Low-Income Public Housing

Public housing units are owned and managed by the Municipal Housing Authority and are available in a range of bedroom sizes. Most are our units are situated in housing developments, but some are located on a scattered site or in smaller buildings. These units are subsidized by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. Residents pay no more than 30 percent of their household’s monthly income for rent and utilities

Residents are required to meet the following standards:

  • Earn 80 percent of area median income or less as a household to qualify;
  • Meet screening rules and have acceptable rental and criminal histories;
  • Are citizens or have eligible immigration status at the time of approval of tenancy.


Public housing is a multibillion dollar asset that plays a crucial role in solving local housing problems and driving community revitalization. Together with the Section 8 voucher program, it is the foundation of the affordable housing market in local communities.

Affordable Housing at a Crossroads

Nothing could have done more to highlight the nation’s affordable housing crisis than the devastation from the Gulf Coast hurricanes. The chasm between what is available and what people can afford is being covered by USA Today and the New York Times, and debated on op-ed pages and at industry gatherings across the country.

Central to the story are public housing authorities, both as first responders, as experts in community revitalization, as managers of a multibillion dollar real estate asset that is a vital link in the nation’s housing pipeline. Another important element: the very limited role the federal government is choosing to play, on the coast and across the country.
Quick Facts on Public and Assisted Housing

The federal public housing program was created by the U.S. Housing Act of 1937, which provided capital funding to localities to build affordable housing units. Public housing was originally intended as a work program and as a way to house people who were temporarily unemployed, or employed at low wages, during the Great Depression. Today, the nation’s public housing is a multibillion dollar asset with about 13,000 developments.

Public housing developments are owned and operated by public housing authorities (PHAs) — independent agencies established by localities to develop, own and manage low-rent housing. Large PHAs are those with 1,250 or more units.

Public housing is home to almost 3 million seniors, people with disabilities and low-income families with children; approximately one million children live in public housing.

More than half (52%) of all public housing residents are elderly or people with disabilities.

About 40% of public housing residents remain in units less than three years.
Another 4.7 million seniors, people with disabilities and low-income families with children use Section 8 housing choice vouchers.
Public housing is an economic engine that drives community revitalization.

The New Face of Public and Assisted Housing

In the early 1990s there was universal recognition – among PHAs, Congress, HUD, advocates, local officials, private sector partners, and others – that existing public housing policies were making things worse, not better.

Among the problems public housing agencies were grappling with:

  • increasing concentrations of the very poorest families in obsolete developments;
  • little money available to meet capital investment needs;
  • an inflexible and burdensome regulatory system.

A New Way of Thinking

Then came a new way of viewing public housing, reflected in new laws, policies and practice. Many of these innovations were piloted in the 1992 HOPE VI program, and codified in 1998 the Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act (QHWRA) a long-debated, bipartisan bill.

The result: innovations in finance, design and management. Now, in communities across the nation we are seeing:

  • Comprehensive neighborhood revitalization from public/private partnerships.
  • Vibrant mixed-income communities.
  • The strategic use of public funds to increase private investment in revitalized neighborhoods.
  • Access to capital markets to accelerate capital improvements in public housing.

Reimagining Public Housing as an Engine of Community Revitalization

A nation that invests in decent housing and supports the development of strong, thriving communities is a secure nation. -“Opportunity and Progress, A Bipartisan Platform for National Housing Policy,” September 2004

Strong cities are the core of a healthy economy. Today, public housing plays a key role in strengthening those communities. Public housing authorities are the largest landlords in many cities, housing as much as ten percent of some city’s populations. Public housing is a multibillion dollar real estate investment that is home to one million households: working families, seniors and people with disabilities. Together with the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program, public housing plays a critical role not only in providing affordable housing, but as an economic engine contributing to the health and vitality of cities from coast to coast.

Changing the Face of Public Housing

In the early 1990s there was a universal recognition – among PHAs, Congress, HUD, advocates, local officials, private sector partners, and others – that existing public housing policies were ineffective. The rethinking of public housing that followed has led to innovations in how public housing is financed, developed, designed and managed. It has placed public housing authorities in the vanguard of community builders and affordable housing developers.

These changes are creating success stories in communities across the nation, like NewHolly, an award winning development in Seattle. Stories like these are acknowledged in “Opportunity and Progress,” the bipartisan housing platform developed by Henry Cisneros and Jack Kemp. These successes demonstrate how much of an asset public housing can be, with the right policies and adequate funding. Many of the recommendations included in this platform are precisely what is needed, such as continued funding for HOPE VI, adequate operating and capital funds, and an expanded housing voucher program. CLPHA believes that the following policies and programs will provide public housing with what it needs to continue to succeed.

A Portrait of Public Housing Residents

Public housing is home to approximately 2,082,000 people in the United States. The program serves seniors, people with disabilities and low-income families with children, providing quality housing and a variety of services. The most recent program data offers a snapshot of the demographic characteristics of public housing’s residents:


  • Nearly 320,000 seniors rely on public housing and supportive services. Elderly households represent 31% of all public housing households.
  • 27% of public housing’s seniors are 80 years of age or older.*
  • The median annual income for an elderly household in public housing is $10,000.*
  • 72% of seniors rely on Social Security payments as their primary source of income.*

People with Disabilities

  • Public housing is home to 308,000 households in which one or more members are living with a disability, representing 32% of all public housing households.
  • 17,963 public housing households have a child with a disability.*

Families with Children

  • 850,000 children live in public housing, representing 41% of all public housing residents. Public housing provides not only a home, but also a host of services aimed at creating stability and increasing their opportunities for the future.
  • Low-Income Households
  • • The mean income for a public housing household is $11,295.
  • • On average, the income of public housing households is only 23.8% of the median income for their areas.*
  • • Close to 49% of non-elderly, non-disabled households obtain their primary source of income from wages.*
  • • The average household size is 2.2 people.

All data are from the HUD Resident Characteristics Report as of April 2006, except where noted with an asterisk (*). Data marked with an asterisk (*) are from an extract of HUD’s Multifamily Tenant Characteristics System (MTCS) from 2001. The 2001 extract was the most current extract available at the time of this writing. Although this data is several years old, the profile of the population of public housing has likely not changed significantly in the past several years.

Source: Council of Large Public Housing Agencies