Rent is one of the biggest costs people have on a monthly basis -- at the time of publication, it's not unusual for rent to be between $700 and $1,500 a month. Some people qualify for Section 8 vouchers, which can temporarily relieve the financial responsibility associated with rent and get recipients into better living conditions.
A Section 8 voucher is provided by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to low-income people for the purpose of paying a portion of rent. The vouchers are given as part of the Housing Choice Voucher Program and have been available in some form since the government passed the United States Housing Act in 1937 as a response to housing difficulties stemming from the Great Depression.
How They Work
Section 8 vouchers may be tenant-based or project-based. To use the tenant-based version, apply for the Section 8 program at your local public housing agency. If approved, the agency issues you a voucher, which you give your landlord. The landlord then submits the voucher back to the agency to get a subsidy that covers some of your rent. You pay the difference between the voucher amount and the rent your landlord charges. Under the project-based version, landlords set aside some or all of their units for Section 8 tenants. The public housing agency attaches the assistance to the units the landlord has, which means that although the tenants who live in the Section 8 units are referred by the public housing agency, they would not have a right to continued assistance if they moved out in the way those on tenant-based aid would. The project-based version of Section 8 is designed to give temporary help until funds for a tenant-based voucher are available and the tenant reaches the top of the tenant-based waiting list.
Advantages and Disadvantages
A major advantage of Section 8 vouchers is that low-income people can get into better housing they otherwise couldn't afford. For many, this leads to increased safety, stability and decreased worry and conflict. Another advantage is that the public housing agency requires Section 8 units to meet minimum standards. Through routine inspection, the agency can verify the landlord is treating tenants fairly and is maintaining the property well. Because Section 8 is a form of government aid, some landlords and members of the public attach a negative stigma to the program, feeling that Section 8 recipients are lazy or more prone to criminal activity due to their lower income, as shown by Nandinee Kutty of the Rooflines website. James Bovard of the Future of Freedom Foundation even goes so far as to call Section 8 a "wrecking ball" to neighborhoods. Additionally, Section 8 requires more work and documentation on the part of the landlord.
Under the tenant-based version of Section 8, tenants can choose to apply their vouchers at properties they select, which means they have more control of their subsidies. However, Section 8 is a voluntary program. Landlords do not have to accept the vouchers, and many do not.
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development: Housing Choice Vouchers Fact Sheet;
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development: Project Based Vouchers – Frequently Asked Questions
- Rooflines; Who Dun It in the “American Murder Mystery?”; Nandinee Kutty; July 2008
- The Future of Freedom Foundation; Section 8: A Wrecking Ball for Your Neighborhood; September 1996
- Jupiterimages/Creatas/Getty Images