Housing Choice Vouchers Overview
The Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program, also known as tenant-based assistance or Section 8, assists very low income families and people who are elderly or who have a disability with finding a safe and sanitary home in the private housing market. Voucher recipients may choose any housing that meets the program’s requirements and are not limited to units located in subsidized housing projects.
Key Decision Points
- 30 days = benefit eligibility may be terminated; consult with local PHA or HUD office to determine eligibility status prior to 30 days
Federal Funding Agency
Office of Housing Choice Vouchers, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
Relevant State/Local Agency, Office, and Contacts
Use the space below to write notes about which state/local agency or office oversees this benefit in your area and any related contacts. You can print this page for your records or log in to save your response for future reference.
Housing choice vouchers are administered locally by PHAs. Voucher recipients are responsible for finding a suitable housing unit. Once a unit is located, the PHA will inspect the dwelling to determine that it meets the minimum health and safety standards and that the rent requested is reasonable.
A housing subsidy is paid to the landlord by the PHA on behalf of the participating family. The family then pays the difference between the rent charged by the landlord and the amount subsidized by the program. The housing voucher family must pay between 30 and 40 percent of its monthly adjusted gross income for rent and utilities. Because the demand for affordable housing often exceeds the supply, long waiting periods are common.
PHAs determine eligibility for HCVs by verifying the applicant’s income, assets, and family composition. In general, the applicant’s income cannot exceed 50 percent of the local median income, and preference is given to those having 30 percent of the local median income or less. Preference may also be given to applicants who have a history of homelessness, are spending more than 50 percent of their income on rent, or were involuntarily displaced. In addition, priority is given to families with children.
Median income levels are published by HUD and vary by location; click here for more information.
Individuals released from prison or jail who lived in public housing with their families prior to incarceration may not be allowed into government-supported housing following release. In addition, incarceration of one member may affect the entire family’s eligibility. Program eligibility depends on the type of crime and the policies of the local PHA.
PHAs or any federally assisted housing provider may screen or refuse to house people who have been convicted of certain offenses; this practice is also known as the "One Strike and You're Out" policy.
Federally subsidized housing stock is extremely limited, and long periods on waiting lists are common. People who have been released from prison or jail should not expect to obtain a housing voucher immediately following release. Furthermore, individuals returning to the community from prison may not be immediately considered “homeless” and, therefore, will not be prioritized for placement by housing agencies that give preference to homeless individuals. However, many PHAs deem individuals who were sentenced to 30 days or fewer as "homeless" if they fit HUD's homelessness definition prior to their term of incarceration.
Cornerstone Program (Calif.): The Cornerstone Program, an emergency shelter and supportive housing program for chronically homeless people with mental illness, including those leaving prison or jail, was issued 85 Section 8 vouchers to distribute among program participants in its authorizing legislation (AB 2034). Cornerstone is coordinated by the San Fernando Valley Community Mental Health Center.
For more information:http://www.sfvcmhc.org/html/cornerstone.html.
Rental Assistance Coupon Plus Program (Maine): In a collaborative partnership, the Maine State Housing Authority and the Maine Reentry Network/Maine Department of Corrections implemented a Rental Assistance Coupon Plus Program (RAC+) that provides up to 24 months of transitional housing rental assistance at full market value. A limited number of coupons are available statewide to those meeting HUD homeless criteria. The Maine Reentry Network certifies the homeless status of those being released from the state correctional system, and participants pay 30 percent of their adjusted income toward rent (or $50 minimum). To help secure housing, the program may also provide a security and utility deposit no greater than one month’s rent. Housing coordinators participate in offenders’ prerelease reentry planning meetings as well.
For more information: http://www.ncsha.org/uploads/NCSHA%20Rental%20Assistance%20Coupon%20Plus.pdf.
The Justice Center does not endorse or promote any particular program.