The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) established the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program in 1974 to provide low-income families the possibility of affording a home in the private market through monthly housing payment assistance. However, throughout the program’s history, significant challenges have hindered the program’s effectiveness. Some of the program’s core issues concern landlords’ reluctance to accept vouchers, high market rent inflation, and the limitations faced by voucher holders in finding suitable and decent housing.

The primary issues contributing to landlords’ reluctance is the stigma associated with Section 8 HVC program and perceptions regarding the program’s participants. This stigma has led to discrimination or rejection on the part of homeowners and/or property management companies to participate in the housing assistance program. Additionally, the gap between market rents and the payment standards set by the HUD can make it financially unfeasible for landlords to participate.

Addressing the program’s challenges requires a multifaceted approach including encouraging landlords to participate in the program by providing financial incentives such as higher payment standards, rent deposits, streamlining the qualification process for landlords, timely rent payments, or guarantees against damages beyond normal wear and tear. Education and outreach efforts can also help dispel misconceptions and reduce the negative associations that exist for voucher holders. Furthermore, rebranding the program and revising participants’ program requirements and regulations to better align with market realities and address barriers to participation is crucial to ensuring that tenants and landlords consistently adhere to the program’s regulations. Efforts to improve the effectiveness of the program should also consider broader housing policy reforms aimed at addressing underlying issues contributing to the housing crisis such as addressing systemic issues such as discrimination, housing segregation, availability of housing options, and applicant wait times.

HUD is taking steps to eliminate some of the process barriers for HCV applicants who are experiencing or are at risk of homelessness. Just last week, HUD Acting Secretary Todman announced a change that could help cut down the time it takes to get these individuals certified and approved for placement into stable housing. Changes like these create needed flexibility for participants for whom longer wait times can have a significant impact on their quality or life and ability to respond to abrupt changes to their employment or other living circumstances.

Policymakers should also consider reallocating unused funding to other housing programs that are addressing and providing housing solutions and needs. Revising HUD Rule 4350.3 to mandate that participants also be enrolled in the Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program and encourage employment among HCV participants could be a positive step towards addressing some of the challenges faced by the program that currently require able bodied families to maintain employment or obtain workforce development skills by accessing community resources. These changes could potentially empower families to become more economically independent. Automatic enrollment of HCV families in FSS programs for homeownership, coupled with clear timelines and support from case managers, has the potential to transform the HCV program and improve its reputation in the private market. Furthermore, establishing clear timelines and accountability measures could help ensure that families make progress towards their self-sufficiency goals within a reasonable time limit. As a result, generational dependency on federal housing assistance could be drastically cut or even come to an end.

Additional flexibility and innovative approaches to waiver utilization could also have a significant impact on how community’s view housing strategies holistically. For example, housing choice vouchers that are not being used should be reallocated to the Project Based Rental Assistance (PBRA)/ Project Based Voucher (PBV) programs or assist the financial feasibility or funding gap in the LITHC program or other housing programs such as allowing housing authorities to build homes for families within their communities.

It is important to carefully consider the potential implications and feasibility of these proposed program revisions. Any changes to the program’s requirements should consider the diverse needs and circumstances of voucher holders from a holistic approach to include education, workforce, childcare, health, and community engagement. This approach promotes equity and supports the long-term well-being of the entire family which creates vibrant stable communities. Collaboration between policymakers, housing authorities, landlords, advocacy groups, and other stakeholders will be crucial in implementing the housing reform effectively.


  • Melanie Thompson, Senior Housing Consultant, TPMA