Steps to Find Affordable Housing

Would you like a hard copy of this article?  Click here to download “Steps to Find Affordable Housing” from the Affordable Housing Guidebook.

For more guidance on finding housing, call 2-1-1 for information and referrals.


Finding a great, affordable place to live can be a challenge; the tips below can help. EBHO’s member organizations are dedicated to providing permanently affordable, high-quality housing. Call 2-1-1 or the organizations listed on our housing developers and service providers pages for more information.

Click below to jump to each section , or scroll down to read the whole article.

1. Learn about different types of affordable housing
2. Get your finances and credit ready
3. Check to see if your income qualifies
4. Identify your housing needs and preferences
5. Contact non-profit developers and apply

Step 1: Learn about different types of affordable housing

While most housing is found in the private market, some affordable homes are operated and funded by public agencies or non-profits to  serve lower-income households.

Non-profit housing Non-profit affordable housing developments like those featured on pages 24-25 of our Affordable Housing Guidebook offer well-designed and professionally-managed homes with varying eligibility requirements. Call the organizations listed here or visit their websites.

Section 8 The Housing Choice Voucher Program—better known as Section 8—is a federally-funded program that closes the gap between market rent and what you can afford. While federal budget cuts have made it difficult to obtain a new Section 8 voucher, housing authorities do periodically open their waitlists. Contact your housing authority listed on page 25 of our Affordable Housing Guidebook for more information.

Public Housing Depending on your income, public housing may be an option for you. Contact your local public housing authority, listed at the bottom of this page.

Affordable Homeownership If you’re thinking about buying a home, contact the organizations on page 25 about homebuyer assistance and education programs. Community Land Trusts may also offer an affordable homeownership option. If you’re struggling with mortgage payments, see the financial and foreclosure counseling resources found here.

Tenants’ Rights and Other Housing Assistance If you need help with a security deposit, rent payment, or emergency housing or shelter, or are experiencing tenant/landlord issues, contact the legal. financial and housing rights organizations found on this page. Fair housing laws protect you from discrimination, and laws protect renters and homeowners from unfair evictions or foreclosures. Contact the organizations on page 25 or call 211 for guidance and further referrals.

Public housing Many public housing developments have been renovated in recent years. Public housing has certain income and residency restrictions; contact your local housing authority for information. Listings can be found at the bottom of this page.

Affordable homeownership If you’re thinking about buying a home, contact the organizations on page 25 about homebuyer assistance and education programs. Community Land Trusts may also offer an affordable homeownership option. If you’re struggling with mortgage payments, contact the financial and foreclosure counseling resources listed here.

Step 2: Get your finances and credit ready

Credit Check Obtain your credit report early, and be prepared to tell prospective landlords about steps you’ve taken to address any problems. Certain landlords will accept a low credit rating if you have good references and can demonstrate the ability to pay through proof of employment, a higher security deposit, or a co-signer. If you need help, contact a credit counseling agency. They can advise you on how to remedy any problems.

Income and Budgeting 

Your housing costs should equal no more than one-third of your income. Agencies like this one can help you create a financial plan so you can afford transportation, childcare, health care and other expenses along with rent or mortgage payments. They can also assist with a savings plan for a security deposit.

The security deposit

If the security deposit is a challenge, there are programs that can help you pay move-in costs. Some landlords are also willing to accept a deposit in installments.

Savings and budgeting
Make sure that you can afford transportation, childcare, health care and other costs along with rent. The agencies on our resources page can help you with managing your finances and creating a savings plan.

Step 3: Check to see if your income qualifies

Affordable housing serves people of all backgrounds. To be eligible, your income must fall within a certain range, depending on the property (see chart #1 here for a list of income ranges). If you have a Section 8 voucher, ask if the property will accept it, or contact your Housing Authority, listed at the bottom of this page, for a list of landlords that will.

Step 4: Identify your housing needs and preferences

Think about location and amenities,but also be flexible and consider several cities and types of housing to increase your chances of finding housing. Non-profit and public housing is often targeted to certain populations:

  • Senior: Generally, you or your spouse/partner must be at least 62 or older. Children are usually not allowed, but live-in aides may be.
  • Special Needs: You must have a documented mental, physical or developmental disability
  • Family: You may be a single parent with children, a two-parent family with or without children, or two or more individuals
  • Transitional or supportive: Housing for people emerging from homelessness or in need of special services.

Housing providers cannot discriminate based on race, ethnicity, gender, national origin or family status. However, you may face challenges qualifying for federally-funded housing if you are undocumented or if you have a certain type of criminal record. Housing providers can inform you about your eligibility. 

Step 5: Contact non-profit developers and apply

Contact many organizations and agencies to increase your chances of finding an affordable home.

  • Check the websites of non-profit developers often—see page 24.
  • If you call, ask for the names and phone numbers of properties with open waitlists.
  • Use the online search tool One Home Bay Area to find affordable housing openings all over the Bay Area.
  • For properties with openings, visit the website or call to request an application or to be added to the waitlist. Many properties offer workshops to help fill out applications correctly. Be prepared to provide financial and family information and your housing history. Complete and submit applications by the deadline.
  • For properties under construction ,ask to be added to the interest list.
  • Once you’ve submitted your applications or joined a waitlist, let each property know if you move or change your phone number. Ask about the best way to keep in contact.

By Laneisha Whitfield, EBHO

Apply to as many affordable housing properties as you can. Be persistent, don’t get discouraged, and advocate for more affordable housing in your community!