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Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program

Program Description

The Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program (HCVP) increases affordable housing choices for very low-income households by helping families pay a portion of their rent in privately owned housing.

DHCD's Division of Public Housing and Rental Assistance, which administers this program, has the responsibility for regulatory and administrative oversight of all state and federally-aided rental assistance programs which address the needs of low-income families, the elderly and persons with disabilities.

How it works:

Eligible households are issued a Section 8/HCVP Voucher. The family is then given up to 120 days to locate their own rental housing, which can be located anywhere in the country, or they can elect to remain in their current unit provided it meets program requirements. Rental units must meet minimum standards of health and safety. The rent for the unit must be reasonable in comparison to rents charged for similar, unassisted apartments in the area. A rental subsidy is paid directly to the landlord on behalf of the participating family by the housing agency. The subsidy is determined by the family's income. The family pays the difference between the actual rent charged by the landlord and the amount subsidized by the Section 8 program.

The Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) contracts with eight regional housing agencies and one local housing authority to administer its portfolio of Section 8/HCVP subsidies.

Who is eligible:

Eligibility is based on the family's total gross income. At least 75% of all vouchers issued by a housing agency must be targeted to households whose total income does not exceed 30% of the area median income. HUD establishes income limits.

Application process:

Applicants may contact any one of DHCD's eight regional administering agencies to request an application or, a hard copy of the DHCD application can be downloaded from DHCD's homepage at and then submitted to any of the regional agencies. Please be advised that because the demand for housing assistance often exceeds the limited available resources, long waiting lists exist. (Note: In Massachusetts, families can also apply to over 100 local housing authorities that also administer the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program. Lists are frequently closed due to the number of families waiting.)

Grant amounts:

DHCD manages a Section 8/HCVP Voucher Program which serves over 18,000 households.

For further information:

Contact the Bureau of Federal Rental Assistance at (617) 573-1150, or the local housing authority in a community of your choice.


About Section 8 Housing

History, Features, Benefits, Types, Effects

During the Great Depression, the federal government instituted several housing assistance programs in response to the lack of affordable housing for millions of Americans. The Housing Choice Voucher Program, which is provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), is most often referred to as Section 8 in reference to the section of the Housing Act of 1937, where the program first appeared. The original intent of the Section 8 program is to help low-income families pay their rent without sacrificing safety or quality of living.

There are some things about Section 8 that you must know in order to fully understand it. First, the tenants are required to pay rent in the amount of no more than 30% of their income, and federal money pays the rest to the landlord. In addition, the portion of the rent covered by federal money is limited by what is called "Fair Market Rent" or FMR. FMR is set by HUD, and determined based on three factors: geographic area, size of rental unit, and which party is responsible for utility bills. Finally, there is no time limit dictating how long a family or individual can participate in the Section 8 program.

Section 8 housing has many benefits for both landlord and tenant. Landlords that choose to participate in Section 8 housing are required to submit to HUD housing quality standards (HSQ) to ensure that housing is clean and safe for living. By that same token, tenants participating in Section 8 must abide by certain rules or forever lose the assistance of Section 8. Landlords get well-behaved tenants who pay their rent on time, and low-income families and individuals are able to live in a clean and safe environment at a price they can afford.

The Housing Choice Voucher Program, which is the major Section 8 program, allows participants to use one of two different types of vouchers. The project-based voucher allows participants to live in specific apartment buildings, whereas tenant-based vouchers allow participants to find housing units in the private sector. Tenant-based vouchers also have the unique exception of allowing participants to live anywhere in the United States where a Section 8 program is offered.

The positive effect of the Section 8 housing program is that low-income families are given an opportunity to live in an environment that is clean and safe from the crime that plagues low-income and public housing neighborhoods. In addition, Section 8 housing protects low-income households from the ever-increasing price of renting private properties.

Negative effects of Section 8 housing include the lack of time restraints on participation in the program. Initially intended to alleviate the difficulties of finding affordable housing for low-income families, Section 8 makes little, if any progress in transitioning these individuals from government-assisted living to independent living. With no time limits, many other needy families are denied access to this program because of lifetime participants.

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