The Other Section 8 Program

Addressing the housing needs of very low-income people requires many tools. One tool worth better understanding is the voucher and certificate program.

The program serves more than 1.4 million households, 67 percent of which are families with children. The median income for households with certificates is $6,900, $7,200 for those with vouchers. Three out of four families receiving vouchers have children, which is higher than those with Section 8 project-based assistance. The primary sources of income for families with children comes from wages in 37 percent of the cases, public assistance in 47 percent of households, and Social Security Pensions in 8 percent of the cases. Forty-nine percent of households served by the programs are minority, a number consistent with the other Section 8 program.

The number of new (incremental) certificates and vouchers increased every year prior to 1996. For the first time, in 1996 Congress provided no new resources for incremental Section 8 vouchers and certificates. This was true again in 1997, and we are well on our way to receiving no new resources for 1998.

New restrictions in 1997 represent a reduction in housing opportunities. These restrictions require that, after a household turns back their voucher or certificate, public housing authorities (PHAs) hold them for 90 days before offering them to another household. This comes at a time when very low-income households are increasing in number and the price of housing is increasing as well. For example, the number of housing units affordable to extremely low-income families, those with incomes below 30 percent of the area median income, fell by 425,000 units between 1985 and 1993.

The vast majority of households with certificates and vouchers find decent rental housing. In 1994, HUD found that 80 percent of the certificate and voucher holders in large cities are successful in securing quality housing. Success rates averaged 87 percent for cities other than New York, while New Yorkers had a success rate of 65 percent. Program participants from all racial and ethnic groups were equally successful outside of New York City, ranging from 87 percent for African Americans to 92 percent for Hispanics.

In metropolitan areas nationwide, only 15 percent of Section 8 voucher and certificate recipients live in neighborhoods where more than 30 percent of the residents are poor. As housing providers seek to promote income mixing in both public housing and project-based Section 8 buildings, Section 8 vouchers and certificates become an even more critical resource for serving very low-income households. So, when you hear the debate about targeting, this is the issue.

While the voucher and certificate program is a critical part of our tool box, it is not perfect and could benefit from a dialogue between users and providers, a dialogue to improve and reform the requirements and procedures of this program, and to prevent further shrinkage of this valuable tool. We can criticize, or we can find partners in an effort to make this important resource more user-friendly.

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