What is Section 8 ?

Section 8 of the United States Housing Act of 1937 (often simply known as Section 8), is the payment of rental housing assistance to private landlords on behalf of approximately 3.1 million low-income households. It operates through several programs, the largest of which, the Housing Choice Voucher program, pays a large portion of the rents and utilities of about 2.1 million households. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development manages the Section 8 programs.

The Housing Choice Voucher Program provides “tenant-based” rental assistance, so an assisted tenant can move with assistance from one unit of at least minimum housing quality to another. Section 8 also authorizes a variety of “project-based” rental assistance programs, under which the owner reserves some or all of the units in a building for low-income tenants, in return for a Federal government guarantee to make up the difference between the tenant’s contribution and the rent specified in the owner’s contract with the government.

The United State Department of Housing and Urban Development and Veterans Administration have a special Section 8 program called VASH (Veterans Administration Supported Housing), or HUD-VASH, which gives out a certain number of Section 8 vouchers to eligible homeless and otherwise vulnerable US armed forces veterans.

History : Federal housing assistance programs started during the Great Depression to address the country’s housing crisis. In the 1960s and 1970s, the federal government created Subsidy programs to increase the production of low-income housing and to help families pay their rent.

Currently, the main Section 8 program involves the voucher program. A voucher may be either “project-based” (where its use is limited to a specific apartment complex; Public Housing Agencies (PHA) may reserve up to 20% of its vouchers as such) or “tenant-based” (where the tenant is free to choose a unit in the private sector, is not limited to specific complexes, and may reside anywhere in the United States, including Puerto Rico.

Applicants may apply for a Section 8 housing voucher at any county or city housing authority office in their state, and use it anywhere statewide once they receive it. However, priority for vouchers is often reserved for those who reside in the service area of that housing authority.

In many localities, the PHA waiting lists for Section 8 vouchers may be thousands of families long, waits of three to six years to access vouchers is common, and many lists are closed to new applicants. When wait lists are briefly opened (often for just five days), which may occur as little as once every seven years, there can be as many as 100,000 applicants for 10,000 spots on the waitlist, with spots being awarded on the basis of weighted or non-weighted lotteries, with priority sometimes given to local residents, the disabled, veterans, and the elderly. There is no guarantee that anyone will ever receive a spot on the waiting list.

Families who participate in the program must abide by a series of rules and regulations, often referred to as “family obligations,” in order to maintain their voucher, including accurately reporting to the PHA all changes in household income and/or family composition so the amount of their subsidy (and the applicable rental unit size limitation) can be updated accordingly.


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