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The Housing Choice Voucher Program

The Housing Choice Voucher Program (HCVP) was enacted in 1974 as Section 8 of the United States Housing Act. On the federal level, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) administers the program, and it is administered locally by public housing agencies (PHAs). In addition to the HCVP, many PHAs also administer public housing programs. Congress annually appropriates funds for the HCVP. Each PHA has a set number of vouchers that it is authorized to use each year. To maximize the number of families receiving assistance, advocates should work with PHAs to ensure that they are issuing all of their vouchers.

Most PHAs must submit to HUD an annual plan that sets forth certain local policies regarding the HCVP. PHAs must ensure that 75% of households newly admitted to the voucher program each year have incomes at or below 30% of area median income (AMI). Depending upon local policy, the remainder of the newly admitted households may have incomes of up to 80% of AMI.

When an HCVP applicant receives a voucher from the local PHA, the applicant must find a unit on the private market. The owner of the unit enters into a Housing Assistance Payment Contract with the PHA and signs a lease with the tenant. Because discrimination against voucher holders has been a significant problem, some jurisdictions have enacted source of income anti-discrimination laws that prohibit owners from refusing to rent to voucher holders. A key feature of the HCVP is portability, which permits voucher holders to move to the jurisdiction of another PHA and retain their assistance.

The maximum subsidy that a PHA may pay on behalf of a household is called the payment standard. The tenant’s portion of the rent is calculated at 30% of the household’s adjusted income. If the rent for the unit exceeds the payment standard, the household may pay more than 30% of income for rent.

During the term of the lease, a landlord may only evict a voucher tenant for good cause. Before a voucher can be terminated, the PHA must notify the household of the reasons for termination and provide a pre-termination hearing.

Vouchers may be used at the local level as Project-Based Vouchers (PBVs). A PHA may attach up to 20% of its voucher assistance to specific housing units if an owner agrees to rehabilitate or construct the units, or if an owner agrees to set aside a portion of the units in an existing development. A key benefit of PBVs is that they provide long-term affordable housing for very low and extremely low income households.

PHAs may also choose to participate in the Homeownership Voucher Program, which enables voucher holders to use their voucher assistance for mortgage payments or down-payments instead of rent.
Additionally, there are several voucher programs that are targeted to certain categories of families, including Welfare to Work, Family Unification, Mainstream (for persons with disabilities), and Veteran Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH). PHAs must apply for these vouchers through HUD by responding to notices of funding availability. PHAs also may receive Tenant Protection Vouchers and/or Enhanced Vouchers as a result of the loss of project-based federally assisted housing or public housing.


Policy Basics: The Housing Voucher Choice Program

This brief background sheet from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) gives an overview of the Housing Choice Voucher Program.

Court Finds Voucher Tenant Properly Asserted Section 1983 Action

This October 2008 NHLP Housing Law Bulletin article discusses a federal district court opinion that a tenant’s claims challenging a PHA’s termination of her voucher were enforceable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

Seattle Housing Authority Agrees to Broad Reforms for Voucher Termination Hearings

This August 2008 NHLP Housing Law Bulletin article provides an overview of a case in which the Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) signed a consent decree committing to substantially reform its termination hearings for Section 8 voucher holders after a lawsuit initiated by a Section 8 participant who alleged due process deficiencies in SHA’s practices and procedures in conducting termination hearings.

Courts Embellish Procedural Protections for Voucher Terminations

This February 2008 NHLP Housing Law Bulletin article discusses recent court cases that have provided some detail to the basic right of HCVP participants to due process protections before a PHA may terminate the voucher.


NHLP, HUD Housing Programs: Tenants’ Rights

(3d ed. 2004 and 2006-2007 Supp.)

Why Low Income Housing Providers Should Be Interested In Whether Vouchers Allocated Are Fully Used Locally

National Housing Law Project PowerPoint Presentations at the Housing California Conference, April 2009

Training materials

Powerpoint and outline on the voucher program from the Housing Justice Network Conference, December 6, 2008

Statutes and Regulations


42 U.S.C. § 1437f(o) (the main provisions governing the voucher program)

§ 1437f(o)(13) (PHA project-based assistance)
§ 1437f(o)(15) (Homeownership option)

42 U.S.C. § 1437 (Declaration of policy and public housing agency organization)
42 U.S.C. § 1436a (Restrictions on use of assisted housing by non-resident aliens)
42 U.S.C. §§ 13661-4 (Safety and Security in Public and Assisted Housing)


24 C.F.R. Part 982—Section 8 Tenant Based Assistance: Housing Choice Voucher Program

§ 982.625 (Homeownership Option)

24 C.F.R. Part 983—Project-Based Voucher (PBV) Program
24 C.F.R. Part 984—Section 8 and Public Housing Family Self-Sufficiency Program
24 C.F.R. Part 985—Section 8 Management Assessment Program (SEMAP)
24 C.F.R. Part 5—General HUD Requirements; Waivers
§ 5.100 General Definitions


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