8 Things You Didn’t Know About the Housing Choice (Section 8) Program

Calendar Icon Updated January 15, 2019
Section 8

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Housing Choice (Section 8) Voucher program helps low-income families pay their rent through rent subsidy vouchers. Though the program, often referred to simply as “Section 8,” is referenced quite frequently, there some surprising things about the program you may not know.

It’s a federal program administered on a local level.

Funds come from HUD and the program is administered on the local level by Public Housing Agencies (PHAs). Though high-level program guidelines come from HUD, each agency has the authority to determine the details of how the program operates in their area.

Demand for vouchers far outweighs supply.

Roughly 2 million families are assisted through vouchers each year. Although that may seem like a lot, an estimated 6 million families qualify for assistance.

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There’s a wait list and it’s really long.

Because demand for the vouchers is so high, it’s very rare for a family to be immediately enrolled after their application is accepted. Some families wait 3 to 6 years to receive a voucher. Some PHAs experience such high demand that they close wait lists for pre-determined periods of time and only accept new applicants during specific enrollment periods.

Voucher recipients choose their own housing.

Voucher recipients are free to choose any housing available in the private market that meets their PHAs housing Quality Standards. This includes apartments, townhomes, condos and single-family homes.

Landlords can’t deny tenants for using a voucher.

Just as landlord’s cannot discriminate against potential tenants based on age, race, sex, religion, etc., they are not legally allowed to deny a tenant residency simply because they are a part of the Housing Choice (Section 8) Voucher program. This important rule helps ensure that voucher recipients have ample options when it comes to choosing their home.

Voucher recipients still pay rent.

Housing Choice (Section 8) vouchers do not cover a family’s entire rent payment. The family is responsible for paying 30% of their income toward rent and utilities. The voucher covers the rest.

In some areas, you can use vouchers to buy a home.

Some PHAs participate in the federal Homeownership Voucher program, which allows families to use vouchers toward mortgage payments of their first home.

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Voucher recipients can move without giving up voucher assistance.

Program design allows for participants to move without relinquishing voucher assistance or having to wait through the wait list process in the area they are moving to. Families should notify their PHA right away if they plan to move since transferring benefits can take up to a month.

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