Seattle Does The Section 8 Two-Step: A Vastly Improved Housing Voucher Plan

closeup of sign saying no trespassing, no loiter, and giving a phone number of a shelter
Sign to shelter photo by Niall Kennedy is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
A traditional, nominal, and hugely ineffective form of support for those seeking housing.

The fundamental nature of the world’s most successful homeless-to-housing program is embodied in its name: Housing FirstFirst implies that there is at least a second step. And housing is part of what makes the program successful. That second step is ‘support’.

Finding housing for homeless folks without providing followup support works poorly. So does supporting folks without getting them into housing.1

Seattle has recently brought a different two step approach to what has traditionally been a one-step program for finding affordable housing — U.S. federal section 8 vouchers.

That one step? Signing up on a waiting list for scarce vouchers from this seriously underfunded Housing and Urban Development (HUD) program. Days, weeks, months, even years later, if an applicant is lucky, a voucher arrives. End of story. Good Luck. God Bless. Soyanara. You’re on your own.

Converting a Section 8 piece of paper to a roof over your head ‘on your own’, even in the face of the hardest work by desperate applicants, produces results ranging from poor to a complete bust.2

Seattle, however, found funding to make Section 8 vouchers a two step process.

Step one, wait for a voucher (no change).

Step 2, support.

The results have been amazing, not only cost-effectively finding housing, but also finding the best possible accommodation for the voucher holder. Another potential success is addressed in the headline of the article linked below.

Why might this article be valuable to other countries?

Whatever the problems of voucher programs, they are in use in more places than the United States. What kind of support should be provided to voucher holders? Can it be cost effective? Seattle has some answers.

Read more in Vox: America Has A Housing Segregation Problem. Seattle May Just Have The Solution.


  1. And it’s important to mention that this two-step Housing First program is suffering greatly from international declines in affordable rental housing that permits the housing step to happen.
  2. After Stringent Housing Choice Voucher Testing: Jury Still Out on Racial Discrimination