How the Section 8 Program Works

Your first step is to attend the Section 8 orientation, where you will receive your rent assistance voucher and learn how to use it.

All new participants are required to attend the Section 8 orientation. The purpose of the orientation is to provide you with all the information you need to be a successful Section 8 participant. At the orientation, you will receive your voucher.  Below is a summary of the information that will be covered at the orientation.

Using Your Voucher

  • Your voucher is an agreement between you and Home Forward. When you sign your voucher, you are agreeing to abide by the Statement of Family Obligations. In exchange, Home Forward will assist you with your rent, provided that you find an approved place within the time limit.
  • Your voucher is valid anywhere in Multnomah County, including the cities of Portland, Gresham, Fairview, Troutdale, and Wood Village. After you have fulfilled your initial lease, you may be able to transfer your voucher to anywhere in the United States, providing you are in good standing with Home Forward and your landlord.
  • You must find a rental unit and submit a Request for Tenancy Approval (RFTA) before your voucher expires. You may be eligible for a voucher extension, but it must be requested in writing and granted before the original expiration date.  If you don't, the voucher will be issued to someone else from the waiting list, and you will be required to re-apply when the waiting list opens again. 
  • If you or the new landlord do not agree on tenancy, or the selected unit does not pass Home Quality Standards inspection, you will be given back the un-expired time on your voucher to search for another unit.

Finding a Home

  • You may choose to use your voucher in your present home. This is called "leasing in place."
  • You may also search any listings for available apartments.
  • Remember that you will be signing a lease with the owner. Make sure that the place you find is in good condition and that you will be able to afford your portion of the rent.
  • Consider the neighborhood. Talk to the neighbors. Is it safe? What schools will your children be going to? Check out nearby shopping and access to public transportation.
  • If you select a unit built before 1978, it may contain lead. Read the brochure enclosed with the Section 8 orientation folder and follow the steps listed on the back to protect your family from lead.

Applying for an Apartment

  • Most landlords will require you to complete an application. Be sure you are prepared to complete the form by having the names, addresses, and phone numbers of your references with you. Many landlords will charge you a fee with the application to cover the expense of screening applicants.
  • The landlord may check with Home Forward to verify your current and prior addresses and landlords. If known, Home Forward is required to provide this information.
  • The landlord may charge you a deposit. The Section 8 program does not pay the deposit or limit the amount a landlord can charge.
  • Most landlords have established standards for accepting or denying an applicant. Standards may include things such as a minimum number of past landlord references, sufficient income to pay rent, good credit history, no felony convictions, no prior evictions, etc. If you believe that you have been denied housing for a reason other than a reasonable standard, you may be a victim of unlawful housing discrimination. The Section 8 orientation folder contains information about Fair Housing laws and a copy of HUD's Housing Discrimination Complaint form. For more information about Home Forward's Equal Housing Opportunity policy and links to download the complaint form in English or Spanish, click here.

Completing the Home Forward Approval Process

  • Once you have found your apartment and you and the landlord have agreed to enter into a lease, have your landlord complete the Request for Tenancy Approval form (RFTA) and the Lead Paint Disclosure form. Mail the completed forms to us at 135 SW Ash St., Portland, 97204, or turn them in at the Section 8 reception desk on the 1st floor at this address.  The landlord may fax completed forms to 503 802-8330 or email them to 
  • The completed paperwork will be evaluated for rent reasonableness and sent to Section 8's Inspection Team. An inspection will be scheduled with the landlord within three days. The landlord must be present at the inspection. If the new unit needs repairs, the landlord will be given a list of what needs to be done. The landlord must call for another inspection when the repairs are completed. You should not move into the unit until the inspection passes and the rent is agreed upon.  Please do not sign a lease until your unit has passed inspection.
  • After the unit passes the inspection, and the rent the landlord requests is approved, the Section 8 office will determine your portion of the rent and the portion we will pay and send a contract to your landlord for signature.  Once we receive the signed contract and a copy of the lease, Section 8 staff will enter the information into Home Forward's computer system.  Home Forward will not pay rent until the start date of the Housing Assistance Payments contract.  The start date usually is the day after the unit passes inspection.
  • Your landlord will receive the first check within two weeks. 

Following the Rules

  • The Statement of Family Obligations and the voucher contain the complete list of all the rules, obligations, and requirements you must follow to avoid losing your housing assistance. There is also a list of Home Forward requirements listed in the briefing packet.
  • Some examples of reasons that could cause you to lose your housing assistance include: failing to pay the tenant portion of the rent; damaging the unit or causing disturbances; engaging in drug-related or violent criminal activity; failing to report, in writing, any changes in household size; failing to report any income for any adult in the household; failing to abide by the terms of the lease, etc.  You may lose your voucher if you are evicted.  If you are evicted or receive an eviction or termination notice, you must provide Home Forward with a copy of the notice.
  • If Home Forward has evidence that you have violated your obligations, we may decide to terminate your housing assistance. If this happens you will be mailed a letter stating the reason(s) for the decision. You may then request an informal hearing regarding that decision.  Requests for informal hearings must be in writing.