About Section 8 Vouchers

Section 8, which is more formally known as Section 8 of the United States Housing Act of 1937, was designed as a method of rental housing assistance for low income individuals who were struggling to find a place to live throughout the country. At its most basic level, the Housing Voucher Program (as Section 8 is also commonly known) functions in two different ways depending on the specifics of the situation.

Before you can understand exactly how Section 8 works, it's important to understand where the funds are coming from. Though the funds from the program are administered on a local basis through a series of offices located around the country, the funds are actually coming from a federal level. The Department of Housing and Urban Development, also commonly referred to as HUD, is tasked with both funding and administering the program. At the local level, the program is operated by a few thousand public housing agencies (also referred to as PHAs) around the United States.

One of the goals of the Section 8 Housing Voucher Program is to provide rental assistance in a method commonly referred to as "tenant based." This allows tenants who are applicable to the program to apply for housing vouchers that they will receive on a monthly basis. So long as the place that they choose to live meets the requirements of the program, they can continue to use the voucher to supplement their rent on a regular basis. In 2014, the total amount of money that a voucher is allowed to represent during any 30 day period is a maximum of $2200. It is important to note that under the current rules of the program, individuals can also apply the balance of the vouchers that they get on a monthly basis towards the purchase of a home.

Section 8 of the Housing Act of 1937 also authorizes rental assistance programs on a "project based' basis. Unlike "tenant based" assistance where the tenant is free to apply for and redeem the vouchers at qualifying locations, the owner of an apartment or complex receives the assistance directly. The owner can receive assistance so long as they reserve either some or in certain situations all of the rental units in any one particular building for tenants who meet the low income requirements. By doing so, the Housing Act agrees to use federal funds to provide the difference between what the tenant is paying and what the rent on the unit actually is.

Another important component of the Housing Voucher Program is HUD-VASH, which is also commonly known as the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing Program. HUD-VASH regularly distributes 10,000 vouches to Veterans of the United States Armed Forces who are in need of rental assistance on a yearly basis. This equates to around $75 million dollars per year in rental assistance funds. Unlike the larger Housing Voucher Program, HUD-VASH was created with the idea in mind of combining its service by others that the United States Department of Veterans Affairs is running, like case management, health care for those in the Armed Services and more.

History and Evolution of Section 8

During the Great Depression, most American people were going through rough times. Homelessness was prevalent. Even individuals who had money for a down payment on a home were faced with short-term mortgage loans and very high interest rates. The federal government took action, and through decades of changes, the Section 8 Housing Voucher Program was eventually implemented for those individuals who could not afford to buy a home.

Federal Government's Involvement

The United States first major involvement in the housing of low-income families began in 1932. The Emergency Relief Act and Construction Act were passed by Congress. Through this, the Reconstruction Corporation (RFC) was established. It was designed to make loans to private companies that would help low-income families buy a home. However, this did not help individuals, who could not afford to buy a home, find a place to live.


The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) was authorized through the National Housing Act of 1934. This federal agency was designed to lower the high unemployment rate, to stimulate the economy’s housing construction and to help homeowners with house repairs. The FHA obtained this goal by assuring banking and lending institutions that the loans they gave to potential homebuyers would be secure under mortgage insurance though the federal government. To further extend help to homeowners, the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) was created.

Help for Families

The individuals that could not afford to buy a home still had no financial help in finding a low-cost place to live. The United States Housing Act of 1937 was established to help. Through this public housing program, the United States Public Housing Authority authorized the funding of loans to localities through public housing agencies. This was designed for local businesses to construct low-rent housing to help ensure everyone had a place to live.

Changes that Evolved

Emphasis on home loan construction decreased. The implementation of preservation of older housing became important. The Housing Act of 1954 extended the funding to include conservation and rehabilitation of deteriorating neighborhoods. In order to obtain fair, descent and clean housing for all, the Equal Opportunity Housing Authority was passed by Executive Order 11063 in 1962.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made discrimination illegal for federal housing programs. In 1965, HUD was created. Low-income families, the elderly and the handicapped were now able to lease or rent privately owned homes affordably through their Section 8 Housing Voucher Program. By the 1980s, this program had overwhelmingly expanded. The Fair Housing Amendments of 1988 further prohibited discrimination because of a family’s status or an individual’s handicap.

Section 8 Housing Voucher Program

HUD’s current mission is to continue to provide affordable and clean housing for those individuals with low income, the elderly and the handicapped through the Section 8 Housing Voucher Program. Currently, this federal agency works with private, public and faith-based entities to make sure that their mission continues to thrive.