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Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health

Section 8 Housing Vouchers

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Section 8 housing vouchers subsidize low-income families so that they can afford decent and safe housing in the private market. Vouchers are not an entitlement and only a small percentage of eligible applicants receive them—most are put on a waiting list when they apply. Recipients may select any housing with rent at or below the “fair market rent” set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), if the owner agrees to accept the voucher as payment. The family pays 30 percent of its income toward rent and utilities. Families that select housing that costs more than the fair market rent must pay the difference.

Section 8 housing vouchers are federal benefits distributed by local public housing authorities (PHAs). The national government makes most key policy decisions and provides funds for vouchers as well as administration costs. Income eligibility limits and fair market rents vary by locality—based on area median income and local rent prices respectively—but they are determined at the federal level by HUD. PHAs have some control over establishing priorities in serving applicants, and they can establish a minimum rent for voucher recipients of up to $50 per month.

The trend in housing assistance over time has been away from public housing projects and toward vouchers. Currently the majority of individuals who live in federally-subsidized housing receive vouchers. Altogether, there are almost two million households receiving vouchers, and approximately 60 percent of these are households with children. Section 8 housing vouchers and rental certificates were established by the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974, and in 1998, the voucher and certificate programs were merged into the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program.

National Participant & Spending Data

Data Notes and Sources

Data on Section 8 Housing Vouchers were compiled by NCCP in June 2004.