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 (US HUD) provides Section 8 funds to state or municipal housing agencies which administer local programs. There are often extensive waiting lists for vouchers, sometimes lasting multiple years1, 2.
Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)
Increased neighborhood choice
Increased neighborhood socio-economic diversity
Reduced exposure to crime
Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes
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 neighborhoods3, 4, 5, 6, improves neighborhood socio-economic diversity3, 7, 8, 9, and reduces homelessness5, 6, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, family separations10, 11, and exposure to crime14, 15, 16. Additional evidence is needed to confirm long-term effects.
Section 8 participation may reduce concentrated poverty and overcrowding5, 13, and improve nutrition, food security, and household stability5, 11, 13. Over time, 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 levels4, 17, and often, higher quality schools18, 19. Studies indicate voucher recipients arriving in low poverty neighborhoods do not increase crime rates13, 20; however, increasing numbers of Section 8 recipients in higher poverty neighborhoods is associated with a modest increase in property crime rates20.
Section 8 vouchers can offer families low, fixed housing costs, eviction protections, and improved housing and neighborhood quality, which may improve health outcomes and reduce health care spending21. In the short-term, Section 8 participation reduces psychological distress and alcohol and drug use by adults and reduces children’s school absences11. In the long-term, it also reduces intimate partner violence and children’s behavioral issues11. Gentrification is associated with increased anxiety and depression diagnoses among children in low income families living in market-rate housing; such an effect is not associated with children in Section 8 households22.
Long-term studies of Moving to Opportunity, a demonstration project active from 1994-1998, indicate that, overall, using Section 8 to move from high to low poverty neighborhoods 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-being23, 24, but have similar economic outcomes to peers who do not move23, 25. Girls have better physical and mental health23, 26, 27, fewer behavioral issues26, 28, 29, and are less likely to abuse substances30 or engage in binge drinking31. Boys who move to low poverty neighborhoods have poorer mental health, including elevated depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)23, 27, 28, and are more likely to be delinquent, have behavioral issues26, 28, or engage in risky behaviors30, including binge drinking31, than peers whose families do not move. Children who move before age 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 benefits25.
Higher housing costs32, fewer landlords that accept vouchers33, 34 or rent to unemployed or previously arrested voucher holders35, and discrimination based on source of income (SOI)33, 36, 37 or race may be barriers for voucher-eligible families trying to move to better neighborhoods37, 38. Lack of public transportation in better neighborhoods can limit access to employment, schools, food, and existing social support networks for families that move17, 32, or act as a deterrent to moving38; recipients may be more likely to remain in high poverty areas to maintain existing social support networks39.
Studies suggest black and Hispanic households are less likely to use vouchers to move to lower poverty neighborhoods38, 40 and more likely to live near significantly lower performing and higher poverty schools41 than white households receiving Section 8. Disabled or formerly homeless Section 8 recipients move more frequently and are less successful renting in lower poverty areas than other Section 8 recipients40; overall, Section 8 recipients are more likely to live near high poverty schools than other poor families41.
Affordable housing policies that provide Section 8 recipients with customized housing search assistance can reduce residential segregation, increase upward mobility40, 42, increase access to higher performing schools41, and improve housing location outcomes43. Such assistance can be offered to groups that often struggle to secure leases, such as the elderly35. Policies can also reduce the frequency of forced moves for families with low incomes40. Counseling pre- and post-move44, customized housing search assistance, landlord engagement, and short-term financial assistance42 may help voucher recipients move and successfully adjust to new neighborhoods19.
Section 8 vouchers may decrease costs to emergency shelters, child welfare and health care systems, and reduce use of institutional care facilities for elderly individuals or those with disabilities13. A Milwaukee-based study suggests Section 8 renters may be charged higher rent than unassisted renters living in similar units and neighborhoods; this increases program costs while reducing program reach45.
Impact on Disparities
The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (US HUD) provides Housing Choice Voucher Program (Section 8) funds to each state; state or municipal housing agencies administer local programs and allocate funds1. In 2017, US HUD provided nearly $18 billion in vouchers to 5.3 million people in 2.2 million households in urban, suburban, and rural communities; 70% of recipients are families with children, 23% are disabled, and 11% are elderly46. Available data suggests few families receiving Section 8 reside in high opportunity neighborhoods; most tend to live in neighborhoods with primarily minority residents and fewer opportunities47.
As of 2017, 13 states, 43 cities and counties have laws that prevent landlords from engaging in source of income (SOI) discrimination, which includes discrimination against Section 8 recipients; New York and Hawaii have laws under consideration37.
Many local Section 8 programs offer additional support for recipients trying to move to higher opportunity neighborhoods. For example, Baltimore Housing Mobility Program’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 year19, 48. Spartanburg Housing Authority in Spartanburg, SC maintains separate portals on their website for Section 8 applicants, residents, and landlords, along with information about how to become a landlord, find Section 8 eligible housing, apply for housing, and rules to live by49.
CBPP-HCV 2019 - Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). National and state housing fact sheets & data: Housing Choice Voucher program. Washington, DC: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP); 2019.
Housing Works-HCV - Housing Works. Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) Program: resources, informational videos, forms, and FAQs. Redmond, OR.
US HUD-Vouchers - US Department of Housing and Urban Development (US HUD). Housing Choice Vouchers fact sheet.
LHS - Local Housing Solutions (LHS). To enhance local affordability and foster inclusive communities. New York University, Furman Center and Abt Associates, Inc.
Furman Center-Affordable housing - Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy. Research area: Affordable & subsidized housing. New York University, Furman Center.
Furman Center-Neighborhood conditions - Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy. Research area: Neighborhood conditions. New York University, Furman Center.
ChangeLab-Housing toolkit - ChangeLab Solutions. Preserving, protecting, and expanding affordable housing: A policy toolkit for public health. 2015.
LHS-COVID-19 response - Local Housing Solutions (LHS), NYU Furman Center, Abt Associates. Housing issues: COVID-19.
* Journal subscription may be required for access.
1 US HUD-Vouchers - US Department of Housing and Urban Development (US HUD). Housing Choice Vouchers fact sheet.
2 Ellen 2020* - Ellen IG. What do we know about housing choice vouchers? Regional Science and Urban Economics. 2020;80.
3 Fenelon 2017 - Fenelon A, Mayne P, Simon AE, et al. Housing assistance programs and adult health in the United States. American Journal of Public Health. 2017;107(4):571-578.
4 Eriksen 2013* - Eriksen MD, Ross A. The impact of housing vouchers on mobility and neighborhood attributes. Real Estate Economics. 2013;41(2):255-77.
5 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.
6 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.
7 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.
8 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.
9 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.
10 Shinn 2017* - Shinn M, Brown SR, Gubits D. Can housing and service interventions reduce family separations for families who experience homelessness? American Journal of Community Psychology. 2017;60(1-2):79-90.
11 US HUD-Gubits 2017 - Gubits D, Shinn M, Wood M, et al. Family Options Study: 3-Year impacts of housing and services interventions for homeless families. Washington, DC: US Department of Housing and Urban Development (US HUD), Office of Policy Development and Research; 2016.
12 Solari 2017* - Solari CD, Khadduri J. Family options study: How homeless families use housing choice vouchers. Cityscape. 2017;19(3):387-412.
13 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.
14 US HUD-Lens 2011 - Lens MC, Ellen IG, O'Regan K. Neighborhood crime exposure among Housing Choice Voucher households. Washington, DC: US Department of Housing and Urban Development (US HUD), Office of Policy Development and Research; 2011.
15 CG-Rental assistance - The Guide to Community Preventive Services (The Community Guide). Health Equity: Tenant-based rental assistance programs.
16 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.
17 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.
18 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.
19 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.
20 Hendey 2016* - Hendey L, Galster G, Popkin SJ, et al. Housing choice voucher holders and neighborhood crime: A dynamic panel analysis from Chicago. Urban Affairs Review. 2016;52(4):471-500.
21 Pfeiffer 2018 - Pfeiffer D. Rental housing assistance and health: Evidence from the survey of income and program participation. Housing Policy Debate. 2018;28(4):515-533.
22 Dragan 2019* - Dragan BKL, Ellen IG, Glied SA. Gentrification and the health of low-income children in New York City. Health Affairs. 2019;38(9):1425-1432.
23 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.
24 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.
25 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.
26 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.
27 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.
28 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.
29 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.
30 Schmidt 2017* - Schmidt NM, Glymour MM, Osypuk TL. Adolescence is a sensitive period for housing mobility to influence risky behaviors: An experimental design. Journal of Adolescent Health. 2017;60(4):431-437.
31 Osypuk 2019 - Osypuk TL, Joshi S, Schmidt NM, et al. Effects of a federal housing voucher experiment on adolescent binge drinking: A secondary analysis of a randomized controlled trial. Addiction. 2019;114(1):48-58.
32 Collinson 2014* - Collinson RA. Assessing the allocation of CDBG to community development need. Housing Policy Debate. 2014;24(1):91-118.
33 Phillips 2017* - Phillips DC. Landlords avoid tenants who pay with vouchers. Economics Letters. 2017;151:48-52.
34 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.
35 Chyn 2018* - Chyn E, Hyman J, Kapustin M. Housing voucher take-up and labor market impacts. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. 2018;38(1):65-98.
36 Tighe 2017* - Tighe JR, Hatch ME, Mead J. Source of income discrimination and fair housing policy. Journal of Planning Literature. 2017;32(1):3-15.
37 Miles 2017 - Miles DRB, Samuels B, Pollack CE. Leveraging housing vouchers to address health disparities. American Journal of Public Health. 2017;107(2):238-240.
38 Graves 2016a* - Graves E. Rooms for improvement: A qualitative metasynthesis of the Housing Choice Voucher Program. Housing Policy Debate. 2016;26(2):346-361.
39 Ellen 2019* - Ellen IG, Suher M, Torrats-Espinosa G. Neighbors and networks: The role of social interactions on the residential choices of housing choice voucher holders. Journal of Housing Economics. 2019;43:56-71.
40 Wang 2017a* - Wang R, Walter RJ, Arafat AA, et al. Examining neighborhood opportunity and locational outcomes for housing choice voucher recipients: A comparative study between Duval County, Florida, and Bexar County, Texas. City and Community. 2017;16(4):421-446.
41 Ellen 2018a* - Ellen IG, Horn KM, Kuai Y. Gateway to opportunity? Disparities in neighborhood conditions among Low-Income Housing Tax Credit residents. Housing Policy Debate. 2018;28(4):572-591.
42 Bergman 2019 - Bergman P, Chetty R, DeLuca S, et al. Creating moves to opportunity: Experimental evidence on barriers to neighborhood choice. National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). 2019: Working Paper 26164.
43 CBPP-Sard 2016 - Sard B, Rice D. Realizing the Housing Voucher program’s potential to enable families to move to better neighborhoods. Washington, DC: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP); 2016.
44 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.
45 Desmond 2016* - Desmond M, Perkins KL. Are landlords overcharging housing voucher holders? City and Community. 2016;15(2):137-162.
46 CBPP-HCV 2017 - Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). Housing Choice Voucher fact sheets. Washington, DC: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP); 2017.
47 CBPP-Mazzara 2019 - Mazzara A, Knudsen B. Where families with children use Housing Vouchers: A comparative look at the 50 largest metropolitan areas. Washington, DC: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP); 2019.
48 BRHP-BHMP - Baltimore Regional Housing Partnership (BRHP). The Baltimore Housing Mobility Program. Baltimore, MD.
49 SHA-Voucher - Spartanburg Housing Authority (SHA). Voucher program: Applicant, resident, and landlord portals. Spartanburg, SC.
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