Young woman with Down syndrome smiles with smartphone in hand while sitting on sofa.Half of Americans report that access to affordable housing is a problem in their community, according to the Pew Research Center. For families affected by disability, housing costs can pose a particularly significant concern. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), more than 4 million people with disabilities are part of families that put more than half of their household incomes toward rent and utilities. 

In the United States, 5 million people rely on Section 8 housing vouchers to help pay rent. This includes families affected by disability, the CBPP reports. Meanwhile, the Urban Instituteestimates that 18 million people with disabilities may qualify for assistance that they do not receive. 

Many low-income people with disabilities use special needs trusts (SNTs) to maintain eligibility for public assistance programs such as Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). While you can qualify for the Section 8 voucher program with an SNT, it can affect how much housing assistance you receive. 

What Is Section 8 Housing?

The Housing Choice Voucher Program, or Section 8 Housing, is the nation’s most significant source of rental assistance. The program aims to provide affordable, safe, sanitary housing to low-income families, seniors, and people with disabilities. 

Section 8 of the United States Housing Act of 1937 established the program. The Housing Choice Voucher Program is the formal name. However, many people refer to it as Section 8 because of the legislation that created it. 

A Section 8 housing voucher’s amount varies. It can depend on household income and size, local housing costs, and the Fair Market Rent (FMR). (The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) calculates new FMR rates each year; they differ by region.) Typically, when families pay 30 percent of their income toward rent and utilities, the voucher covers the remainder up to the FMR’s limit. 

Special Needs Trusts 

Many people with disabilities have special needs trusts (SNTs) in place. Some individuals who establish SNTs may, for example, have received a sizeable settlement in a personal injury lawsuit. Because these assets are in an SNT, they can still qualify for needs-based government assistance like Medicaid and SSI.

Special needs trusts typically pay for goods and services that Medicaid and SSI do not cover. This may include such expenses as education, recreation, hobbies, and transportation. 

People with SNTs can also obtain Section 8 housing vouchers. However, withdrawals from a special needs trust can count as household income; in turn, this impacts how much one’s housing voucher will cover. The more income a household receives in a particular location, the less the voucher covers. For example, if an individual receives $200 monthly from a special needs trust, that is part of their household’s income. 

Often, trustees pay the beneficiary’s bills directly from the trust. Distributions from a special needs trust count as income whether the trustee gives the money to the recipient or uses trust money to pay the beneficiary’s bills. 

Assets do not disqualify households from Section 8. However, HUD uses the standard increase in asset value to calculate income. Annual income, per HUD, can affect the amount of one’s housing voucher. (Read more about income limits on the HUD website.)

How to Apply for Section 8 

Contact your local Public Housing Agency (PHA) to apply for the Housing Choice Voucher Program. HUD provides an agency directory online. 

Completing an application involves supplying documentation on your family composition, income, and assets. In addition, you will need to provide identification, your Social Security number, and proof of citizenship or immigration status. 

After applying, it can take months or even years to receive a voucher depending on how long the wait list is in your area. The need for vouchers typically exceeds government resources. The PHA may close the list when many families are waiting.

Speak with Your Special Needs Planning Attorney 

Note that different types of special needs trusts come with certain limitations. They also may follow different rules, depending on where you live. Be sure to work with your special needs planner when establishing a special needs trust.

Your attorney can also help you through the process of applying for the housing voucher program. They can help you determine how your particular SNT could affect your housing voucher.