housing

housing

[hou-zing]
housing, in general, living accommodations available for the inhabitants of a community. Throughout the 19th cent., with the advent of the Industrial Revolution, housing as a problem worsened as urban populations expanded. The crowding of cities and factory towns by workers led not only to severe housing shortages but also to the deterioration of existing housing and the growth of slums. The problem was aggravated by the erection of substandard housing for workers and by speculators seeking high profits.

Reforms in Great Britain

Inadequate housing for the increasing urban population led, in the mid-19th cent. in Great Britain, to the development of a reform movement. Humanitarian and philanthropic groups first took up the cause of workers' housing. The Society for Improving the Dwellings of the Labouring Classes was established in 1845 and was followed by similar organizations dedicated to the building of low-rent dwellings. Ultimately, public opinion encouraged Parliament to pass (1851) the Shaftesbury Acts (the Labouring Classes Lodging Houses Acts). They provided for the construction of lodging houses according to certain minimum standards.

Slum clearance began with the Torrens Act of 1868, which provided for the demolition or improvement of unsanitary dwellings. After the turn of the century much was done in Great Britain toward eliminating slums and constructing model tenements; the garden city was one solution offered to the housing problem. The first Housing and Town Planning Act in 1909 granted local governments the power to oversee housing development. The large-scale destruction of housing during World War II resulted in severe shortages after 1945; between 1945 and 1970 about 7 million new dwellings were built in Great Britain.

Reforms in the United States

In the United States, housing problems—in particular the growth of slums—became acute during the 19th cent. in the cities of the eastern seaboard and in the larger Midwestern cities. A leading cause was the heavy immigration from Europe that began in the middle of the 19th cent. and reached a peak at the turn of the century. The first housing law (the 1867 New York City tenement house law) was revised in 1879 to prohibit windowless rooms. The findings of a tenement house commission resulted in a new law in 1901, requiring better provision for light and ventilation, fire protection, and sanitation. Most U.S. city and state housing laws in the following years were based on those of New York City.

Until World War I there was no government housing in the United States. Then temporary dwellings were put up for defense workers. The U.S. government lapsed into almost complete inaction with regard to building housing until the advent of the New Deal. The National Housing Act (1934) created the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) to undertake a nationwide system of home loan insurance. It also established, by means of mortgage insurance regulation, minimum standards for construction, for design, and for location.

Low-cost housing projects, including farm-family homes sponsored by the Resettlement Administration, were coordinated in 1937 under the U.S. Housing Authority, which financed urban low-rent and slum clearance developments by making loans at low interest rates. Such loans were later extended to rural housing. The Lanham Act (1940) authorized federal operation of a large-scale housing program for defense workers.

To unify the many federal housing agencies, President Roosevelt created (1942) the National Housing Agency, which included the Federal Public Housing Authority, the Federal Home Loan Bank Administration, and the FHA. But the total wartime construction of permanent homes was far below peacetime levels, while the demand for housing rose sharply with a high marriage rate, migration from farms to cities, greater buying power, and later the return of veterans. Complicated by building codes, union practices, and labor and material shortages, the housing deficiency remained serious after the war, and federal rent controls continued for some time.

A national housing policy began to emerge when Congress passed the Housing Acts of 1949 and 1954, aimed at easing the housing shortage and eliminating slums; their goal was a decent home for every family. The Housing and Urban Development Act of 1965 created a separate cabinet-level Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). In 1966 the Model Cities Act coordinated government assistance to selected low-income areas of cities.

Housing since then often has been caught up in debate over rent controls, homelessness, the failure of savings and loan associations, and the buying and selling of political influence by government administrators and building developers. From 1980 to 1987, 2.5 million low-cost housing units were lost, and the federal government reduced its subsidies for construction by 60%. In response, some private groups like Habitat for Humanity have tried to help individuals buy and renovate low-cost housing. Housing advocates have argued for public housing reform, including controls on speculation and on rent (about 36% of occupied U.S. housing units are rentals).

Housing Problems in Other Countries

After World War II, the countries of continental Europe faced acute housing shortages. Most postwar efforts were directed at rebuilding major industries, and house construction suffered as a result. However, once the economies were stable, attention turned to housing. In most countries of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, urban housing shortages are today particularly severe as a result of population increases, rapid urbanization, and the migration from rural areas to cities. It is estimated that in Latin America alone, four or five million families live in substandard urban dwellings. The depressed economies and social inequities of many governments have worked against development of adequate housing programs.

Bibliography

See J. Jacobs, Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961); P. Wendt, Housing Policy: Search for Solutions, a Comparison of the United Kingdom, Sweden, West Germany, and the United States since World War II (1962); J. B. Cullingworth, Housing and Labour Mobility (1969); R. W. Bolling, Housing Development and Urban Planning (1970); M. Safdie, Beyond Habitat (1970); R. Goodman, After the Planners (1971); M. Pawley, Architecture versus Housing (1971); D. R. Mandelstam and R. Montgomery, Housing in America (1973); O. Newman, Defensible Space: Crime Prevention Through Urban Design (1973); C. Hartman, Housing Issues of the 1990s (1989); M. Wolkoff, Housing New York (1991).

This article covers the HUD subsidized housing program. For other meanings of the term Section 8, see Section 8.

The Housing Choice Voucher Program is a type of Federal assistance provided by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) dedicated to sponsoring subsidized housing for low-income families and individuals. It is more commonly known as Section 8, in reference to the portion of the U.S. Housing Act of 1937 under which the original subsidy program was authorized.

History

Federal housing assistance programs began 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. In 1961, the Section 23 Leased Housing Program amended the U.S. Housing Act. This subsidy program, the predecessor to the modern program, was not a pure housing allowance program. Housing authorities selected eligible families from their waiting list, placed them in housing from a master list of available units, and determined the rent that tenants would have to pay. The housing authority would then sign a lease with the private landlord and pay the difference between the tenant’s rent and the market rate for the same size unit. In the agreement with the private landlord, housing authorities agreed to perform regular building maintenance and leasing functions for Section 23 tenants, and annually reviewed the tenant’s income for program eligibility and rent calculations.

In the 1970s, when studies showed that the low income housing crisis was no longer substandard housing, but the high percentage of income spent on housing, Congress passed the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974, further amending the U.S. Housing Act of 1937 to create the Section 8 Program. In the Section 8 Program, tenants pay about 30 percent of their income for rent, while the rest of the rent is paid with federal money.

The Section 8 program initially had three subprograms — New Construction, Substantial Rehabilitation, and Existing Housing Certificate programs. The Moderate Rehabilitation Program was added in 1978, the Voucher Program in 1983, and the Project-based Certificate program in 1991. The numbers of units a local housing authority can subsidize under its Section 8 programs is determined by Congressional funding. Since its inception, some Section 8 programs have been phased out and new ones created, although Congress has always renewed existing subsidies.

Summary of the program

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 Authorities (PHA's) may reserve up to 25% 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 or Puerto Rico where a PHA operates a Section 8 program, though in practice such portability is very difficult).

Under the voucher program, individuals or families with a voucher find and lease a unit (either within a specified complex or in the private sector) and pay a portion of the rent (based on income, but generally no more than 30% of the family's income). The PHA pays the landlord the remainder of the rent, subject to a cap referred to as "Fair Market Rent" (FMR) which is determined by HUD. FMR is determined by several factors, including:

  • the geographic area (city or county) where the unit is located (generally, a unit in a metropolitan area will have a higher FMR),
  • the unit size (in terms of the number of bedrooms; generally, the more bedrooms the higher the FMR, while a studio apartment would be at the low end), and
  • whether the owner or tenant will pay utilities (generally, FMR is higher for units where the owner pays utilities).

The landlord cannot charge a Section 8 tenant more than FMR, even if the landlord does so for non-Section 8 tenants in similar units.

In addition, landlords, though required to meet fair housing laws, are not required to participate in the Section 8 program. As a result, some landlords will not accept a Section 8 tenant. This can be attributed to such factors as:

  • not wanting the government involved in their business, such as having a full inspection of their premises for HUD's Housing Quality Standards (HQS) and the possible remediations required,
  • fear that a Section 8 tenant will not properly maintain the premises,
  • a desire to charge a rent for the unit above FMR,
  • unwillingness to initiate judicial action for eviction of a tenant (HUD does not permit a landlord to change the lock or cut off utilities as a means of evicting a Section 8 tenant, even when state law does permit such)..

However, other landlords willingly accept Section 8 tenants, due to:

  • a large available pool of potential renters (the waiting list for new Section 8 tenants is usually very long, see below),
  • generally prompt regular payments from the PHA for its share of the rent, and/or
  • a perceived higher quality of tenants, since a tenant can be permanently removed from the Section 8 program if s/he damages the rental unit and/or fails to pay his/her share of the rent.

Whether voucher or project-based, all subsidized units must meet HQS, thus ensuring that the family has a healthy and safe place to live. This improvement in the housing stock is an important by-product of this program, both for the individual families and for the larger goal of community development.

In many localities, the PHA waiting lists for Section 8 vouchers may be thousands of families long, waits of three to five years to access vouchers is common, and many lists are closed to new applicants.

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. In recent years, the HUD Office of the Inspector General has spent more time and money on fraud detection and prevention.

Currently, there are no time limits for family participation in the program, though occasionally reform bills are introduced in Congress that suggest time limiting the program.

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