Choose‎ > ‎

Housing Choice Voucher

Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) prevents homelessness and improves social outcomes.

What is Housing Choice Voucher?

Housing Choice Vouchers (HCV) which are sometimes called "Metro" or "Section 8". Housing Choice Vouchers is a rent subsidy program for low income households. Many tenants call HCV "the gold card" because they are hard to get and they can take you to places you haven't been before. 

Unlike older subsidy programs that are tied to specific units, HCVs offer household mobility and seem to be the wave of the future in Federally assisted housing. That's because HUD is not building new project based developments and HUD is encouraging "mobility" options for subsidized tenants. 

    Here's a few facts: In 2014 
  • 90,200 households in Ohio were in the HCV program (despite sequestration cuts) 
  • Private owners in Ohio received $490,100,000 in HCV subsidies 
  • Nationally only 25% of eligible households receive a HCV. Waiting lists are selected by lottery and can be 5-10 years long. 
  • 47% of HCV households include children; 21% are elderly with no children, 20% are disabled with children  see Ohio Fact Sheet attached below.
What if housing vouchers worked like food stamps? An action plan. 

Back in the midst of the great Depression, political leaders decried the welfare-ization of the US by pointing to the expansion of costs in SNAP (the Food Stamp program). See, unemployed or under employed households were using the Food Stamp program to protect their children from hunger while the economy recovered. That's how the program is supposed to work and, in fact, that's how it is working. Center for Budget and Policy Priorities notes that as the economy slowly recovers, food stamp costs are shrinking. 

However, as the economy (slowly) recovers, rents are soaring. Even middle class households are hit by rent increases that rob their household budgets of money to pay for food, medicine, and transportation. NPR's Keith Romer asks a good question “Why aren't housing vouchers like food stamps?” Households get help when needed. No lottery. No waiting list. Just help when needed.

The fact is only one in three “eligible” households gets housing assistance (vouchers or project-based). Is housing less important than food? Recent studies are pretty clear that housing instability, especially for young people, can have life long impacts. Living in substandard conditions puts children at risk of health and safety risks that can create long term “trauma.”

Pew researcher Jung Kim is quoted in the Dispatch as saying “...the increase in lower-income adults also could reflect the welfare reforms enacted in the 1990s. Back then, the strong economy and job growth helped provide support for lower-income people, but the loss of those benefits 20 years later could be taking a toll....” Maybe it's time to end “ending welfare as we know it.” Ripping up the social safety net did not prevent the Great Recession and is not bridging the gaps between the old prosperity and the new economy. 

Where does that leave low income people and their advocates? The NPR story provides a good model for what advocates need to do in their local communities. 

1. Tell the story of sympathetic renters who is working hard, coping with rising rents, but experiencing unforeseen challenges (job loss, medical emergency, auto breakdown...etc.) 

2. Make the direct comparison between food stamps and housing vouchers. Like food stamps, vouchers should be there for everyone who is income eligible, when there's a need. Costs will decrease when the economy improves. Vouchers won't pay for mansions just like food stamps don't buy cigarettes or beer. Vouchers support local landlords, just like food stamps support local groceries. 

3. Emphasize the local benefits. Landlords get paid and don't have to pay to evict tenants. Courts can prosecute criminals, and not families. Housing authorities will do inspections, so city inspectors don't have to. Families will stay in stable homes instead of moving from shelter to shelter. 

4. When people cry out, “we don't have the money,” offer this solution. Next year, Congress will take up tax reform. By capping the mortgage interest deduction so that the benefits go only to middle class homeowners, Congress could devote that revenue to support universal housing vouchers. When opponents say “no new taxes...” you can say: “Yep, that is correct. Revenue neutral.” 

Here's the thing. Advocates have to start the local discussion now before the next Congress convenes in January. The way things work in DC is that all the deals will be cut before a bill is introduced. Without some local people saying “we have a problem in our community” it will be business as usual in Congress. And if your local officials don't like the idea of “vouchers,” call'm housing stamps...the RHINO doesn't care.
  Your HCV Outreach and Organizing program
Advocates can begin to engage and mobilize HCV households.  Here's some steps

Educate yourself
  • Review PHA annual plan
  • Pick up literature from reception area, example: rules/regs, landlord list
  • Ask questions of PHA staff: how screened for landlord list; basic search time and extensions, inspection turn around time, mediation of LLT disputes
  • Ask questions of HCV households. What are their biggest frustrations?
Issues to tackle
Federal funding levels
PHA policies for HCV program Search time
Source of Income discrimination

Organizing HCV households

Synergies-Working with HCV households complements your other practice goals.
  • Fair housing groups use HCV homeseekers as testers.
  • Housing advocates: support your efforts to expand housing opportunities.
  • Dispute resolution programs: expand your practice to landlord-HCV disputes (maybe in cooperation with MHAs.

 Notes & Links

Factsheet: HCV in Ohio
(attached at the bottom of the page)

Housing subsidies as an entitlement (NPQ)

HCV organizing

Selection, Matching, and the Rules of the Game: Landlords and the Geographic Sorting of Low-Income Renters

Spencer Wells,
Dec 15, 2015, 4:57 AM