What’s the Difference Between Public Housing and “Section 8” Housing?

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has two kinds of public housing programs. The programs provide rental housing for families, older adults, and people with disabilities, who have low incomes. Local public housing authorities (PHAs) run both programs.

Public Housing

The first program, low rent public housing, may be apartments in multi-family buildings, or single-family homes. There are about 1.2 million households living in public housing throughout the country. HUD gives federal aid to local PHAs to develop and manage public housing. People with low incomes apply for public housing at the PHA. If eligible, they pay about 30 percent of their income for rent.

Housing Choice Voucher (Section 8)

The Housing Choice Voucher Program, known as Section 8, helps people with low incomes pay for private rental housing. They apply for a Housing Choice voucher at the local PHA. But they must find qualified housing to rent. This can include apartments in multi-family buildings or single-family homes. With the voucher, they pay about 30 percent of their income for rent. The PHAs pay subsidies to the landlords to cover the full market value of the rental housing.


People can find and apply for public housing through their Local Public Housing Authority.


They can get more help at their Housing and Urban Development Field Office (HUD):

Des Moines Field Office

210 Walnut Street

Room 937

Des Moines, IA 50309-2155

Phone: (515) 284-4512

Email: IA_Webmanager@hud.gov

Online: Website


Use the HUD Resource Locator map to find local public housing properties:

  • First, click on the “Find Affordable Elderly and Special Needs Housing” icon.
  • Next, zoom in on the map to find nearby public housing.


The Iowa Compass tip sheet, Finding Accessible Housing, can help find landlords who have accessible housing for people with disabilities, and accept Housing Choice vouchers. Also, see the information Iowa Compass lists for Public Housing and the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program.