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