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Getting to Know Section 8

If you heard someone say “Housing Choice Voucher,” would know you what they meant? What about Section 8; would you know then? Well, both names actually mean the same thing. Many have heard of this program, but few know exactly what it is. Today, we’re going to break it down for you.

The Section 8 (Housing Choice Voucher) Program is a federal funded program for assisting very low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled to afford decent, safe and sanitary housing in the private market.  The participant is free to choose any housing that meets the requirements of the program.

Housing choice vouchers are administered locally by public housing agencies. The agencies receive federal funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to administer the voucher program.

In 1937, the U.S. Congress passed the United States Housing Act into law. This was during the Great Depression, and housing affordability was a big topic of conversation. This law created public housing, though, not Section 8—the HCV program was not created until 1974. Congress created Section 8 to allow more housing choice for low-income renters.

The U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is given money by Congress each year, which they then give out to local housing authorities (like the PHA). Housing authorities are given a maximum number of vouchers they can issue, as well as funding for those vouchers. Vouchers are not the same as funding; the PHA has been awarded 1,965 vouchers, but only has the budget authority for around 1,600.

If you would like to utilize Section 8, you have to apply (currently, our waiting list is closed). Our staff goes through pending applications as-needed and contact individuals when there is a voucher available to them. Section 8 is very popular: just look at how many people applied for Section 8 when the PHA opened its waiting list in August of 2014.

Once your voucher has been issued to you, you’re able to look for housing in the private market for 60 days, with an option to extend your search for another 60 days. Many utilize this extension because landlords are allowed to decline renting to a voucher holder. This can make the housing search very difficult and competitive, and can even result in complete loss of your voucher altogether.

HUD sets income guidelines for each jurisdiction. Housing authorities set payment standards, which is essentially determines how much rent and utility allowance a client will receive.

HUD sets income guidelines for each county in each state. Each housing authority sets payment standards, which basically dictates how much subsidy an individual is allowed to utilize, based on family size.

Once your application has been approved, you will be told how much rent and utility allowance you’re eligible for. There is a minimum rental payment of $50; however, you will never pay more than 30% of your income towards rent. If rent plus utilities—which is calculated by our inspectors—in your chosen unit will be $600, and your income allows you to only pay $200 monthly, the PHA will pay your landlord the balance.

There are numerous benefits to the program for both tenants and landlords. As a tenant, your greatest benefit is having housing choice and affordable housing, something that was not necessarily available prior to 1974. Plus, the PHA offers self-sufficiency programs that help clients gain strong financial footing and to help reduce the likelihood they’ll need government assistance in the future. As a landlord, you are guaranteed to have rental payments sent to you on the first of each month.

We’ll have more information on Section 8 benefits coming up in our next blog on June 19, 2015.

Section 8 housing provides our community with an excellent opportunity when they’ve fallen on hard times. It allows those in need–our neighbors–to move up and out of poverty, which makes the entire community stronger. We all do better if everyone succeeds.


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