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Demystifying the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for Newcomers

This blog post discusses public housing programs, how newcomers can reach out to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for housing support, and where to look for housing eligibility requirements.  

Addressing Common Misconceptions About HUD

Federal agencies can be intimidating. Jargon and misconceptions can leave many unsure about how to connect to agencies and access resources. For refugees and other newcomers, an unfamiliarity with the U.S. government entities, laws, and procedures can compound confusion and increase hesitancy.

Refugee Housing Solutions wants to remove these barriers and debunk some of the most pervasive narratives: public housing is uninhabitable or decaying, only exists in the form of austere building complexes, is exclusively for U.S. citizens, and is inaccessible behind a wall of bureaucracy.

Public housing has rigorous health and safety standards.

Across the board, HUD housing is required by law to be clean, safe, and affordable. HUD has set forth basic housing quality standards (HQS) to ensure that all units, regardless of type, meet health and safety standards.

The department determines housing quality based on the following acceptability criteria: sanitary facilities, food preparation and refuse disposal, space and security, thermal environment, illumination and electricity, structure and materials, interior air quality, water supply, lead-based paint safety standards, accessibility, and smoke detectors.

Housing quality standards are assessed annually, but inspections can be performed at any point “when a tenant, owner, or member of the public complains about the condition of a housing choice voucher housing unit,” according to HQS frequently asked questions.

Public housing comes in many shapes and sizes.

When folks think of public housing, large, multi-unit complexes tend to come to mind. But not all HUD housing fits that model; it varies according to a community’s specific needs and available resources. HUD empowers local jurisdictions to ensure affordable housing stock is adequate and appropriate for each community. From townhomes to large apartment blocks to individual units, HUD affordable housing takes many forms. It also varies by length of stay: public housing can be used in either the short- or long-term, which allows tenants to continue to work jobs, advance their careers, and pivot to other housing situations as they see fit in their own lives.

HUD is committed to housing refugees and other newcomers.

Over the past year — with the inception of Operation Allies Welcome (OAW) — HUD has been collaborating with State Refugee Coordinators to connect resettlement agencies and housing providers. The agency has also improved language accessibility by increasing access to interpreters and has reached out to landlords to discuss the benefits of renting to newcomers.

“HUD resources for refugee and newcomer communities are already out there,” said Michael Horvath, Field Office Director for the HUD Pittsburgh Field Office. “It’s just a matter of amplification.”

Even as Operation Allies Welcome nears completion, HUD will continue to be involved with Afghan newcomer communities by “fielding questions from local refugee support agencies, making community connections, and participating in federal interagency working groups with the goal of identifying creative, sustainable, and affordable housing solutions,” according to the agency’s website.

HUD Counseling for Newcomers

Find a HUD-Approved Housing Counseling Agency

HUD counselors can coach clients on a wide variety of topics related to housing, including tenants’ rights, tools to increase credit score, creating a budget, securing affordable housing, and applying for public assistance. With this tool, it’s easy to find a local counselor.

Reach Out to Your Local HUD Field Office and Public Housing Agency

Horvath urges resettlement practitioners to connect with both their local HUD field office and local public housing agency. “HUD is always looking to close gaps in communication between federal agencies and local groups,” said Horvath, “so outreach is always appreciated, and actually, mutually beneficial.”

You can find your local HUD field office with the HUD Resource Locator and can access information for your local public housing agency here. Refugee service providers should begin by reaching out with a phone call, but because these offices are often stretched thin, “following up with an email with specific questions is always helpful,” said Horvath.

Public Housing Resources for Newcomers

HUD offers a variety of programs and resources to serve specific populations’ needs. Eligible newcomers have the ability to apply to the listed resources below (subject to availability; approval is not guaranteed).

The programs listed below provide rental assistance and low-rent housing to low- and moderate-income individuals and families:

These HUD programs fund local governments, agencies, and nonprofits who serve housing interests. They are available to organizations who serve people regardless of immigration status:

For information on noncitizen eligibility for federal housing programs, see:

  • The R46462 report discusses the range of federal housing programs and immigration statuses of noncitizens, and it overviews relevant noncitizen eligibility.
  • Refugee and Parolee Housing Assistance FAQ is also a valuable resource to folks looking to explore eligibility criteria for specific programs.