The goal of Section 8 housing is to give low- and extremely low-income households an opportunity to afford safe, sanitary shelter.
The program has changed over time to cover a greater variety of household demographics and provide the opportunity to help any eligible low-income family that needs it. One of the most important benefits of the Section 8 housing voucher program is that it enables families to find and afford decent housing in better neighborhoods.
The Section 8 housing voucher program accepts households that earn at most 80 percent of the median income in their area, although many households that are given preference only earn 30 percent of that income. While the program, which is also known as the Housing Choice Voucher Program, is meant to serve any qualifying low-income household, certain families and individuals regularly receive benefits sooner than other households. This is especially true since the program places a higher priority on certain needy groups, moving them higher up the Section 8 waiting list.
Section 8 family data relates to a family’s income, number of members in the household, demographic information and history of using government benefits. Of the 4.8 million U.S. households receiving housing assistance, there are about 2.1 million households who benefit from housing vouchers. In addition, 1.3 million households rent Section 8 apartments subsidized through the project-based portion of the Section 8 program.
While there are millions in the Housing Choice Voucher Program already, hundreds of thousands are still waiting to receive benefits. In some cities, around 3,000 people apply in a two-week period. In others, over 300,000 apply. Local housing authorities are often overwhelmed with the number of applicants and the limited number of vouchers available. Because of this, many public housing agencies (PHAs) have long housing assistance waiting lists and others close their applications completely, sometimes for years.
Households receiving Section 8 housing benefits do not have a limit on their length of stay in the program or their subsidized housing. Families can stay indefinitely if they continue to qualify, especially those with extremely low incomes. However, most families do not stay in the program longer than six years. Those who hold a Housing Choice Voucher stay an average of 6.6 years. However, in the history of Section 8, the length of stay in low-income housing has been steadily increasing since 1995. This is mostly due to rising housing costs and stagnating incomes rather than the actions of household members themselves.
Both the tenant-based Housing Choice Voucher Program and the project-based program implementation permit households of many sizes into the program. A household can consist of one person or 10, although different calculations are used to determine the need for families that have more than eight members. Despite the ability of Section 8 rentals to accommodate many family sizes, most eligible families only have an average of two members.
While qualifying incomes change depending on ZIP code, most households who live in subsidized housing earn less than $20,000 per year. For a family of more than one person, this often defines the household as extremely low-income. This is a constant among families of all demographics: more than 80 percent of all households in the Section 8 program earn less than $20,000 per year.
Households in affordable housing often struggle with finances in other areas of their lives and therefore apply to other state or federal benefits programs. However, many families do not actually receive or are eligible or multiple benefits even if they qualify for a Section 8 housing voucher. Families receiving funds from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are more likely to also receive housing assistance, but not necessarily the other way around. However, households with children are more likely to receive at least one other government benefit. These families most often receive food assistance, cash assistance and public health insurance.
As previously stated, Section 8 housing vouchers are meant to aid low-income families. However, certain family compositions and groups make up a greater portion of those who receive benefits. The following are proportions of recipients in the voucher program:
Affordable housing options evolved over the decades. The programs began by providing low-income earners with public housing and eventually moved toward encouraging low-income earners to make their own housing choices by giving them vouchers. The Section 8 program was the first to subsidize private properties and disrupt concentrated areas of poverty. Today, vouchers are preferred among income-based housing participants because of the freedom and flexibility they provide.
Tenant-based Section 8 vouchers are preferred among many recipients, and they are the most popular housing assistance available. Over 50 percent of all households in the program utilize a Housing Choice Voucher. Often, project-based residents who are able to convert to a portable, tenant-based voucher, do so because the vouchers allow them to choose their homes rather than be tied to a particular house or apartment.
The success of the Section 8 housing program can be seen through different measurements, including rates of use and utilization of the voucher. Rate of utilization is related to how many vouchers are issued, and rate of us relates to how many recipients are actually able to find suitable housing. The rate of success of participants finding suitable low-income housing has decreased from 81 percent to 69 percent since the 1980s. These rates have primarily been a result of insufficient federal funding in the Housing Choice Voucher Program.