Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program Description
The Housing Choice Voucher Program under Section 8 of the 1937 Act as amended by the Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act (QHWRA) is funded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and administered by local housing authorities (HAs). Housing Authorities have annual contracts with HUD to operate the program. The programs’s primary purpose is to provide rental assistance to low-income families for affordable, decent, safe, and sanitary housing. Recipients of the assistance receive a voucher to rent homes in the private market. The voucher covers a portion of the rent and the tenant is expected to pay the balance. The tenant’s share of the rent is an affordable percentage of their income, which is generally between 30 to 40 percent of the monthly income for rent and utilities.
In order to become a participant of the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program, individuals and families must sign up on the Waiting List. This is a list of people who are waiting to receive rental assistance. Names can only be added to the Waiting List when the list is open, which is approximately every three to five years. Once a name reaches the top of the waiting list, the person is interviewed to determine whether they are eligible for the program. If they are, they will be issued a voucher.
The voucher holder searches for a unit in the private market. When the voucher holder finds a unit from a property owner willing to accept the voucher, the HA will then inspect the rental unit to ensure that it meets the Housing Quality Standards (HQS) of the program. If it does meet HQS and the rent is deemed appropriate for comparable rents for that size unit, the family and the property owner sign a rental agreement or lease. At the same time, the property owner and the HA sign a Housing Assistance Payments Contract (HAP) that lasts the length of the lease. The subsidy is paid to the property owner directly by the HA on behalf of the participating family. The family then pays the difference between the actual rent charged by the property owner and the amount subsidized by the program.
Property owners must comply with the rental agreement or lease signed with the tenant as well as the contract signed with the HA. Should a property owner fail to meet his or her obligations, the HA may terminate the payments. The family is required to comply with the rental agreement or lease and program requirements, pay its share of rent on time, maintain the unit in good condition and notify the HA of any changes in income or family composition. A family can move without jeopardizing its participation in the program as long as it notifies the HA ahead of time, terminates its existing rental agreement or lease within the rental agreement or lease provisions and finds acceptable alternate housing.
A family in the Section 8 program may choose to exercise a “portability” right that allows it to use its voucher outside the boundaries of a particular HA’s jurisdiction. This, in essence, means that a family can move anywhere in the United States and its Territories where there is a Housing Authority to administer the Section 8 Program.
Roles and Responsibilities
Congress allocates funding and passes laws for all housing programs. HUD’s role in the Section 8 Program is to allocate money to the HA and to develop policy, regulations, and other guidance that interprets housing legislation.
Property owners participating in the program operate in the same way as a property owner in the private market. The owner must sign a rental agreement or lease with the Section 8 participant. The property owner agrees to provide decent, safe, and sanitary housing as confirmed by regular HA inspections. The principle benefit to the property owner for participating in the program is that the federal government guarantees a portion of the rent.
The tenant must provide the HA with the income and family information necessary for determining their eligibility to the program and the portion of the rent they can pay. The tenant must find his/her housing much like any unassisted family. A tenant must pay his/her portion of the rent, adhere to the lease and HUD’s lease addendum requirements and cooperate with the HA in its annual inspections and recertification examinations. The program ensures that families are not forced to spend an unreasonable portion of their monthly income for housing. Therefore, the family can afford their rent portion and meet their other basic needs.
Housing Authority (HA)
The HA must determine the family’s program eligibility; conduct annual reexaminations of family income and annual inspections of the unit; determine the amount of the HAP and the family portion of the rent to owner; approve rental units and tenancies; make HAPs to Section 8 owners; and monitor program performance and compliance according to HUD rules and regulations.