Millions of Families on Voucher and Public Housing Waiting Lists

A report by the Public and Affordable Housing Research Corporation (PAHRC) titled Housing Agency Waiting Lists and the Demand for Housing Assistance estimates there are approximately 1.6 million families on Public Housing waiting lists and more than 2.8 million families on Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) waiting lists.

PAHRC’s report is based on a 2012 national survey of waiting lists. The survey found that 48.4% of HCV waiting lists and 6.5% of public housing waiting lists were closed to new applicants and that 65% of closed HCV and 39% of closed public housing waiting lists had been closed for more than a year. PAHRC estimates that if these lists had remained open, there would be three times as many families on HCV waiting lists and almost 6% more families on waiting lists for public housing. This translates to a potential 9.5 million families waiting for HCVs and 2 million families waiting for public housing units.

In 41% of HCV programs and 13% of public housing programs, families had housing assistance wait times of longer than two years. HUD recommends that wait times should not exceed two years. There was significant variation in waiting times across public housing agencies (PHAs). Agencies that had a higher percentage of three-bedroom housing units, served larger families, and served a greater percentage of extremely low income families tended to have longer wait times. Larger families and extremely low income renters may need more time to position themselves to afford housing on their own, resulting in slower turnover and longer wait times for other families in need of assistance. PHAs in metropolitan areas and higher cost housing markets also tended to have longer wait times.

NLIHC is currently conducting a new survey of PHA waiting lists to update what we know from the 2012 national survey. The NLIHC survey asks about the current size, wait times, and open/closed status of waiting lists. The survey also asks about the composition of waiting lists by household type (elderly, families with children, people with disabilities) and income. A report will be published later this year.

The full PAHRC report is available at