Affordable Housing vs Low Income Housing

affordable housing vs low income housing

Navigating the housing market can be challenging, especially when distinguishing between affordable housing and low-income housing. Both terms are often used interchangeably, but they serve different purposes and populations.  

Affordable housing is designed to ensure that working families and individuals can find housing within their budget without sacrificing other essential needs. It typically targets those earning between 60% to 80% of the area median income (AMI). Contrary to this, low-income housing is specifically tailored for households earning below 60% of the AMI, offering better subsidies and support to ensure accessibility to stable housing. Understanding the distinctions between these two types of housing is crucial for anyone seeking assistance or trying to make informed decisions about where to live.  

What Is Low-Income Housing? 

Low-income housing provides vital support to renters facing challenges with increasing rents and market fluctuations. A household qualifies as low income if its earnings fall below 80% of the local area’s median income. 

Public housing and similar programs have a rich history, dating back to the establishment of the first public housing in Atlanta, GA, in 1935 under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. Initially segregated, public housing saw legal desegregation following the Supreme Court’s ruling on public education, leading to integration during the Eisenhower administration. 

What Is Affordable Housing? 

Affordable housing, as defined by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), ensures that households spend 30% or less of their income on housing. Following the 30% rule promotes comfortable living within a budget. 

This guideline varies across locations. Certain affordable housing initiatives incentivize developers to provide below-market rentals. Developers receive tax credits, helping to lower project costs and promote accessible housing options for communities. 

What’s the Difference Between Low Income vs Affordable Housing? 

Although low-income and affordable housing may seem similar, there are important distinctions between these income-restricted programs. 

Low-Income Housing 

Low-income housing requires qualification through your local housing authority. Key factors include: 

  • Earn less than 80% of the area median income (AMI) 
  • Provide recent pay stubs, invoices, and IRS tax returns 
  • Report any income changes to the local housing authority, even after signing a lease 
  • Public Housing and Section 8 programs 

Most low-income housing and apartments are rented directly through public housing authorities. 

Affordable Housing 

Here are some key criteria and factors of affordable housing: 

  • HUD considers renters who spend more than 30% of their income on housing to be cost-burdened 
  • Renters spending 50% or more of their income on rent are considered severely cost-burdened 
  • HUD provides federal funds to local public housing authorities (PHAs) through housing vouchers 
  • Eligible renters search for apartments and homes on their own 
  • Housing that meets program requirements qualifies for a landlord-paid subsidy by the PHA 
  • Tenants pay the difference between the rent and the PHA subsidy 

Pros & Cons of Low-Income and Affordable Housing 

Understanding the pros and cons is essential for making informed decisions about housing solutions that meet diverse needs and aspirations. 

Pros of Low-Income Housing 

  • Reduced Evictions and Reduced Homelessness: Public housing helps tenants avoid evictions and provides a path out of homelessness. 
  • Financial Improvement: Tenants paying rent below market value can save, stay healthier, and contribute more to their community. 
  • Safety and Maintenance: Public housing programs adhere to safety and property maintenance standards, often featuring 24-hour security and video surveillance. 
  • Community Impact: Public housing can lead to lower rents in the surrounding community. 

Cons of Low-Income Housing 

  • Community Investment: Public housing reallocates taxpayer funds, potentially impacting funding for other community projects. 
  • Isolation: These buildings are often concentrated in specific city areas, isolating residents from the broader community. 
  • Safety Concerns: Despite safety precautions, crime rates can be higher in areas with public housing, and residents may face stigmatization. 
  • Maintenance Issues: Stories of poorly maintained buildings are common, and long waitlists leave many vulnerable while waiting for accommodation. 

Pros of Affordable Housing 

  • Distributed Housing: Private landlords can accept housing vouchers, reducing overcrowding in specific areas. 
  • Developer Incentives: Developers can build in multiple neighborhoods, further reducing overcrowding. 
  • Job Growth: Affordable housing stimulates job growth, allowing more people to work in areas with high rents. 
  • Economic Benefits: Fewer evictions and more disposable income for renters to spend in their community. 

Cons of Affordable Housing 

  • Community Pushback: Supporters that charging below market value can slow revitalization efforts. 
  • Long Waitlists: Like public housing, affordable housing programs have long waitlists and are income-restricted. 
  • Income Restrictions: As tenants earn more, they may need to find new housing. 
  • Limited Developer Incentives: Developers typically receive tax credits for up to 10 years and may sell or convert units to condos afterward. 

What Is Section 8 Housing? 

The Housing Choice Voucher Program (HCV), formerly known as Section 8, provides vital rental assistance to low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled. This public housing initiative offers vouchers that help cover rental costs, enabling recipients to afford housing in the private market. 

This program requires tenants to contribute a minimum of 28% of their income toward monthly rent, with the program covering the remaining amount directly to the landlord. 

Landlords screen prospective HCV tenants just as they would any other applicants, ensuring a consistent and fair process. Tenants also sign a lease agreement like other renters, promoting a smooth and standardized rental experience. 

What Is Section 42? 

Section 42, or the Low-Income Housing Credit Program, promotes the availability of affordable rental housing for those who qualify based on income. Developers and investors who provide low-income rentals benefit from tax credits and other incentives. 

While some units in the development can be rented at market value or above, a designated number of units must remain accessible for low-income renters to allow developers to continue claiming their credits. 

How Do You Apply for Low Income and Affordable Housing? 

Applying for public housing, housing vouchers, Section 8, Section 42, or any income-restricted housing program involves a simple process. Here’s how you can begin: 

1. Understand Local Income Guidelines  

Familiarize yourself with the income criteria specific to public and affordable housing programs in your area. Visit the HUD website for detailed eligibility requirements. 

2. Contact Your Local PHA  

Once you understand the guidelines, reach out to your local public housing authority (PHA) to initiate your application. They can provide insights into rental costs, available apartment sizes, and rental options. 

3. Complete Your Application  

Apply directly through your local PHA for government-owned apartments and related programs. For privately owned properties offering low-income and affordable housing, you’ll need to apply with the landlord. 

4. Include Household Members  

Ensure all household members meet income qualifications and undergo background checks as required. 

5. Gather Necessary Documentation  

Collect and submit verified income documentation for all household members, including roommates. Adults must provide government-issued IDs, and birth certificates may be required for children. 

6. Join the Waitlist  

Be prepared for waitlists, as these programs are competitive. Stay flexible regarding the type of apartment you may receive to expedite the process. 

7. Update Income Changes  

Inform your PHA promptly of any changes in income during the application and tenancy. Adjustments may affect your rent obligations and eligibility for assistance. 

By staying informed and proactive throughout the process, you can navigate income-restricted housing programs effectively and secure housing that meets your needs. 


Affordable apartments are accessible if your income meets the criteria. However, navigating waitlists and limited housing availability can pose challenges in urban areas.  

Begin your search for affordable apartments now with BFPMInc., where you can narrow down your search filters to find suitable options within your locality.  

For more details on property management, contact us at BFPMInc. 

Trevor Henson

Trevor Henson is an experienced entrepreneur (10+ highly-successful start-ups) and property investor with a demonstrated history of building and leading teams in investment property management environments, maximizing returns for property owners, and optimizing properties through construction management and re-positioning. He…
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Frequently Asked Questions(FAQs)

Affordable housing refers to housing that costs 30% or less of a household's income, while Section 8 is a specific federal program that provides rental assistance vouchers to eligible low-income individuals and families, allowing them to choose their housing within the private market.

Low-income housing provides affordable rental options for individuals and families who earn below a certain threshold of the area median income (AMI). These programs are typically administered through local housing authorities or nonprofits, offering subsidies to keep rents affordable.