Fact Checked

What is Section 8 Housing?

Adam Hill
Adam Hill

Section 8 housing refers to a federal program in the United States which provides subsidized housing to families and individuals whose income is less than 50% of the area’s median income. Section 8 refers to the part of the U.S. Housing Act of 1937 that implemented this program originally. Section 8 housing is administered on a national basis by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and locally by public housing authorities (PHAs) and other organizations.

The main part of the Section 8 housing program consists of the provision of vouchers which allow tenants to lease a unit and pay a portion of the rent, while the PHA pays the remainder of the rent. The PHA is only required to pay the rest of the rent up to a certain amount, called the fair market rent. If a tenant wishes to rent a unit whose rent payment is higher than the pre-determined fair market rent, he will be responsible for the difference, in addition to his other rent contribution.

Vacant houses may be purchased and turned into Section 8 housing.
Vacant houses may be purchased and turned into Section 8 housing.

Landlords are not required by law to participate in any Section 8 housing programs, and many do not, for various reasons. In some cases, the landlord may perceive that if the need arises to evict a tenant, that it will be more difficult to do so if the tenant uses a Section 8 housing voucher. Section 8 tenants may be perceived as higher-risk tenants in general, because of a reduced incentive to maintain the property. Other landlords may gladly rent to Section 8 tenants, especially in light of the fact that there is usually a substantial waiting list for new tenants under Section 8. This gives landlords many tenants to choose from, which can be especially helpful if a property has been vacant for a long period of time.

Section 8 housing encompasses several assistance programs which provide aid to an estimated 1.4 million households in the United States. Federal housing programs such as Section 8 were first seen in the 1930s as a response to the Great Depression and the increased difficulty that families had in finding affordable housing. The original programs were administered on a much more case-by-case basis, with yearly re-evaluations of a family’s income and the property they were leasing.

The U.S. Housing Act of 1937 was amended in 1974 to create the program we know as Section 8. While it differs from the relief programs of the Depression, families must still comply with rules and obligations arising from their use of Section 8 housing. These obligations include reporting any changes in family income and proper maintenance of the rental unit.

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Discussion Comments


It seems like the maximum income level to qualify for section 8 housing assistance is fairly high compared to other government assistance programs. Someone working a full-time retail or restaurant job could probably still qualify for the section 8 housing program, especially if he or she had a spouse and children depending on his or her income. I'd say it's worth investigating if regular rent payments are barely affordable.


I grew up in an apartment complex that accepted section 8 housing, and I never felt like I was living in substandard conditions. We had a community pool, and a great neighborhood grocery store next door. It wasn't a great neighborhood, but I don't remember having anything bad happen to me personally.

I hear stories now about all these gang members and drug dealers taking advantage of the section 8 housing program, but I think that's still a small percentage of the low income community. Section 8 low income housing isn't just limited to public housing projects. I know some people who rent some really nice houses in decent neighborhoods with section 8 housing assistance. I think they pay a fair percentage of the rent themselves, though.

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    • Vacant houses may be purchased and turned into Section 8 housing.
      By: Andy Dean
      Vacant houses may be purchased and turned into Section 8 housing.