Housing Choice Voucher Program (Section 8)

The Housing Choice Voucher Program (HCV), also known as Section 8, provides eligible low and very low income families with vouchers to help cover the costs of rental housing. Residents pay 30-40% of their income toward rent and a local public housing agency contracts with the landlord to pay the remainder, up to a specified maximum amount. Eligible households can use vouchers to move to dwellings and neighborhoods of their choice, as in the Moving to Opportunity demonstration project, or to pay rent in their current location; households must recertify income annually and can receive vouchers as long as income eligibility is demonstrated. The US Department of Housing and Urban development (HUD) provides Section 8 funds to state or municipal housing agencies which administer local programs. There are often extensive waiting lists for vouchers (US HUD-Vouchers).

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Increased neighborhood choice

  • Increased neighborhood socio-economic diversity

  • Reduced exposure to crime

Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes

  • Reduced poverty

  • Reduced homelessness

  • Increased food security

  • Increased housing stability

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is some evidence that the Housing Choice Voucher Program (Section 8) helps families move to higher quality neighborhoods (, , ), improves the socio-economic diversity of neighborhoods (Houston 2013, , ), and reduces exposure to crime (US-HUD Lens 2011, CG-Rental assistance, ). Additional evidence is needed to confirm effects.

Participation in Section 8 is associated with reductions in concentrated poverty, overcrowding, and homelessness as well as improved nutrition, greater food security, and increased household stability after one year (, , , CBPP-Fischer 2015). Over the longer-term, Section 8 recipients generally move to better neighborhoods than non-participating households. A ‘better’ neighborhood has fewer people living in poverty, fewer households receiving public assistance, lower unemployment rates, higher education levels (Urban-Pendall 2014, ), and often, higher quality schools (, ).

Long-term studies of Moving to Opportunity, a demonstration project active from 1994-1998, indicate that, overall, moving from high to low poverty neighborhoods with Section 8 receipt benefits parents and girls, but has negative effects for boys and older children. Adults who move demonstrate greater improvements in mental and physical health (e.g., reduced psychological distress, obesity, and diabetes) and well-being (NBER-Ludwig 2013, ), but have similar economic outcomes to peers who do not move (NBER-Chetty 2015, NBER-Ludwig 2013, ). Girls have better physical and mental health (NBER-Ludwig 2013, , Osypuk 2012) and fewer behavioral issues (Kessler 2014, , ). Boys who move to low poverty neighborhoods have poorer mental health, including elevated depression and PTSD (Kessler 2014, NBER-Ludwig 2013, Osypuk 2012), and are more likely to be delinquent or have behavioral issues than peers whose families do not move (, Kessler 2014). Children who move before the age of 13 have a greater likelihood of attending college and living in better neighborhoods as adults, and a lower likelihood of becoming single parents; however, children who move after age 13 do not realize these benefits (NBER-Chetty 2015).

A study of ten large cities indicates that the arrival of voucher recipients in low poverty neighborhoods does not increase crime rates (CBPP-Fischer 2015). Several studies suggest that black and Hispanic households are less likely to use vouchers to move to lower poverty neighborhoods than white households (). Higher housing costs (), a limited number of landlords that accept vouchers (), and discrimination based on voucher status (, ) or race may be barriers for voucher-eligible families who wish to move to ‘better’ neighborhoods (). Lack of public transit systems in better neighborhoods can limit access to employment, schools, food, and existing social support networks for families that move (, Urban-Pendall 2014) or act as a deterrent to moving (). Counseling pre- and post-move may help voucher recipients overcome these barriers (Rinzler 2015, ) and successfully adjust to a new neighborhood ().

Housing vouchers for low income families may decrease costs to emergency shelters, the child welfare system, and the health care system, and reduce use of institutional care facilities for elderly individuals or those with disabilities (CBPP-Fischer 2015). 

Impact on Disparities

Likely to decrease disparities

Implementation Examples

The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (US HUD) provides Section 8 funds to each state; state or municipal housing agencies administer local programs and allocate funds (US HUD-Vouchers). The Baltimore Mobility Program’s (BMP’s) implementation of Section 8 includes a higher payment standard, an intensive counseling process, security deposit assistance, and requires participants to relocate to low poverty, mixed race neighborhoods for at least a year ().

Implementation Resources

US HUD-Vouchers - US Department of Housing and Urban Development (US HUD). Housing choice vouchers fact sheet.

ChangeLab-Housing toolkit 2015 - ChangeLab Solutions. Preserving, protecting, and expanding affordable housing: A policy toolkit for public health. 2015.

Housing Works-HCV - Housing Works. Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) Program: resources, informational videos, forms, and FAQs. Redmond, OR.

Citations - Evidence

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

Deng 2007* - Deng L. Comparing the effects of housing vouchers and low-income housing tax credits on neighborhood integration and school quality. Journal of Planning Education and Research. 2007;27(1):20–35.

Lindberg 2010* - Lindberg RA, Shenassa ED, Acevedo-Garcia D, et al. Housing interventions at the neighborhood level and health: A review of the evidence. Journal of Public Health Management & Practice. 2010;16(5 Suppl):S44-S52.

Eriksen 2013* - Eriksen MD, Ross A. The impact of housing vouchers on mobility and neighborhood attributes. Real Estate Economics. 2013;41(2):255-77.

Carlson 2012* - Carlson D, Haveman R, Kaplan T, Wolfe B. Long-term effects of public low-income housing vouchers on neighborhood quality and household composition. Journal of Housing Economics. 2012;21(2):101–20.

Wood 2008* - Wood M, Turnham J, Mills G. Housing affordability and family well-being: Results from the housing voucher evaluation. Housing Policy Debate. 2008;19(2):367–412.

CG-Rental assistance - The Guide to Community Preventive Services (The Community Guide). Health Equity: Tenant-based rental assistance programs.

Anderson 2003* - Anderson LM, St. Charles J, Fullilove MT, et al. Providing affordable family housing and reducing residential segregation by income. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2003;24(3S):47–67.

Varady 2010* - Varady D. What should housing vouchers do? A review of the recent literature. Journal of Housing and the Built Environment. 2010;25(4):391–407.

Collinson 2014* - Collinson RA. Assessing the allocation of CDBG to community development need. Housing Policy Debate. 2014;24(1):91-118.

Urban-Pendall 2014 - Pendall R, George T, McDade ZJ, et al. Driving to opportunity: Understanding the links among transportation access, residential outcomes, and economic opportunity for housing voucher recipients. Washington, DC: Urban Institute; 2014.

Rinzler 2015 - Rinzler D, Tegeler P, Cunningham M, Pollack C. Leveraging the power of place: Using pay for success to support housing mobility. Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. 2015: Working Paper 2015-04.

Houston 2013 - Houston D, Basolo V, Yang D. Walkability, transit access, and traffic exposure for low-income residents with subsidized housing. American Journal of Public Health. 2013;103(4):673-678.

Osypuk 2012 - Osypuk TL, Tchetgen ET, Acevedo-Garcia D, et al. Differential mental health effects of neighborhood relocation among youth in vulnerable families: Results from a randomized trial. Archives of General Psychiatry. 2012;69(12):1284-1294.

Basolo 2013* - Basolo V. Examining mobility outcomes in the Housing Choice Voucher Program: Neighborhood poverty, employment, and public school quality. Cityscape: A Journal of Policy Development and Research. 2013;15(2):135-153.

Graves 2016a* - Graves E. Rooms for improvement: A qualitative metasynthesis of the Housing Choice Voucher Program. Housing Policy Debate. 2016;26(2):346-361.

US-HUD Lens 2011 - Lens MC, Ellen IG, O'Regan K. Neighborhood crime exposure among Housing Choice Voucher households. Washington, D.C.: US Department of Housing and Urban Development (US HUD), Office of Policy Development and Research; 2011.

Van Zandt 2013* - Van Zandt SS, Mhatre PC. The effect of Housing Choice Voucher households on neighborhood crime: Longitudinal evidence from Dallas. Poverty & Public Policy. 2013;5(3):229-249.

Darrah 2014* - Darrah J, DeLuca S. 'Living here has changed my whole perspective': How escaping inner-city poverty shapes neighborhood and housing choice. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. 2014;33(2):350-384.

Dawkins 2015* - Dawkins C, Jeon JS, Pendall R. Transportation access, rental vouchers, and neighborhood satisfaction: Evidence from the Moving to Opportunity experiment. Housing Policy Debate. 2015;25(3):497-530.

Park 2013* - Park M. Housing vouchers as a means of poverty deconcentration and race desegregation: Patterns and factors of voucher recipients' spatial concentration in Cleveland. Journal of Housing and the Built Environment. 2013;28(3):451-468.

Kessler 2014 - Kessler RC, Duncan GJ, Gennetian LA, et al. Associations of housing mobility interventions for children in high poverty neighborhoods with subsequent mental disorders during adolescence. Journal of the American Medical Association. 2014;311(9):937-948.

CBPP-Fischer 2015 - Fischer W. Research shows housing vouchers reduce hardship and provide platform for long-term gains among children. Washington, DC: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities; 2015.

NBER-Chetty 2015 - Chetty R, Hendren N, Katz LF. The effects of exposure to better neighborhoods on children: New evidence from the Moving to Opportunity experiment. The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). 2015: Working Paper No. 21156.

NBER-Ludwig 2013 - Ludwig J, Duncan GJ, Gennetian LA, et al. Long-term neighborhood effects on low-income families: Evidence from Moving to Opportunity. The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). 2013: Working Paper No. 18772.

Gennetian 2012* - Gennetian LA, Sanbonmatsu L, Katz LF, et al. The long-term effects of Moving to Opportunity on youth outcomes. 2012;14(2):137-167.

Graif 2015* - Graif C. Delinquency and gender moderation in the Moving to Opportunity intervention: The role of extended neighborhoods. Criminology. 2015;53(3):366-398.

US HUD-Sanbonmatsu 2012* - Sanbonmatsu L, Potter NA, Adam E, et al. The long-term effects of Moving to Opportunity on adult health and economic self-sufficiency. 2012;14(2):109-136.

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

US HUD-Vouchers - US Department of Housing and Urban Development (US HUD). Housing choice vouchers fact sheet.

Darrah 2014* - Darrah J, DeLuca S. 'Living here has changed my whole perspective': How escaping inner-city poverty shapes neighborhood and housing choice. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. 2014;33(2):350-384.

Date Last Updated

Nov 1, 2018