Section 8: Housing the Lowest-Income Families

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Federal Policy Brief | September 24, 2013

Files: Section 8 and Homelessness (PDF | 213 KB | 1 page)

More than 2.1 million low-income families (or approximately 5 million people) use Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers, administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), to help pay for housing that they find in the private market. The Section 8 program is a cost-effective way to help low-income families across the country afford quality, consistent housing. On average, the households receiving housing vouchers have incomes of about $12,500 – well below the poverty line – putting them at far greater risk of becoming homeless. When low-income families have access to vouchers, they not only gain access to affordable housing, but also to the ability to move closer to support networks and better job opportunities and schools. Limiting housing costs also leaves low-income families with more resources available to use for work-related expenses (e.g. childcare and transportation) and for basic necessities such as food and medicine. The end result is families who are now able to afford housing, thereby avoiding homelessness and the deleterious effects of precarious living situations.

Examining the change in housing-related factors between 2010 and 2011 reveals that fair market rent has increased by 1.5 percent and that the number of severely housing cost burdened (that is, those spending 50 percent or more of their income on housing expenses) poor renter households increased by almost 6 percent.  With unemployment rates remaining persistently high and many families still experiencing the effects of the Great Recession, the affordable housing opportunities offered by the Section 8 program are keeping many of these families out of the homeless assistance system. At its root, homelessness is caused by a lack of affordable housing, and simply put, vouchers increase housing access for the lowest-income families.

However, sequestration and reduced federal spending caps have placed a tremendous strain on the security of housing vouchers. In 2013, sequestration will cut more than $2 billion from HUD-administered programs.  Since sequestration took place on March 1, Public Housing Agencies across the country have already begun “shelving” vouchers: not reissuing vouchers to families on the waiting list when other families leave the program. Unfortunately, this is becoming an all too common way to cut costs by reducing the number of families receiving assistance over time. In many cases, these families will have few other housing options and are likely to turn to the homeless assistance system.

Now more than ever, Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers are necessary to help families become housed and enjoy the opportunities that come with stable housing. Sequestration, with its arbitrary cuts to the Housing Choice Voucher program, makes the importance of robust funding for the program even more evident, in order to prevent homelessness and keep families housed.