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Frequently Asked Questions

I. General Questions about the Housing Choice Voucher Program

What is the Housing Choice Voucher program?

The Housing Choice Voucher program contains many of HUD’s Rental Assistance programs. The program came out of Section 8 of the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974. 

How to Apply

The waiting list for application opens approximately every 24 months. To apply for the Sonoma County Housing Authority’s Housing Choice Voucher Waiting List visit our Applicationto see if the application period is open. Applicants will be required to enter all information requested in regard to their living situation, household composition, income, and any preferences for which they qualify.

What does the Housing Choice Voucher Program do?

The Housing Choice Voucher Program assists low-income individuals and families with their rental payments. Under this program, property owners retain the same rights and responsibilities that they have under California State law. They use their own rental agreement or lease and decide what the term of tenancy will be. The tenant has the same obligations as any tenant under State law. The Housing Authority's subsidy does not change the normal relationship of property owners or managers to tenants. The main difference is that each month the property owner will receive two payments for the tenant’s rent – one from the tenant, which is about 30% of his or her income, and the balance from the SCHA.

Who does the Housing Choice Voucher program assist?

Participant families include seniors, persons with disabilities, families with young children, and working families who do not earn enough to keep pace with rising rental housing costs.

How does the Housing Choice Voucher Program work?

In the Housing Choice Voucher Program, participants have a limited time to find suitable housing offered by a private owner using a Voucher issued by the Housing Authority. Any housing selected must meet local codes and federal standards called Housing Quality Standards (HQS). Housing Choice Vouchers give a family flexibility to pay more than 30 percent of their income for rent and utilities if they desire. However, families who are new admissions or move to a new unit cannot pay more than 40 percent of their income when they move in.
The subsidy is calculated by using the lower of the Voucher Payment Standard or the gross rent minus the total tenant payment.
All Voucher units must meet a rent reasonableness test, i.e., the rents cannot be higher than similar units in the area. This test is performed on each unit leased and when an owner requests a rent increase.
In the HCV Program, families pay their share of the rent directly to the property owner or manager.

What is the step-by-step procedure for the Housing Choice Voucher Program?

  • The applicant applies for the HCV program when the waiting list is open (approximately every 24 months) 
  • Approximately 500 applicants are randomly selected in a lottery process to be placed on the waiting list
  • Applicants that are randomly selected for the waitlist are notified of their status on the list.
  • Once reached on the list, staff determines eligibility and eligible applicants are issued a Voucher and a Request for Tenancy Approval (RTA) form. 
  • The voucher holder has 120 days to locate suitable housing within the area.
  • The voucher holder finds a unit on the private market to rent.
  • The property owner/manager of the unit screens the applicant for suitability as tenant (The Housing Authority does not screen for tenant suitability.)
  • The property owner/manager and the voucher holder complete the RTA form and return it to the Housing Authority
  • The Housing Authority inspects the unit according to Housing Quality Standards.
  • The Housing Authority passes and approves the unit or notes needed repair items.
  • The Housing Authority negotiates rent based on Rent Reasonableness.
  • The Housing Authority enters into a contract with the property owner/manager of the unit.
  • The owner and tenant sign the property owner/manager’s Rental Agreement or Lease.
  • The Housing Authority receives a copy of rental agreement between the tenant and property owner/manager.
  • The Housing Authority inspects the unit annually.
  • The Housing Authority reviews tenant eligibility annually.

How much does the tenant pay, and how much does the Housing Authority pay?

The tenant pays an amount that is between 30% and 40% of their monthly income as their portion of the rent. The Housing Authority pays the balance to the property owner in the form of a Housing Assistance Payment (HAP). In some cases, the tenant may pay more than 30% of their income.

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II. General Questions about Housing Quality Standards

What are Housing Quality Standards?

Housing Quality Standards (HQS) are the HUD minimum quality standards for housing assisted under the Rental Assistance program. HQS have been developed for program use nationwide and help to insure that your home will be safe, healthy and comfortable. For specifics about HQS, please go to:  A Good Place to Live.

Are housing inspections required?

Yes. Inspections will be completed before a unit can begin on the Housing Choice Voucher Program and annually. For the annual inspection, the tenant will receive advanced notification of their scheduled inspection.

How often are housing inspections conducted?

Before any family can be assisted by the Sonoma County Housing Authority, the proposed unit must pass an inspection to assure that Housing Quality Standards are met. After the initial inspection, the Housing Authority must inspect the unit at least annually.

III. Information for Housing Choice Voucher Participants Regarding Eligibility:

How is income verified?

All income must be verified with documentation. The Housing Authority periodically reviews employment records with EDD and HUD's Enterprise Income Verification System. If unreported income is found, this can result in termination of assistance.

How much will I pay? 

Rent is calculated according to federal regulations. It must be recalculated any time income or family size changes. The Housing Authority uses a formula to calculate the family’s portion of the rent. The tenant’s portion will be 30% of the monthly adjusted income. This amount is then subtracted from the lower of the payment standard or the gross rent to determine the subsidy amount paid by the Housing Authority to the owner.
The “payment standard” is a HUD approved amount by bedroom size, based on the Fair Market Rents for the area. The bedroom size for the family, based on the Housing Authority’s “subsidy standard” is two persons per bedroom, except that the head of household will not be forced to share a bedroom with a minor child, or when there is medical justification.
Even if the family selects a larger unit, the Housing Authority will still base the subsidy in accordance with the “subsidy standard,” and the family will be required to pay the difference.
“Tenant Rent” is the difference between the contract rent (rent to owner) and the subsidy.

When are changes reported?

Any change in income or family composition must be reported to the Housing Authority within 14 days. Income change forms are available at the Housing Authority's reception desk at 1440 Guerneville Road, Santa Rosa.

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What deductions are allowed?

  • $480 for each member of the family residing in the household (other than the head of the household or spouse) who is under 18 years of age or is disabled or a full-time student any age.
  • $400 for any elderly family (over 62 or disabled).
  • Medical expenses in excess of three percent of annual family income of any elderly or disabled family.
  • Reasonable child care expenses necessary to enable another family member to be employed or to further his or her education.

Where are Vouchers accepted?

You may use your Housing Choice Voucher anywhere in the USA where there is a Housing Authority to administer the Housing Choice Voucher program. Ask your caseworker for information.
Wherever you choose to live, the housing must pass a Housing Quality Standards (HQS) inspection. It must also pass a rent reasonableness test to assure that the rent charged is fair.
If a property owner or manager has housing which qualifies and he or she is willing to rent it under the Housing Choice Voucher Program, a rental agreement or lease and Housing Assistance Payment contract must be signed.
The Housing Authority maintains a list of units whose owners will accept a voucher.

Why are annual reexaminations necessary?

The Housing Authority is required by federal regulations to review each Voucher participant's income and family size at least once a year. This is done to assure that (1) the right amount of rent is being paid based on actual income and (2) the home is the right size for the family.

How can I prepare for the reexamination?

For your reexamination and annual inspection:

  • Be on time for your appointment.
  • Be sure you have all the information requested in your reexamination letter.

What happens during this review?

The Housing Authority will notify each family of their reexamination one to two months before the anniversary of their initial move-in date. Staff members will schedule a time to conduct the interview. At the interview, the Housing Authority caseworker will check to see that all information provided about income and family size is correct. Sometime during the year, the Housing Authority will also schedule an inspection of each home to be sure that it still meets basic Housing Quality Standards. The inspection is a good time for you to inform the Housing Authority of any concerns you may have about the condition of your home or any maintenance problems you are having.

What are my obligations?

All participants are responsible for meeting their family obligations, which include:

  • Reporting all money coming into the household, changes in family members and related information as required.
  • Permitting inspection of the housing unit by the HA after reasonable notice.
  • Giving the HA and the owner at least 30 days written notice if you intend to move.
  • Not subletting or leasing any part of the unit.
  • Not using illegal or controlled substances.
  • Not being involved in drug-related or violent criminal activities.
  • Not allowing anyone who is not a member of your household to use your address to receive mail, register vehicles, etc.
  • Not violating the terms of your lease
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Can I lose my rental assistance?

There are a number of ways families can lose their rental assistance. Here is a partial list of typical reasons that are usually sufficient to cause the HA to stop rental assistance to a family:

  • Vacating the housing unit without proper notice.
  • Allowing unauthorized persons to live in the housing unit or use it as a mailing address.
  • Not complying with the terms of the Section 8 Voucher Program family responsibilities.
  • Failing to report all changes in income or provide information required by the HA for reexamination of the family’s continued eligibility for rental assistance.
  • Owing money to any Public or Indian Housing Authority.
  • Involvement in drug-related or violent criminal activities.
  • Serious or repeated lease violations.
  • Causing significant damage to the unit.

What is considered drug-related or violent criminal activity?

Drug-related crime and violent crime are problems everywhere across the country. Be sure that you and members of your family are not involved. Federal regulations provide for termination of assistance to those who participate in these activities. The regulations also state that a person does not have to have been arrested or convicted in order for their assistance to be terminated.

When can I move?

There are some specific rules about moving out of housing. Here are some general guidelines for moving out the proper way. (Remember that the property owner or manager may have other requirements):  
  • Give at least 30 days written notice.
  • Give ourHQS-Inspector a copy of the notice to your property owner or manager. (If you receive a 30 day notice to move from your property owner or manager, your file will be referred to the Occupancy Specialist Supervisor for review.)
  • Contact your Occupancy Specialist to determine if your income and family composition will need to be updated.
  • Meet with your Occupancy Specialist to obtain a Voucher and a Request for Tenancy Approval form for the new owner.
  • Make sure all rent due has been paid.
  • Clean the unit thoroughly before moving, including major appliances and carpet.

IV. Questions for Participants Regarding Housing Quality Standards

When, how and to whom should maintenance problems be reported?

Maintenance problems should be reported to the owner or property manager in writing. If the problem is not corrected in a prompt or satisfactory manner, the problem should be reported to the Housing Authority in writing for possible action.

As a tenant, what are my responsibilities to the unit?

Practice good housekeeping habits in your home. Keep the home in a clean, safe and orderly condition. Let the property manager or owner know as soon as possible when maintenance or repair work is needed.

V. Questions for Participants Regarding Moving and Renting a Unit

What do I do if I want to move and use my rental assistance in another unit?

The Housing Authority must receive a copy of the notice you have given your property owner/manager stating your intention to vacate the unit. You will be required to schedule an appointment with the eligibility staff. After that appointment, you will attend a briefing and receive your “Mover” Voucher, Briefing Packet and Request for Tenancy Approval (RTA) form.

Can I have more than one copy of the Request for Tenancy Approval (RTA) form?

No. Only one form is allowed per family at one time.

Does the Housing Authority assist with Security Deposit funds?

No. The tenant is responsible for securing all of the security deposit.

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Contact Information

Martha Cheever
Housing Authority Manager
Community Development Commission
Contact us by Phone