HUD Clarifies Definition of 'Independent Student' for Section 8 Eligibility
HUD recently published a notice in the Federal Register updating the list of items that public housing agencies and owners and managers of assisted sites are required to verify to determine whether a student’s income alone should be used to determine eligibility for Section 8 assistance. The updated items make HUD’s definition of “independent student” consistent with that used by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) since 2007.
The guidance and HUD’s rule focus on a student under the age of 24 who meets the additional expanded definition of an independent student and who is not residing in a Section 8 assisted unit with his or her parents, but who is individually seeking to reside in a Section 8 assisted unit. Neither the rule nor this guidance applies to students residing with their parents in a Section 8 assisted unit or who reside with parents who are applying to receive Section 8 assistance.
In 2005, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) inserted language in the FY 2006 HUD appropriations bill that closed loopholes allowing misuse by college athletes living in Section 8-assisted housing. These students received housing stipends as part of their scholarships and paid little or no rent. Congress approved that provision, and HUD published a final rule on Dec. 30, 2005, implementing it. The rule prohibits Section 8 assistance to an individual who is enrolled at an institution of higher education (that is, students), is under the age of 24, is not a veteran, is unmarried, does not have a dependent child, and is individually ineligible for Section 8 assistance or has parents who are, individually or jointly, ineligible on the basis of income to receive assistance
On April 10, 2006, HUD issued supplementary guidance with certain exceptions to the requirement that the eligibility of a student seeking Section 8 assistance would be determined based on income eligibility for the assistance by both the student and the student’s parents. HUD’s 2006 supplementary guidance explained that a student, under the age of 24 who meets the additional criteria, may still be income eligible for assistance in circumstances where the student can demonstrate independence from parents, where the student can demonstrate the absence of parents, or where an examination of the student’s parents’ income may not be relevant.
HUD also adopted in Appendix A of the 2006 supplementary guidance ED’s definition of ‘‘independent student” from the Higher Education Act (HEA). ED’s definition provided that an ‘‘independent student’’ is a student who meets one or more of the following criteria: (1) is at least 24 years old by Dec. 31 of the award year for which aid is sought; (2) is an orphan or a ward of the court through the age of 18; (3) is a veteran of the United States Armed Forces; (4) has legal dependents other than a spouse (for example, dependent children or an elderly dependent parent); (5) is a graduate or professional student; or (6) is married.
In 2007, the HEA definition was amended and expanded in Section 604 of the College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007. The College Cost Reduction and Access Act added new criteria to the definition of ‘‘independent student’’ to include broadening the category of students who were orphans or wards of the court at age 18 to include those who were orphans, in foster care, or were wards of the court at any time when the individual was 13 years of age or older; it added those students who are or were emancipated or in legal guardianship; and added unaccompanied youths who are homeless or who are at risk of homelessness. HUD’s Federal Register notice formally adopts ED’s 2007 additions.
Definition of “Independent Student”
HUD updated the definitions of “independent student” to include two new eligibility criteria in addition to the ones previously published describing qualified students, enrolled in an institute of higher education. A student who is otherwise eligible and meets screening requirements is eligible for assistance if the student meets the criteria indicated below. Specifically, ED’s definition of “independent student,” which now applies is:
- The individual is 24 years of age or older by Dec. 31 of the award year;
- The individual is an orphan, in foster care, or a ward of the court, or was an orphan, in foster care, or a ward of the court at any time when the individual was 13 years of age of older;
- The individual is, or was immediately prior to attaining the age of majority, an emancipated minor or in legal guardianship as determined by a court of competent jurisdiction in the individual’s state of legal residence;
- The individual is a veteran of the Armed Forces of the United States or is currently serving on active duty in the Armed Forces for other than training purposes;
- The individual is a graduate or professional student;
- The individual is a married individual;
- The individual has legal dependents other than a spouse;
- The individual has been verified during the school year in which the application is submitted as either an unaccompanied youth who is a homeless child or youth or as unaccompanied, at risk of homelessness, and self-supporting, by a local educational agency homeless liaison, designated pursuant to the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act; the director of a program funded under the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act or a designee of the director; the director of a program funded under subtitle B of Title IV of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (relating to emergency shelter grants) or a designee of the director; or a financial aid administrator; or the individual is a student for whom a financial aid administrator makes a documented determination of independence by reason of other unusual circumstances.
Student’s Independence Verification Requirements
With the notice, HUD is also amending the Student’s Independence Verification Requirements set out in the 2006 supplementary guidance. These requirements may create barriers for vulnerable youth (that is, unaccompanied homeless youth, at risk of being homeless youth, and youth who have aged out of the foster system), to receive assistance and continue their education, as many of these youth are not connected to their parents or caregivers to obtain the information necessary to show they are ‘‘independent’’ under HUD’s prior guidance. Therefore, HUD is clarifying that the tax return requirement applies to providing only the student’s tax returns and not that of the student’s parents.
The new Student’s Independence Verification Requirements call upon PHAs, owners, and managers of Section 8 assistance to verify a student’s independence from his or her parents to determine that the student’s parents’ income is not relevant for determining the student’s eligibility for assistance by doing all of the following:
- Reviewing and verifying previous address information to determine evidence of a separate household or verifying the student meets ED’s definition of ‘‘independent student’’;
- Reviewing a student’s prior year income tax returns to verify the student is independent or verifying the student meets ED’s definition of ‘‘independent student’’; and
- Verifying income provided by a parent by requiring a written certification from the individual providing the support. Certification is also required if the parent is providing no support to the student. Financial assistance that is provided by persons not living in the unit is part of annual income. It’s important to note that a verification of student’s independence is not required if the student meets the definition of “vulnerable youth.”