There are many ways PHAs can make HCV programs work effectively for families and individuals who are homeless and/or have special needs.

Establish Preferences
PHAs can create preferences to help people who have been homeless and/or who have special needs reach the top of their waitlists. Some examples of preferences for people who can benefit from supportive housing include those for people who are homeless; people who are working with service providers; people who have had difficulty with housing stability; families that are involved with the child welfare system; young adults; and people being discharged from institutions. PHAs can set preferences for specific numbers of vouchers in their HCV program, and they can set a preference for households referred by service providers. Changing preferences requires a change to a PHA’s Administrative Plan. Preferences must be based on local housing needs and priorities as determined by generally accepted data sources. The Consolidated Plan for your PHA’s jurisdiction is an important source of data, as are your local Plan to End Homelessness and Opening Doors, the Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness.

Reduce Screening Criteria
PHAs that want to break down barriers for people who are stuck in homelessness can re-evaluate their screening criteria. It may be valuable for PHAs to review statutory and regulatory provisions that bar admission to persons with criminal histories versus those provisions that require PHAs to have policies in place regarding exclusions, versus others that simply give PHAs the discretion to exclude people with certain backgrounds. (See 24 CFR982.553 for more information.) PHAs may find it helpful to acknowledge those discretionary policies that may be thwarting other best efforts to house homeless people and consider how to better “screen in” this population. Exercising this discretion may be particularly worthwhile for prospective tenants who are working with a service provider and will benefit from the stability of housing to start or continue their rehabilitation.

It is important to note that the only lifetime bans under the HCV program are as follows:

  1. Individuals found to have manufactured or produced methamphetamine on the grounds of federally assisted housing.
  2. Sex offenders subject to a lifetime registration requirement under a State sex offender registration program.


PHAs are also required to prohibit admission in the following cases related to substance use and criminal activity, though in most cases mitigating circumstances can be taken into consideration.

  • If the applicant was evicted from federally assisted housing within the past three years for drug-related criminal activity. However, a PHA may admit if the evicted household member who engaged in criminal activity has successfully completed a supervised drug rehab program, or the circumstances leading to eviction no longer exist (e.g., the criminal household member has died or is imprisoned).
  • If any household member is currently engaged in illegal drug use.
  • If the PHA determines that a household member’s illegal drug use, pattern of illegal drug use, abuse of alcohol, or pattern of abuse of alcohol may threaten the health, safety, or right to peaceful enjoyment of the premises by other residents.

Many PHAs are surprised to learn that their own, more complicated screening processes are locally-imposed and not required by HUD. If your PHA has a policy with multiple layers of screening criteria beyond these requirements, it may have been established in an attempt to mitigate a perceived risk that people with criminal histories won’t succeed in housing. In fact, this is not the case. Studies have shown that individuals with a stable place to live upon release from correctional settings are less likely to be re-incarcerated. Click here for more information about supportive housing and re-entry.

Establish Flexible Intake and Briefing Schedules
Some PHAs are creating “office hours” for homeless households to meet with staff members instead of rigid appointment times. This provides flexibility to applicants and increases efficiency for PHAs. Serving people when they arrive means reducing time wasted on missed appointments.

Provide Space for Service Providers
In addition to office hours, PHAs can share office space with their service partners. If you work with someone from a service agency who often spends time at your office, it might be advantageous to you both for you to set up a cubicle or meeting room for that person. Having a service provider on-site can expedite the work your PHA is doing with your partner agency and provide an additional on-site resource for PHA staff, applicants and participants.


Go to the next section to learn about roles that service partners can play in addressing homelessness and creating supportive housing together.

Go back to the PHA Toolkit Homepage.

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