Basics of Public Housing



The federal government gives money to cities to build and operate public housing communities. In return, housing authorities must run the projects fairly and according to federal law and regulations.


Public housing differs from private housing in two important ways. In public housing, a family may chose to base its rent on the family's income and size. In a private house or apartment, the landlord sets rent.

In addition to this, many of the rights and duties of public housing tenants are directed by federal law. In contrast, the landlord sets most rights and duties of private tenants. You actually have more rights in public housing than in private housing.


To live in public housing, you must meet certain requirements set by federal law. Your income must be below a certain level, depending on your household size. Public housing is available to citizens, non-citizens with eligible immigration status, and families with citizens and non-citizens.

While you may still apply, the housing authority can look at your history as a tenant. They can check things like your rent record or to see if you have a criminal history. They also can check to see if you owe money to a housing authority.

If you are denied because of this kind of information, you are entitled to an informal conference with the housing authority. You will be allowed to prove this information untrue or show that you have improved. You cannot be denied public housing because you are a single parent, separated, on welfare or without income.

If you are not qualified for public housing, you are entitled to written notice. This notice should tell why you do not qualify. If this happens, you can request an informal conference with the housing authority within the time required.

The housing authority also will send you a notice if you qualify for public housing. This notice tells you about how long it will take for you to get an apartment


Once each year, a family chooses whether it wants a flat rate rent or a rent based on its income. Generally public housing rent cannot be more than 30% of the family's total annual income. The housing authority must allow certain deductions from that income.

The number of children, handicapped and elderly family members determines these deductions. Childcare and medical expenses also are deductions. A tenant's household size and income are examined once a year to determine the amount of rent to be paid. The rent should not change unless the tenant's income or deductions change.

Examples of this would be loss or increase of income, increase or decrease in family size or new medical bills. Remember, if your income goes down or your deductions go up, report it to the housing authority immediately. Your rent should go down the first of the next month.

New sources of income also must be reported right away. The lease tells you the rules about reporting changes in income.


Every public housing tenant signs a lease. Your lease is very important. It sets out your rights and responsibilities. It also tells you about the housing authority's duties. You have a right to a copy of your lease. Read your lease very carefully so that you understand it.

The housing authority can terminate a lease with fourteen (14) days notice if you fail to pay rent. The housing authority can terminate your lease with thirty (30) days or less notice if you violate your lease. You can be evicted for not paying your rent or violating your lease. You cannot be evicted for exercising your rights like belonging to a tenant's organization or asking for repairs.

The housing authority cannot evict a tenant without filing an eviction case in court. An eviction lawsuit is called a dispossessory warrant. The housing authority cannot evict a tenant by cutting off utilities or locking the doors. If you get a dispossessory warrant, try to get legal assistance right away.


Public housing authorities have certain responsibilities or duties. These are described in the lease. If the housing authority does not perform its duties, you can make a complaint under the grievance procedure. You also may want to get legal advice or assistance.


When you sign a lease with the housing authority, you agree to follow the rules stated in the lease. The things you should and should not do are spelled out in the lease. However, some items in your lease may not be easy to understand. For example, tenants cannot be charged for routine maintenance like pest control. You must be informed (in writing) two days before any housing authority worker comes into your apartment to make repairs. The only exception is for emergencies.


You may be charged for damages you, your family or guests cause. However, the housing authority cannot charge you for damages due to normal wear and tear - when things just wear out.

The housing authority must repair defects that are dangerous to the lives, health and safety of your family immediately. This includes defects like gas leaks or exposed electrical wires. If you notify the housing authority about dangerous defects and they are not corrected, call Atlanta Legal Aid.


The grievance procedure is a way for tenants to solve problems or disagreements with their housing authority. It gives tenants a formal complaint process.

A tenant can have a grievance or complaint about some evictions, disputed rent, excess utility bills, repair charges or lack of repairs. Each housing authority should have its own grievance procedure rules. Check with your manager about the grievance procedure in your project, and read the Atlanta Legal Aid brochure, Grievance Procedure in Public Housing.


It is important that people in public housing know how their housing authority operates and what to expect from it. Public housing actually provides more rights and protection for tenants than private housing.

People in public housing even have an official process for complaining about problems with their landlord. Remember, it's important to know your rights and responsibilities as a public housing tenant.

If you feel you can't solve a problem with your housing authority, or if you feel your rights have been violated, contact the Atlanta Legal Aid office or Georgia Legal Services Program office near you. Depending on your problem, an attorney or paralegal can give you advice or representation.

For Clayton, Cobb, Dekalb, Fulton, and Gwinnett Counties, call Atlanta Legal Aid Society: 404-524-5811

For all other counties, call Georgia Legal Services Program: 1-800-498-9469 (toll free)

For Seniors age 60 and older, call the Georgia Senior Legal Hotline: 1-888-257-9519 (toll free)

Last Review and Update: Sep 30, 2010