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What should I know about public housing?

Authored By: GeorgiaLegalAid.org
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Public housing laws in Georgia Resources

Public housing laws in Georgia

What should I know? +

Contents


What type of housing assistance do I have?

This article is about public housing, a form of government-funded housing assistance. The information in this article may not apply to other forms of housing assistance. This article is not about project-based Section 8 housing or housing choice vouchers. It’s important to be clear about what kind of housing assistance you have because there are different rules for each type. If you’re not sure what kind of housing assistance you have, a good question to ask yourself is “who do I pay my rent to?”

  • If you pay your rent to your local Public Housing Authority, then you live in public housing.

  • You probably live in project-based section 8 housing if: 

    • you live in an apartment where the government pays the landlord rent for some or all of the units in the complex, and

    • you pay your income-based rent to the landlord.  

This is the most common type of housing assistance.

  • You are receiving Housing Choice Voucher assistance (Section 8) if:  

    • you were able to choose your apartment or house on your own, and 

    • a local housing authority pays a portion of your rent to the landlord and 

    • you pay your income-based rent to the landlord.

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What is public housing?

Public housing is low rent housing owned and operated by a local housing authority. It is subsidized by the federal government. This means the local housing authority is your landlord. The amount of rent that you pay is generally 30% of your family’s income after deductions. The housing authority will make deductions for:

  • Dependent, elderly or disabled family members

  • Childcare, medical and disability expenses

 

But, you must pay at least $50 rent each month unless you are granted an exemption by the housing authority.

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Who is eligible for public 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.

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What are my rights and responsibilities?

Generally, your rights and duties as a tenant in public housing are the same for any landlord-tenant relationship. 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 and protections as a subsidized housing tenant in public housing than in private housing. 

 

Every public housing tenant signs a lease. Your lease is very important because 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.

 

What are community service or self-sufficiency requirements?

Unless exempt, each public housing resident must 

  • perform 8 hours per month of community service, or

  • participate in economic self-sufficiency activities, or

  • some 8 hour combination of the two. 

 

Community service is defined as: 

  • the performance of voluntary work or duties that are a public benefit, and 

  • that serve to improve the quality of life, enhance resident self-sufficiency, or 

  • increase resident self-responsibility in the community. Community service is not employment and may not include political activities.

 

The public housing authority is not required to provide child care or transportation.

 

Eligible self-sufficiency activities include, but are not limited to: 

  • job readiness or job training while not employed; 

  • training programs through: 

    • local One-Stop Career Centers, 

    • Workforce Investment Boards (local entities administered through the U.S. Department of Labor), or 

    • other training providers; 

  • higher education (junior college or college); 

  • apprenticeships (formal or informal); 

  • substance abuse or mental health counseling; 

  • reading, financial and/or computer literacy classes; 

  • English as a second language and/or English proficiency classes; and

  • budgeting and credit counseling.

 

Who is exempted from the community service requirement?

Certain people do not have to complete community service hours if they live in public housing. This includes people who are:

  • 62 years or older

  • Unable to complete community services because they are blind or disabled, or are the primary caretaker of such individual

  • Engaged in work that meets one of the following definitions of “work activity”:

    • Unsubsidized employment

    • Subsidized private-sector employment 

    • Subsidized public-sector employment

    • Work experience if sufficient private sector employment is not available

    • On-the-job-training

    • Job-search

    • Community service programs

    • Vocational educational training (not to exceed 12 months with respect to any individual)

    • Job-skills training directly related to employment

    • Education directly related to employment if you don't have a high school diploma or a certificate of high school equivalency

    • Satisfactory attendance at secondary school or in a course of study leading to a certificate of general equivalency, in the case of a recipient who has not completed secondary school or received such a certificate

 

Public housing authorities are encouraged to use 30 hours per week as the minimum number of hours for a work activity to be eligible.

  • If you are or would be exempt from engaging in a work activity under TANF or any other Georgia State welfare program; or, 

  • If you are a member of a family that gets benefits from the Department of Human Services. To get this exemption, the family member cannot have a sanction from DHS in the past.

 

How much rent should I expect to pay?

If you become a tenant of the public housing authority, you will pay no more than 30% of your income in rent. You may request not to pay the minimum rent if you are unable to pay it due to long-term financial hardship such as:

  • When the family has lost eligibility for welfare benefits or is waiting on an eligibility decision. This includes when a family has lost eligibility because a member is a non citizen lawfully admitted but not eligible for benefits;

  • When the family would be evicted because it is unable to pay the minimum rent;

  • When there is a death in the family;

  • When income decreases due to change in circumstances, such as loss of employment;

  • Other circumstances as established by the public housing authority.

 

Once the hardship exemption is requested the minimum rent is stopped beginning the month following the request. It continues until the public housing authority issues a decision on the hardship. The housing authority will decide whether it is a qualifying hardship and whether it is temporary or long term. For 90 days after your rent is stopped, you cannot be evicted for not paying the minimum rent. This is true even if the exemption is not granted. If the hardship is denied and found only to be temporary, you will have to pay back the minimum rent.  The public housing authority must offer a reasonable repayment plan.

 

If the exemption is granted the minimum rent is not charged as long as the hardship continues, beginning the month following the request. A family denied a hardship exemption can appeal through the grievance procedure. During the appeal they do not have to pay the minimum rent into an escrow deposit as a condition of the grievance.

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What are the housing authority’s rights and responsibilities?

The housing authority can terminate a lease with 14 days notice if you fail to pay rent. The housing authority can terminate your lease with 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. 

 

Each local housing authority must have a grievance process in place. The grievance procedure is a way for tenants to solve problems or disagreements with their housing authority. It gives tenants a formal complaint process. You can have a grievance or complaint about some evictions, disputed rent, excess utility bills, repair charges or lack of repairs. The housing authority must provide you with information about how to file a grievance.

 

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

 

The most common reasons a housing authority may end a lease include:

  • Nonpayment of rent

  • Serious violations of the lease

  • Repeated minor violations of the lease

  • Not keeping utilities (gas, electric, or water) connected in the unit

  • Missing recertification appointments or inspections

  • Failing to report any change in your income as quickly as possible

  • Allowing someone not approved by the Housing Authority to live in the unit

  • Involvement by you, a family member, or your guest in drug-related or violent criminal activity

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What can I do? +

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How can I apply for housing? 

To apply for public housing, contact your local housing authority.  You can apply in more than one location. If you are approved for public housing, the housing authority will assign you an apartment.

Are there preferences?

Yes. Each housing authority can establish preferences to reflect needs in its own community. These preferences are included in a written policy manual. You should ask what preferences they honor, so you will know whether you qualify for a preference.

 

Is there a waiting list?

Yes. Long waiting periods are common. If you are eligible, the housing authority will likely place you on a waiting list. Sometimes, even waiting lists are closed when there are more families on the list than can be helped in the near future. Once your name is reached on the waiting list, the housing authority will contact you.

If it determines that you are ineligible for assistance, the housing authority must say why and, if you wish, you can request an informal hearing.

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How long can I live in public housing?

Your lease is automatically renewed unless the housing authority terminates the lease for a good reason.

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Can I add a child in my care to my public housing lease?

The law only requires that a caregiver (grandparent or otherwise) have written permission from a parent to have a child in the home of the caregiver. You do not need a power of attorney or guardianship over a child in your care to add them to your lease. If a landlord or housing program in Georgia is asking you for more than written permission, contact a legal services attorney with the Kinship Care Hotline at 1-855-357-6566.

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What can I do if I am being evicted?

The public housing authority has the right to evict you for cause. You may be evicted for violating the terms of your lease. You may also be evicted for other "good cause" specified in the lease. 

 

Will I get a written notice of termination?

Yes. The written termination notice: 

  • must state the specific reason for termination, 

  • must inform you of your right to examine relevant documents, and your right to reply, and 

  • must inform you of your right to request an administrative hearing.

 
Can I appeal the termination?

Yes. You must appeal in writing. Before trying to evict, the housing authority usually has to give you a grievance hearing. You must request a hearing within the time given in the termination notice. At the hearing you may confront and question people who give evidence against you. You may choose anyone, including a lawyer, to represent you at the hearing.

There must be an unbiased decision-maker present, not just the project manager who proposed to terminate your lease. The decision-maker must state the reasons for the decision and show the evidence.

 

What happens if I appeal or if I lose the grievance hearing?

The housing authority must follow federal regulations, as well as state and local laws, to evict you. This is true even if you do not request an informal hearing or if you receive an unfavorable hearing decision.

If the housing authority starts an eviction case, you have the right to file an answer and fight the eviction in court. The housing authority is not allowed to “put you out” until the court case is finished. 

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What happens to rent if my income increases?

Normally, the public housing authority will raise your rent if your income goes up. If your income goes down, the housing authority must lower your rent. You must notify the housing authority of any change in your income. If you do not notify them of a change in your income, your failure is usually grounds for lease termination. If you are on a fixed income, your rent should only be calculated once every year. If you think that your rent has been calculated the wrong way, you may ask for a grievance hearing.

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What happens if I need a repair?

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.

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 fixed, call Atlanta Legal Aid or Georgia Legal Services.

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What can I do if I have problems with my housing authority?

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

 

If you can't solve a problem with your housing authority, or your rights are violated, contact Atlanta Legal Aid or Georgia Legal Services. Depending on your problem, an attorney or paralegal can give you advice or representation.

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What can I do to prove verification of my community service?

You should always keep your own record of the community service hours you perform. 

 

The public housing authority can operate its community service requirement (CSR) in two ways. The public housing authority may:

  • provide CSR activities directly or 

  • contract with another group, partner or community or resident group. 

  • If a third-party runs the CSR program, you must give the public housing authority proof that you did your community service. The proof must be signed by the third party. The public housing authority must also get verification from the third party at least once a year. 

 

At a minimum, the housing authority must:

  • Have a written policy identifying individuals exempt from the CSR. The policy must have a process for tenants to follow when they seek to change from nonexempt to exempt.

  • Provide each tenant with a written description of the CSR requirement. The description should explain: 

    • how a tenant can claim an exemption and 

    • what verification the public housing authority requires.

  • Provide notice to each household stating which family members must perform community service. Notice should also state who is exempt and do not have to perform community service

  • Review each household's compliance 30 days before the end of the tenant's lease term. A least once a year, get verification of community service performed from third parties.

 

What can I do if I disagree with the Housing Authority’s decision about the community service requirement?

You can file a grievance. The grievance procedure can be used to challenge decisions about the CSR. File a grievance if you disagree with the Housing Authority's decision about how the CSR applies. You need to make a request either in writing or orally at the Housing Authority's office or at their site office. The request must be made within a reasonable time from the action you contest, no longer than 30 days. 

 

The request must state:

  • what you contest or disagree with, 

  • request an informal meeting, 

  • provide your name and address and telephone number, and

  • the name, address and telephone number of your attorney, if you have one. 

 

For more details please ask your apartment manager for a copy of the "grievance procedure" or where the grievance procedure is posted.

 

What happens if I fail to complete my community service requirement?

Failure to perform community service will result in your lease not being renewed at the end of its 12-month term. Failure to perform community service is not grounds for termination during the lease. 

 

When a family member has not performed their community service, the head of household will be given notice which:

  • Describes the noncompliance, such as identifying how many hours were not performed;

  • States the public housing authority's intent not to renew at the end of the lease term unless:

    • Both the head of household and the noncompliant family member enter a written agreement to cure. The family member then follows the agreement, or

    • The family provides "written assurance" that the person who failed to perform community service no longer lives in the unit.

  • Informs the tenant of their right to use the grievance procedure and the right to take judicial action to address non-renewal.

 

What is an agreement to cure?

In the agreement to cure: 

  • you must agree to perform community services in the future and 

  • you must also agree to work additional hours each month to make up the unworked CSR hours remaining under the old lease. The unsatisfied hours remaining under the old lease are spread over the 12 months of the new lease term.

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How can benefits like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) affect my income for rent calculations?

If you live in public housing and get benefits like TANF, you should know how those benefits are counted towards your income for rent calculations. For TANF:

  • TANF and other public benefits are countable income when the public housing authority calculates income based rent. 

  • If you get a penalty or sanction and your TANF benefits are reduced, that won't reduce your rent payments. 

  • You can request a waiver of the minimum rent if you can't afford it.

  • If you become ineligible for a public benefit like TANF, you can request an interim rent re-calculation. 

  • If you get a lump sum payment from the government, that payment won't count as income for rent calculations.

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Resources

  • 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)
  • If you are a victim of domestic violence and live in federally subsidized or public housing, watch our video reviewing situations in which the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) will protect you.
Last Review and Update: Nov 19, 2019