Section 8 housing came about as a way for the United States government to help low-income residents to afford housing.
Housing assistance has been an active government benefit since the early 1930s. The Section 8 program evolved from years of updated housing acts, amendments and political, social and economic pressures.
Today, the Housing Choice Voucher Program is one of the most essential programs for low- and very low-income individuals and families.
Currently, Section 8 rentals and other federal housing assistance programs try their best to be as fair as possible when providing benefits to applicants. The program also strives to give applicants a significant degree of choice when selecting subsidized housing in the private market. Applicants should understand the Section 8 housing lists to effectively find a housing option that fits their needs.
However, the program has evolved significantly since its inception. The voucher program has become a favored benefit in the U.S. by low-income citizens for its flexibility in housing choice. Learn more about the history of Section 8 by reviewing the sections below.
Before the U.S. government established the Section 8 program, low-, very low- and extremely low-income citizens were given other options for low-income housing. The history of affordable housing is paved with numerous acts by Congress to serve different housing needs throughout the years.
Several presidents since Roosevelt, who signed the first Housing Act in 1934, have attempted to further improve affordable housing for U.S. citizens with low incomes.
The National Housing Act in 1934 introduced the availability of low-income housing to a broader range of people. It was established after the Great Depression to alleviate the financial hardship of buying a home. The act created the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and provided low down payment options through mortgage insurance companies so that citizens could afford to buy a home.
While this act primarily encouraged the middle class to purchase homes through bank loans rather than providing low-income housing, it was the first step to making housing accessible to a larger group across the U.S.
Three years later, Congress passed the U.S. Housing Act to address low-income family needs. Many families in cities were living in poor conditions with no hot running water in run-down apartments. While still far from today’s Section 8 housing, this housing act introduced the first public housing program. It enforced specific building regulations to ensure safe and sanitary living conditions for tenants.
It was meant to assist low-income renters and improve living conditions for those who could not afford homes. It also created the United States Housing Authority (USHA) and eventually the United States Public Housing Administration (USPHA) which eventually ceded its power to local public housing agencies (PHAs) across the country.
The Housing Act of 1949 was different from the legislation of the 1930s in that it targeted housing for veterans and sought to improve the conditions of city slums rather than focus on income based housing. The goal of this act was to rebuild, redevelop and rehabilitate city housing and promote urban planning.
This was to alleviate the urban housing crisis and conditions that residents were living in. This act sought to further improve housing by tearing down dilapidated buildings and building new public housing so that middle-class Americans could live in decent low-income housing and conditions.
In 1965, Congress established the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to manage the ongoing changes and needs of housing for Americans. However, the Housing Act of 1949 did not succeed as hoped, since many middle-class Americans were replaced with low-income families on welfare.
Thus, the government needed to create more oversight and organization to manage changes. This came in the form of a public housing authority in cities, which carried out legislation relating to various HUD programs.
The Fair Housing Act of 1968 was passed one week after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This act was meant to tackle discrimination in the affordable housing market. This act was meant to alleviate income and homeownership disparities, helping a wider demographic of individuals. It designated a new role in the HUD to investigation grievances relating to discrimination.
The original Section 8 program, which was called the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974, established project-based tenancy for eligible individuals and families. Subsidies were granted to certain residential properties to house Section 8 housing recipients. This act was the beginning of the modern era of income-based housing.
The passage of this act was meant to emphasize project-based rental assistance, introduce tenant-based rental assistance, improve city development and give more power to local housing authorities. This act allowed very low-income renters (those with incomes at 30 percent of the area’s median income) to participate, expanding the reach of affordable housing programs.
It requires renters to put at least 30 percent of their income toward rent, and HUD covered the rest. The program was meant to provide renters with more options and personal freedom to choose where they lived. It was also meant to decrease the concentration of low-income individuals in projects and encourage upward mobility.
Section 8 was later renamed the Housing Choice Voucher Program. This was because President Ronald Reagan viewed increasing the availability of portable tenant-based vouchers as more effective in meeting the needs of low-income families and individuals than project-based housing.
Today, the Section 8 housing program remains much in the same state as it was in 1974. It provides subsidies to private property owners who accept Section 8 tenants. Tenants must pay at least 30 percent of their income to the landlord and the HUD pays the remaining 70 percent. However, recipients also now have the option to rent and buy homes instead of just Section 8 apartments.
Some of the same arguments and criticisms are made today regarding the effectiveness of tenant-based rental assistance that were made in 1974. One main criticism is that the program falters when the housing market is tight. This is evident with today’s years-long Section 8 waiting lists. Additionally, debate about the most effective ratios of project- to tenant-based housing assistance still persists.
There have been no new housing acts or amendments made to previous ones since the 1990s that are comparable to the scope of the legislation enacted in the initial years of the program. Most recent Section 8 legislation has focused on decreasing homelessness among certain demographics and groups of people, including the elderly, veterans, Native Americans and Alaskan Indians according to Section 8 statistics.