening of the fair housing provisions by requiring that the PHA plan process includes information regarding the PHA’s limited English proficiency (LEP) and reasonable accommodation (RA) plans and the fair housing/civil rights implications of any proposed demolition or disposition.

Statutes and Regulations

42 U.S.C. §§ 1437 et seq.

Contains the main provisions governing public housing that are included in the United States Housing Act of 1937.

42 U.S.C. § 1436a

Restrictions on use of assisted housing by undocumented immigrants.

42 U.S.C. §§ 13661-4

Provisions regarding Safety and Security in Public and Assisted Housing.

24 C.F.R.:

§ 5.100 General Definitions
§ 5.110 Waiver authority
§ 5.210-18 Disclosure of Social Security Numbers
§ 5.230-38 Procedures for Securing Wage and Income Information
§ 5.300 Pets Ownership for the Elderly or Persons with Disabilities
§ 5.403 Definitions for Public Housing
§ 5.500-28 Restrictions on Assistance to Non-citizens
§ 5.601 et seq. Income limits, definition of income, recertification and rents,


HUD Handbooks are generally available at the HUD website.

Public Housing Occupancy Guidebook (June 2003)
• Handbook 7417.1, Public Housing Development Handbook REV-1 (10/10/80 with changes through CHG-12, 12/21/92)


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