The Biden Administration ❤️ Section 8 Vouchers. Does Anybody Else?

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rented photo by Our Home At is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Shelterforce is taking a crack at reimagining a functional Section 8 voucher program in the United States.

The central premise is “universality:” the idea that such financial support to pay rent (common to a number of countries) can be provided to absolutely everyone who qualifies. That’s certainly not the current situation where housing insecure hopefuls compete via waiting list or lottery for a fraction of the the necessary vouchers that a whimsical U.S. Congress makes available from year to year.

A weakness of Section 8 vouchers, noted by Shelterforce but otherwise largely ignored: there has been little or no effective legislation to require that free-market landlords accept clients who arrive waving Section 8 vouchers. Only a small fraction of those who actually need Section 8 vouchers get them. And only a fraction of that number actually are able to use them in the face of landlord hostility and/or racism. Putting it bluntly, Section 8 vouchers seldom work as intended.

The Shelterforce article explores one further impediment. Voucher 8 top-up happens only up to a “fair free-market rent.” Since we’re talking free-market here, the landlord should make that evaluation, right?

Nope. HUD sets the fair free market value, so any landlord can effectively refuse a section 8 voucher holder by requiring an “unfair” rent — a somewhat meaningless concept which an unfettered landlord may be entirely entitled to adopt in a free market economy.

It should be noted that the problems that plague Section 8 vouchers are not uncommon in other countries that use low income voucher systems1

In spite of all the caveats, The Biden administration is bullish on Section 8, so its potential certainly deserves re-evaluation. Read more at Shelterforce: Universal Housing Vouchers: A Promise or a Pipe Dream?


  1. Here’s an example in Ireland in which vouchers have been rendered useless by a government lowball of fair free market rent: Housing Rental Assistance Stalls Out In Hot Markets. Even Warm Ones

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