The Section 8 rental assistance program, also known as the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program, was created by the Federal Housing and Community Development Act of 1974 to assist low-income families obtain a place to live at an affordable rent. It was created as an alternative to federally funded public housing that was owned and operated by state and city governments. It is now the largest low income housing program in the country.
Apartments assisted under the Section 8 program are generally owned by private landlords and tenants with Section 8 vouchers rent from private owners. Tenants generally pay about 30% of their income in rent. The balance of the rent due the owner is paid by a local Public Housing Agency (PHA), with money provided to them by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), directly to the landlord pursuant to a contract called a Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) contract.
This type of assistance is provided in the form of housing vouchers. In general, tenants with a Section 8 voucher may leave the building and transfer the subsidy to a new apartment. Thus, in this sense, the Section 8 Voucher program is “tied to” the tenant rather than the project.
On the other hand, Project-Based Section 8 assistance covers all of the apartments in a given housing development or a designated number of apartments within a building. The assistance is “tied to” the building, meaning that tenants who leave the building leave their assistance behind. Refer to Housing Programs and Services, Project Based Section 8, for more information on Project Based Section 8.
WHO ADMINISTERS THE PROGRAM
At the federal level, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) administers the program. It distributes the funds and issues regulations and policy notices to local Public Housing Authorities (PHAs), which administer the Section 8 program.
Three Different Local Public Housing Authorities
In New York City, three different agencies administer the Section 8 program: The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), and the New York State Homes and Community Renewal (HCR), formerly the Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR).
NYCHA’s Leased Housing Department administers the largest Section 8 Program in the country. NYCHA is the only PHA in New York City which maintains a waiting list for which anyone can apply (although this waiting list has been closed for several years). NYCHA also administers some vouchers for tenants in buildings whose landlords have opted out of HUD subsidized housing programs, known as “enhanced” or “sticky” vouchers.
HPD’s Division of Tenant Resources administers vouchers to families who become homeless as a result of a government order to vacate unsafe housing, families living in buildings which HPD has decided to renovate, families living in buildings which were built or renovated with HPD financing, and tenants in certain buildings whose owners have opted out of HUD subsidized housing programs. This last type of voucher is known as an “enhanced” or “sticky” voucher, see below Enhanced or Sticky Vouchers.
HCR, through its Subsidy Services Bureau, administers a small number of vouchers including vouchers for families living in buildings whose owners have opted out of HUD subsidized programs, known as “enhanced” or “sticky” vouchers. HCR periodically receives vouchers from HUD which it distributes through a lottery system.
Because HCR is a statewide program it generally contracts with Local Administrators (LA), but in New York City HCR administers the program directly through its Subsidy Services Unit.
All of the funding for the Section 8 Voucher Program comes from HUD and the funding is discretionary. Congress allocates funds annually. The funding level is not based on an assessment of the number of families that are eligible for the subsidy, but rather on political and fiscal considerations. As a result, there are many more families eligible for the program than there are families who have vouchers.
In 2013, as a result of the Federal Budget Control Act of 2011, a process known as sequestration resulted in significant budget cuts to Section 8 funding for all three administrative agencies, most of which have continued after the end of sequestration. HCR has announced a moratorium on reissuance of vouchers as tenants leave the program. All three agencies have imposed changes for existing voucher-holders.
Summary of the Section 8 Voucher Program
Families accepted into the program receive a voucher which allows them to search for and rent an apartment in the private market. The voucher specifies the size apartment (the number of bedrooms) to which the household is entitled, depending on the family composition. Section 8 recipients generally pay 30% of their income for the gross rent, which includes rent plus a utility allowance. The local public housing agency (PHA) pays the balance of the rent, up to a maximum called the payment standard, directly to the landlord. The tenant enters into a lease with the landlord and the landlord signs a contract with the PHA, known as the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) contract.
There are three PHAs in NYC: New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), NYS Homes and Community Renewal (HCR) or the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD).
In order to qualify for a Section 8 voucher, a household must meet income, immigration, and conduct requirements. Currently, the general public cannot apply to any Section 8 voucher program in New York City.
Except for emergency applications, NYCHA’s waiting list has been closed for well over 10 years. However, NYCHA announced that effective December 10, 2009 the waiting list for applications is closed, including emergency applications.
NYCHA is still issuing “enhanced” or “sticky” vouchers to tenants in buildings whose owners have opted out of a HUD subsidized program. See below, Enhanced or Sticky Vouchers.