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Section 8 Realities

Federal housing assistance programs for those in need date back to the Great Depression, and have been changing and evolving ever since. One of the most significant evolutions came in the 1970s, based on a growing perception that the biggest housing problem facing low-income people was not substandard housing but the percentage of their income they had to spend on shelter. That study prompted Congress to pass the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974, which created the Section 8 Program. Section 8 established a system allowing a tenant to limit rent to approximately 30% of their income, with the remaining rent paid to the private landlord with federal dollars.

As of 2015, more than 5 million people in 2.1 million households were receiving housing choice voucher assistance.[1] This program provides rental assistance that is "tenant-based," allowing a tenant to relocate from one home to another, each meeting or exceeding the minimum standard of quality. The provided monthly vouchers (with a maximum monthly worth of $2000) can also be applied towards purchasing a home. Each year the program contributes more than $17 billion toward home purchases.

Section 8 also provides property-based assistance programs. With these programs, a building owner will reserve some, and often all, of the available rental units for low-income families and tenants. The federal government pays the difference between what the low-income tenant contributes to rent and the total rent, itself. Leaving a subsidized property will result in a loss of all future access to the property-based subsidy.

Is Change Coming?
Many people are concerned that the outcome of the Presidential elections spells disaster for Section 8, while others are far more optimistic. It's best to avoid both the fear-mongering and extremist delusions. Although a large part of President Trump's campaign was devoted to rebuilding the American infrastructure, there was little comment on public housing. The newly appointed Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Ben Carson, who previously faced criticism for calling one particular plan a "mandated social-engineering scheme," has assured people that he will not take rental assistance from the hands of the millions of people who rely on it. During his hearings, Senator Carson stated that it would be "cruel and unusual" to do away with this kind of assistance without already having a proper replacement in place.

Will that be the case?
Like it or not, the dull reality of the situation is that Senator Carson is inheriting a system of public housing facing serious problems. According to HUD, waiting lists have people numbering in the hundreds of thousands, all hoping to find a home. There's also a whopping $25.6 billion budgetary shortfall for those seeking much-needed home repairs. Experts are saying it seems unlikely we'll see any increase in funding from Congress for public housing, and the current proposed budget cuts HUD's funding by over $6 billion.[2] Opinions about what's "likely" or "unlikely" are still just opinions until events unfold into facts.

The raw truth is, even though the Obama administration proposed changes to Section 8 aimed at giving low-income families living in wealthier areas more money for their vouchers, overall funding has been diminishing for years. In 2016 The US Government allocated $1.9 billion for improvements in public housing, almost a billion dollars below the allocation in the year 2000.

This stark reality has many people concerned about potential funding cuts, but Senator Carson still states that he will support many HUD initiatives. Time will tell how this scenario unfolds. It is more helpful, however, to be positive and continue working towards the goal of improving your life. Housing assistance is still available for those who can demonstrate their need of it and have looked diligently at all the potential resources.

Qualifications for Section 8
Section 8 funding comes from the federal government, but local housing authorities manage approvals. Depending on your location, you may or may not need additional qualifications, but here are the basic requirements that renters must typically meet.

Income - Your annual income must fall below your area's median. An income level of 30% of the median in your area, or lower, most certainly qualifies, as 75% of the authorities' funding go to families in this category. Your income level doesn't have to be this low. Earning 50% of your area's median will qualify you for Section 8 assistance.

HUD's website provides details of income levels by area.

Citizenship - Of course, a citizen of the United States qualifies, but most legal immigrants can also qualify. You, the applicant, will need to provide not only proof of citizenship or legal immigrant status for yourself, but also for each of your household members.

Lifestyle - You can expect a home interview from the housing authority, as the agent will want to get a feel for your lifestyle. You may not be approved if you've had past criminal or drug convictions.