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Learn About Section 8 Program Basics

Section 8 is a complex program to understand if you are unfamiliar with it. The main tenets of the program involve earning a certain maximum income to qualify for either tenant- or project-based Section 8 housing. Tenants with either affordable housing option are required to pay a certain percentage of their income toward rent while the HUD pays for the rest.  Legislation for the program was passed in 1974, introducing subsidized housing to the private market.

Over the lifetime of the program, Section 8 housing legislation has worked to be more inclusive to all low-income families. The program has expanded its efforts from urban communities to suburban and rural ones. In addition, the Section 8 housing voucher program now also focuses efforts on providing housing for the elderly and disabled if their incomes are within 30 to 80 percent of their area’s median income.

History of Section 8 Housing

The history of the Section 8 housing program is fairly recent. Legislation for Section 8 housing was first passed in 1974 as the Housing and Community Development Act. Public housing options were available since the 1930s, but subsidized housing programs did not begin until the introduction of Section 8. Section 8 was initiated to offset the costs of providing public housing. Under this program, recipients received a Section 8 housing voucher that allowed them to pay rent at a significantly decreased rate. This applied whether the recipients were in project- or tenant-based Section 8 housing.

While affordable housing policies have not experienced huge overhauls since the initial 1974 legislation, there have been smaller additions in attempt to increase inclusivity of the program. For example, Section 8 has increased its funding toward tenant-based rental assistance as it is seen as a more effective way to help low-income families find housing in better neighborhoods. Efforts were made to decrease homelessness through low-income housing options as well as prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities. Grants and other acts were initiated for particular groups including the elderly, persons with AIDS, Native Americans along with initiatives to further improve conditions of housing.

Learn About Section 8 Housing Statistics

Hundreds of thousands of households apply to receive Section 8 housing benefits whenever local housing authorities open applications. The Housing Choice Voucher is the most popular between the tenant-based and project-based rental assistance programs. Unfortunately, the rate of success of the program has decreased since the 1990s due to lack of proper funding toward income-based housing. However, the Section 8 program has expanded from primarily serving urban residents to providing housing to suburban and rural residents as well.

Nearly half of all recipients for of the voucher program are families with children. These participants tend to stay in low-income for less than 10 years. Individuals who are elderly tend to comprise the largest group in project-based Section 8 rentals. The elderly are more likely to stay in Section 8 housing for longer periods of time, often surpassing the length of stay of families with children. Section 8 families are disproportionately headed and applied for by females. More than 80 percent of vouchers are granted to families with a female head of household.  These families are also more likely to receive some, but not all, other government benefits like SNAP, TANF and Medicaid.

Learn About Tenant-Based Versus Project-Based Rental Assistance

Section 8 housing vouchers allow participants to establish themselves as responsible renters while still being able to afford other necessary expenses. Both tenant- and project-based rental assistance programs require low-income housing renters to pay 30 percent of their adjusted income toward rent, while the HUD pays the remaining 70 percent. However, applicants are subject to long Section 8 waiting lists for either program.

Tenant-based vouchers, also called housing choice vouchers, are linked to individual families who get vouchers even if they are not living in public housing. This means that if a family needs to move from their residence, they can use their vouchers at another Section 8 eligible property. Housing choice vouchers allow recipients to choose any apartment or home that qualifies under Section 8 standards. Families with this voucher have the freedom to live anywhere that their voucher is accepted, including more prosperous neighborhoods.

Project-based vouchers limit recipients to Section 8 rental units and properties. However, these units are also subject to Section 8 housing standards, so tenants are guaranteed safe, sanitary conditions. Project-based vouchers are not portable, so if families want to or are required to move while keeping housing assistance, they can only move to another project property.

How is Section 8 housing allocated?

Section 8 housing is reserved for low-, very low- and extremely low-income families. A certain number of Sections 8 apartments must be reserved for very low- and extremely low-income households in project-based developments. Usually, 40 percent of units must be reserved. For housing choice vouchers, 70 percent of new vouchers administered must go to households that earn 50 percent or less of the median income for their local area.

Based on the needs of the local community, different housing authorities give preference to different circumstances. For example, some areas may have a higher homeless population, so the local housing authority will place these applicants higher on the Section 8 waiting list. Other factors that are taken into account are:

  • Whether an applicant is a victim of domestic abuse.
  • Family composition and availability of units.
  • Disability.
  • Age.
  • Local residency.

Learn About Section 8 Housing Inspection Standards

Section 8 housing inspections are mandatory for all rentals. This is done to ensure that tenants are living in decent, safe and sanitary conditions. Inspections are conducted with a 13-item Section 8 inspection checklist that includes standards for sanitation, lighting, building structure, smoke detectors, running water, space and air quality.

All Section 8 housing units are required to supply at least a living room, bathroom and kitchen. There must also be a separate room for every two people living in the home. All Section 8 low income housing units must have both hot and cold running water through all faucets. Every outside entrance must have locks to ensure a basic level of safety. Landlords and property owners hoping to qualify their units for the program must ensure that the living standards they provide to tenants are up to par with what HUD considers decent and livable.