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  • Writer's pictureMichael Hays

Housing Vouchers: An Explanation

In this post, we turn our attention to one of the federal government’s most utilized and popular programs to lower the cost of housing: the Housing Choice Voucher Program (formerly known as Section 8).

How does it work?

Housing choice vouchers are administered locally by public housing agencies (PHAs). The PHAs receive federal funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to administer the voucher program. A housing subsidy is paid to the landlord directly by the PHA on behalf of the participating family. The family then pays the difference between the actual rent charged by the landlord and the amount subsidized by the program. Under certain circumstances, if authorized by the PHA, a family may use its voucher to purchase a modest home.

Could vouchers be expanded?

Yes, but given agreements resulting from the recent federal debt ceiling brinkmanship, a huge expansion of the HCV program anytime soon seems slim. However, it is a policy choice that could receive more funding if the U.S. Congress prioritized it.

When compared with federal tax benefits for homeowners, programs that provide direct assistance for housing – such as vouchers and subsidized dwellings – are a fraction of homeowner assistance. For example in 2008, the federal government spent over $171 billion on homeowner tax benefits while spending less than $40 billion on direct housing assistance, according to Evicted by Matt Desmond.

Discrimination against those who hold these vouchers is shameful and often racist. Yet, enforcement has proven to be difficult in Philadelphia. Meanwhile, it is not illegal in the suburbs to refuse to rent to someone who has a voucher.

How do I obtain a Housing Choice Voucher?

In Montgomery County, there is a lottery system to distribute the 2,300 vouchers allocated to Montco from HUD. The last such lottery was held in 2019, where 10,500 people applied and 1,000 were added to the wait list from that larger group. Keep an eye on the Montgomery County Housing Authority website for updates.

For more information, check out this fact sheet from HUD.

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