Public Benefits: Housing Choice Vouchers and Public Housing


By: Montana Legal Services Association (MLSA)

Information about the Housing Choice Vouchers (HCV) program and Public Housing.
Resource Information

What is Public Housing and how do I apply?

Public housing is a federal housing program established to provide decent and safe rental housing for eligible low-income families, the elderly, and persons with disabilities. Public housing comes in all sizes and types, from single-family houses to apartment buildings. If you live in public housing, you live in a building managed by the local housing authority. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provides federal funding to the local housing authorities that manage the housing.

In public housing, you would pay 30% of your adjusted monthly income for rent.

To apply for public housing, contact your local housing authority

What is the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program and how do I apply?

The Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program (also called “Section 8”)  is a federal housing program, totally separate from Public Housing.  The HCV program provides low-income households with a voucher that allows the household to choose and lease a rental in the private market. If you have a voucher, you find your own housing on the private rental market. Your rental could be a single-family home, an apartment, or other rental.  With a voucher, you do not have to rent housing that is owned or managed by the housing authority, as is required with public housing.

When you receive a voucher, you may be able to use the voucher at your current rental. Your chosen rental must be inspected, and must meet minimum standards of health and safety.

In the voucher program, your share of the rent is based on your household’s monthly income. Generally, you will pay 30% of your adjusted monthly income for rent.  The government will pay the remainder of the monthly rent directly to the landlord. 

To apply for a housing choice voucher in your local area, contact your local housing authority. To apply for the statewide housing voucher, go to the Montana Housing website.

What is the difference between Public Housing and Housing Choice Vouchers?

The voucher program (HCV) gives you more choice in deciding where to live. You are not limited to housing that is owned or managed by the local housing authority, as you are with Public Housing. With an HCV, you can rent from any landlord on the private rental market who agrees to accept your voucher, as long as the rental passes inspection.

The HCV program and Public Housing each has its own wait list.  You can be on both waiting lists at the same time.  It’s a good idea to apply for both, if you have limited income and want to get into housing where your monthly rent obligation would be based on your household income.

Who is eligible for these programs?

To be eligible for Public Housing your household income must be at or below 80% of your county's Average Median Income (AMI). To be eligible for the HCV program, your household income must be at or below 50% of your county's AMI. For example, in 2024, Lewis and Clark County's AMI for a family of four was $90,000. This means that a family of four's income in Lewis and Clark County must fall below $79,150 to qualify for Public Housing and below $49,450 to qualify for the Housing Choice Voucher program.

You must be a U.S. citizen, or have eligible immigrant status.

If my application for Public Housing or for a Housing Choice Voucher is denied, can I appeal?

Yes. If you believe that the denial is unlawful, you can appeal to the housing program that made the denial.  Usually there is a very short deadline to appeal, so do not delay.  If you want to apply for free legal assistance with your appeal, apply for help from Montana Legal Services Association.

What other housing programs does Montana have for renters with limited incomes, besides Public Housing and Housing Choice Vouchers?

To find out, visit the Montana Housing website

Apply to Montana Legal Services for legal assistance:

Apply online or call (800) 666-6899, Tuesday- Thursday, 9am to 1pm. 

Find more resources using our interactive Legal Guide.
Last Updated

Last review and update: