How to Determine Household Size for Income Eligibility

Correctly determining the size of each household at your site is essential because the income limits you must use to check household eligibility are organized by household size. Although determining a household’s size sounds straightforward, it’s not as simple as counting the number of people who occupy a unit.

HUD Handbook 4350.3 spells out the rules you must follow for determining household size for income eligibility [Handbook 4350.3, par. 3-6(E)]. These rules say to exclude certain occupants as household members. And they even require you to count certain people who aren’t occupants as household members. We’ll give you the rundown on whom you must count—and whom you mustn’t count—as members of your assisted households. This way, you can use the correct income limits and avoid costly certification mistakes.

Don’t Risk Using Wrong Income Limits

The income limits you must use to certify and recertify your low-income households are set at a percentage of area median gross income (AMGI) adjusted for household size. The percentage of AMGI that applies to your site depends on your type of site. To see which income limits apply to your site, see Handbook 4350.3.3, figs. 3–2 and 3–3.

Say, for instance, that you run a site that uses the 50 percent limits. You would look at the row labeled “very low-income,” which reflects 50 percent of AMGI. You would then move along the row until you reach the column for the appropriate household size (for instance, a four-person household). That figure is the correct income limit to use for determining the eligibility of a four-person household at your site.

If you use the four-person income limit for a household that has three members, you might accept unqualified households because the limit you’re using to determine eligibility is too high. And if you use the four-person income limit for a household that actually has five members, you might make your job that much harder by turning away qualified households.

Editor’s Note: HUD recently released Fiscal Year 2018 Income Limits that became effective on April 1. The new income limits can be found at  

Who’s Part of the Household?

According to HUD, you must count:

People who live in unit. HUD says that, as a general rule, you must include “all persons living in the unit” when determining household size for establishing income eligibility [Handbook 4350.3, par. 3-6(E)(3)]. However, don’t count the following people even if they live in the unit:

> Live-in aides. Although live-in aides normally occupy a unit full time, don’t count them as part of a household. Live-in aides live with elderly or disabled household members to provide care. They’re allowed to occupy the unit as long as:

  • They’re essential to the care and well-being of a household member;
  • They’re not obligated for the support of the member; and
  • Their only reason for living in the unit is to provide necessary supportive services.

If someone called an “aide” doesn’t meet this three-part test, the person doesn’t qualify as a live-in aide and can’t live in the unit without being counted as a household member.

> Guests. Don’t include these people when determining household size. According to the Handbook, a guest is a person temporarily staying in a unit with the consent of the tenant or another member of the household who has express or implied authority to consent on behalf of the tenant [24 CFR 5.100]. A guest is a temporary visitor of the tenant’s and should not be confused with an unauthorized occupant. Additionally, a guest is not a party to the lease agreement [Handbook 4350.3, Glossary].

Certain people who don’t live in unit. You must count certain people as part of a household who aren’t living in the unit. These are:

> Children temporarily in foster homes. If a child is temporarily absent because she was placed in a foster home, she still counts as a household member [Handbook 4350.3, par. 3-6(E)(4)(a)].

> Children in joint custody who spend most of the time in the unit. If a child is in a joint custody arrangement, count the child as a household member if he spends 50 percent or more of his time living in the unit [Handbook 4350.3, par. 3-6(E)(4)(b)].

> Children away at school. Children who go away to school but return to the unit during breaks count as household members [Handbook 4350.3, par. 3-6(E)(4)(c)].

> Unborn children. If an applicant or household member is pregnant, count her unborn child as a household member [Handbook 4350.3, par. 3-6(E)(4)(d)].

> Children who are being adopted. If a household is in the process of adopting a child, count that child as a household member [Handbook 4350.3, par. 3-6(E)(4)(e)].

> Household members in hospital, rehab, or nursing home. If a household member is temporarily confined to a hospital or a rehabilitation facility, continue to count that person as a member [Handbook 4350.3, par. 3-6(E)(4)(g)]. If the member gets permanently confined to a hospital or nursing home, the household must decide whether you should continue counting that person as a member [Handbook 4350.3, par. 3-6(E)(4)(h)].

> Other household members who you believe are temporarily absent. If you learn that a household member will temporarily live away from her unit, continue to count her as a member [Handbook 4350.3, par. 3-6(E)(4)(f)]. This often happens when a household member’s job or role in the armed forces requires her to leave.