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  • The Center for Rural Homelessness

What is the Housing Choice Voucher?

By: Katie Baughman, Policy Intern

OVERVIEW

The Housing Choice Voucher, commonly referred to as the Section 8 Voucher, is a US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)-funded governmental assistance program that provides low-income households with rental assistance. Housing Choice Vouchers are provided on behalf of individuals and families, and not restricted to public housing options, allowing individuals to choose their own housing. HUD allocates funding to local Public Housing Agencies (PHAs), who then pay a subsidy directly to landlords on behalf of low-income households. Voucher recipients are only responsible for paying 30% of their income towards rent, with the voucher covering the rest of the rent, price-restricted by a market-based cap. There’s also a restriction on the size of apartment, as well as quality standards and inspections that must be met before a voucher can be used on an apartment.


The Housing Choice Voucher program is the largest form of rental assistance in the country, with 2,170 participating PHAs providing vouchers. 75% of new voucher-holder families are required to be classified as extremely low-income, meaning under the poverty line or below 30% of an area’s median income. Each year, Housing Choice Vouchers are used to support the cost of housing for over 5.3 million individuals that make up 2.2 million households.


HOW DOES THIS AFFECT RURAL AREAS?


Because there’s often limited access to affordable rental housing in rural areas, programs like the Housing Choice Voucher that allow families the flexibility to choose their own housing are an essential part of mitigating rural homelessness. Although most Housing Choice Vouchers are distributed in cities, 12% of voucher holders live in rural areas and almost half of the Public Housing Agencies that distribute vouchers are rural, defined as operating less than 550 voucher units. Housing Choice Vouchers are the second largest form of rural rental assistance, behind only the USDA’s Rural Rental Assistance; they are then an invaluable part of the fight against rural homelessness.


However, Housing Choice Vouchers are also heavily stigmatized, which can harm some voucher-holders’ ability to secure housing. Although many cities across the country like NYC have anti-discrimination laws that aim to ensure landlords and brokers can’t discriminate based on source-of-income, rural areas often don’t have the same laws. This allows landlords and brokers of rural rental housing to turn down families with Housing Choice Vouchers, leaving some rural voucher-holding families with limited access to safe, affordable housing.


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