Other Eligibility Requirements

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed December 2009

Does my family have to be a certain size to live in public or subsidized housing?

Generally, any size family is eligible for public and subsidized housing. A household can be defined as a single person, two or more adults living together, or one or more adults living with children.8

The size and type of your family will become important when it comes to placing you on waiting lists, since many housing authorities maintain waiting lists for available apartments according to bedroom size. In addition, in housing for elders and people with disabilities, there are usually only studio or one-bedroom apartments. Therefore, if you have a larger family, you will not be eligible for any development that has only one bedroom units on site, and won’t be allowed to be placed on that waiting list.

If I am an immigrant, am I eligible for public or subsidized housing?

In general, you do not always have to be a United States citizen to apply for public or subsidized housing. Legal permanent residents and many other immigrants can apply for all types of government housing.

State public housing programs do not require information about immigration status or citizenship at all.9  For federal public housing, at least one member of your family must be a U.S. citizen or have a certain type of legal immigration status.10  If some members of your family are not U.S. citizens or do not have the proper immigration status, you can still apply for federal elderly/disabled public housing, but you will not get full assistance and your rent will be higher.11  You will not be eligible for most federal housing programs if your entire family is undocumented. For more information, see Immigrants and Housing.


8 Sometimes, custody issues can make family size difficult to determine. However, legal guardianship may not always be required in a situation where a family member is taking care of children that are not their biological children. Ortega v. Hous. Auth’y of the City of Brownsville, 572 F. Supp. 2d 829 (S.D. Tex. 2008) (Court held that housing authority’s requirement that Section 8 applicants have legal guardianship of any minors living in their household violated the Fair Housing Act.)

9 Weeks v. Waltham Housing Authority, No. 76-402-F (D. Mass. Aug. 2, 1977). Case available from Massachusetts Law Reform Institute.

10 42 U.S.C. § 1436a; 24 C.F.R. § 5.506.

11 24 C.F.R. §§ 5.506(b)(2), 5.516, 5.518, and 5.520.

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