Section 8, also known as the Housing Choice Voucher program, is a federal program that helps very low- income families afford housing.
It is different from public housing in that it allows recipients to rent in the private housing market instead of living in government housing.
Those awarded a voucher are able to rent in the private housing market. While there are fewer low-income housing rentals that accept the voucher, recipients essentially get to pick where they want to live.
According to Section 8 statistics, the housing program is very helpful for low-income individuals and families. It offers an opportunity to focus household funds on food and health care rather than worrying about affording a place to live. Affordable housing is meant to encourage families to improve their circumstances and quality of life by lifting one heavy financial burden off their shoulders. Read the sections below to learn more about Section 8 basics and other important information about the program.
The Section 8 housing program is a subsidy program established by the U.S. government in the 1970s to allow low-income families to be able to afford housing with their minimal budgets. Through the history of Section 8, there were several versions of the Housing Choice Voucher program before it became what it is now.
It evolved from the original Housing Act in 1937 and is currently managed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, also known as HUD. Public housing agencies (PHAs) in cities handle local applicants. To qualify for the Section 8 housing program, a family must be within the definition of “very low-income.” Under HUD, this means that a household cannot earn more than 50 percent of the median income for the area in which they live.
That means the maximum to qualify for the program may change depending on ZIP code, county, city, etc. However, families with children, individuals older than 62 years of age, individuals with disabilities and veterans may be more likely to qualify.
Many prospective applicants ask “How does Section 8 work?” There are two types of housing assistance under Section 8: tenant-based vouchers and project-based housing. Tenant-based vouchers allow families to choose a home or apartment at any privately owned property as long as the landlord accepts the voucher. These tenants can also move while keeping Section 8 benefits.
Project-based vouchers allow families to afford low-income housing at certain properties. Both are considered income-based housing. Families must qualify to receive assistance and usually pay 30 percent of their income toward rent. Also, private property owners manage the units and receive rent but are overseen by the HUD.
As previously stated, Section 8 benefits allow families to rent low-income housing in the private market. Although they receive benefits from a government program, they have the same rights as all other tenants in a building. This means that landlords who accept Section 8 applicants as tenants under the voucher program must treat beneficiaries equally.
This means treating them without discrimination, provide habitable living spaces that meet Section 8 standards, respect their privacy and give them the same security deposit and deadlines as non-Section 8 renters. Those who have landlords who violate their rights or lease agreements have the option of reporting them.
While families and individuals are protected as tenants from landlords who abuse the system, it the tenant’s responsibility to maintain Section 8 eligibility and benefits. The following actions are ways to maintain Section 8 benefits and keep the housing rental:
A primary responsibility of Section 8 landlords is to maintain a safe, sanitary and livable space for all tenants. All Section 8 housing units must pass yearly inspection tests under standards set by HUD. Landlords are responsible for maintaining these standards and paying for any repairs or renovations.
Landlords managing tenants with Section 8 eligibility are also responsible for treating these renters the same as any other renter. This means solving grievances and responding to maintenance requests in a timely manner. Legally, this is part of the landlord-tenant agreement. A landlord is also responsible for notifying both the local Section 8 office and the tenant of any plans to increase rent.
Even if a tenant qualifies and begins receiving benefits, those Section 8 housing benefits can get taken away. The following are the main disqualifiers for those in the program:
If an individual is a registered sex offender or has served time in prison for serious drug offenses, he or she is automatically disqualified. This applies even if the initial background check of the Section 8 application overlooks these offenses.
In the Section 8 voucher program, recipients may not only choose rentals in the private market, but they are also able to buy a home. Additionally, program recipients are not just restricted to renting apartments. They can rent homes as well. In order to qualify to purchase a home, a family must rent that home for at least one year. A portion of the rent is set aside to pay for the eventual down payment of the residence.
Tenants under Section 8 are required to update their local PHA about any income or family changes. These changes include increases and decreases in income or if a family member is added to the household or moves out. Usually, these changes must be reported only once a year, although this may vary by PHA.
However, reporting changes earlier can prevent complications and allows the housing authority to modify your rent sooner if your income decreased or your household increased.
With tenant-based Section 8 housing, recipients can take their vouchers with them if they decide to move. Project-based recipients, however, are not allowed to take their vouchers since they are connected to the property and not the family itself.
Families intending to move must complete a moving form and submit it to their local housing authority to obtain permission. Those planning on moving must do so within their lease compliance, meaning they may have to pay a fee if they exit from their lease early or may even have to pay rent for the remaining months.