Finding affordable housing in the U.S. is not easy, so understanding the basics of renting a home in the U.S. will help you in your search.


Types of Rental Housing

These are main types of rental housing you will find in the U.S.:

  • Apartment buildings of many sizes from 6-12 units even up to 100
  • Houses that are divided into two or more apartments (sometimes called duplexes, triplexes or multi-family houses)
  • Houses
  • Mobile homes
  • Shared housing in a house or apartment (a room with a shared kitchen, bath and sometimes living space)
  • Hotels, including ones with small kitchens and a sitting room

Types of housing available for rent will depend on the location. For instance, in big cities, you will mostly find apartments for rent and outside of cities you may find a mix of apartments and houses.


Information on Housing Rentals

When you rent, you pay an agreed amount to the owner or manager of the property. Most often you will sign a rental contract called a lease, and usually, rent is paid monthly. A lease guarantees that you can stay in your housing for an agreed amount of time (often one year) and for an agreed rent amount. Other rentals, like hotels are short term (you pay by the day, week or month). Short term rentals can be transitional housing while you are searching for longer term housing and may not offer or require a lease. However, for any rental housing, it is highly recommended to have either a lease or an agreement in writing. Visit this Help Center page for more information on leases:


Here are some of the different levels of costs for rental housing:

  • Market rate rentals are properties for which the owner can charge any amount – according to how much people are willing to pay – for an apartment or house. Market rate rents vary by location and are usually the most expensive type of rental.
  • Mixed income housing is in buildings that have some market rate apartments as well as apartments reserved for renters with lower-than-average household income lower for the location. This type of housing is limited and not available in every city or town even though it is desirable because the properties are often near stores, schools, clinics, and public transportation.
  • Public housing is affordable housing built and supported by federal and local government funding. In public housing, the rent is based on a fixed percentage of household income. There is always a waiting list for public housing, which usually makes it inaccessible to refugees and other newcomers.
  • Section 8 housing, which is known as the Housing Choice Voucher Program, is also subsidized by U.S. federal government, which pays a rental property owner to keep the housing affordable. This housing is limited to people who apply and qualify for subsidized rent.

With this basic information on types of rental housing that may be available in your city or town, you can give your resettlement agency or case worker the following information to help in your search and in completing housing or lease applications:

  • What is my current household income? This is what all family members who are working for pay contribute to each month’s income. This total amount will answer the question, “What rent can I afford?” You should not pay more than 50% of your household’s monthly income after taxes for rent, and 30%-35% is better.
  • What is the minimum number of bedrooms I need for the number of people living in the apartment? In the U.S., housing is listed by the number of bedrooms (studio apartments have no bedrooms, only a room that includes a kitchen and living space and can be an affordable option for individuals or couples). You must also understand if there is a limit to how many people are permitted by local laws to live in a certain size space.
  • What public transportation is available nearby? Will I need a car?
  • In which neighborhood should I search? Will I feel safe and secure in the locations that I am looking?

Remember, there is a shortage of affordable housing in the U.S. When looking for rental housing, it is important to be realistic and persistent. Use all the help you can get from a resettlement agency, community group or other newcomers. Do not get discouraged!


Disclaimer: This article was created in partnership with Refugee Housing Solutions. Refugee Housing Solutions is a project of Church World Service under an agreement paid for by the U.S. Department of State.