Reposted from November of 2009
The term “Section 8” is often used as a scare tacit when certain types of development are discussed. It’s been an issue in Antioch and concern here in Oakley. There does seem to be a lot of confusion about exactly what it is and how it works. I’m not going to get into the pros and cons of the program. My purpose here is to merely provide a brief introduction to the program.
Section 8 is best defined as a program that is run by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to provide housing for low income families. This program is more commonly known as Section 8, the reference to the portion of the U.S. Housing Act of 1937 under which the original subsidy program was authorized. It provides the housing for low income families through the use of a voucher system. The voucher system is administered by local housing authorities. In our case, and the majority of cities in Contra Costa, this local housing authority (HA) is the county. The program’s primary purpose is to provide rental assistance to low-income families for affordable housing. Recipients of the assistance receive a voucher to rent homes in the private market. The voucher covers a portion of the rent and the tenant is expected to pay the balance. The tenant’s share of the rent is an affordable percentage of their income, which is generally between 30 to 40 percent of the monthly income for rent and utilities.
To be eligible for Section 8 housing assistance, a family must meet several requirements. They must be citizens or have eligible immigration status, and they must qualify as a “low or very low income” family, according to local income standards. Generally this means that their family income is below 50% of the median income for the area. These median income levels are determined annually by HUD. According to federal law, 75% of Section 8 vouchers are to be given to families whose income level is less than 30% of the local median income.
Here is how it works. Once a family qualifies for Section 8 they are issued a voucher. The family looks for a privately owned rental unit participating in the program. Rent payment is based on income. The voucher will pay anything above 30% of the adjusted monthly income up to an established limit. For example, if the person earns $2,000 per month and the home rents for $900 per month, they would pay $600 and the voucher would cover the difference of $300 as long as the Fair Market Rent in the area is equal to or greater than $900. Section 8 vouchers are “portable”. So, once a voucher is received, it can be taken anywhere in the United States that has a public housing authority which can administer the voucher. You can literally receive a voucher in Mississippi and move to Hawaii with it.
Fair Market Rent (FMR), is defined as: “The rent, including the cost of utilities (except telephone), as established by HUD for units of varying sizes (by number of bedrooms), that must be paid in the housing market area to rent privately owned, existing, decent, safe and sanitary rental housing of modest (non-luxury) nature with suitable amenities.” In metropolitan areas HUD sets a rent level that determines which units are available under the Section 8 certificate and voucher programs. Because the FMR is based on rents throughout the metropolitan area, the FMR tends to be somewhat high relative to rents in the central city and somewhat low relative to rents in the suburbs. Someone living in a small house in San Francisco could use the same voucher to rent a much larger home somewhere in East County. With vouchers, thousands of families each year do exactly what the program expects: They migrate out of poor neighborhoods and into better neighborhoods.
For properties to participate in the Section 8 program it is a fairly simple process. The first step is to inform the local HA that your property is available, and that you would like to rent to tenants with Section 8 vouchers. The HA places the property on a listing of qualified units and then distributes it to potential tenants. For properties to qualify, they must be safe and in decent shape, yet relatively affordable. To qualify as Section 8 housing, a rental property must be within 90% to 110% of the local Fair Market Rent. No one at the city is involved in this process or notified when a home owner rents their home via Section 8.