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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program: Issues and Reform Proposals

Maggie McCarty
Specialist in Housing Policy

The Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program provides monthly rental assistance to around 2 million low-income households each year. It is administered at the local level by nearly 2,500 quasi-governmental public housing agencies (PHAs). While some form of Section 8 rental assistance has been in place since the mid-1970s, the modern program was shaped largely by the 1998 public housing reform act (P.L. 105-276). More than a decade later, the Section 8 voucher program has come under new scrutiny, with PHA industry leaders, low-income housing advocates, and some Members of Congress calling for reforms. This report introduces the primary features of the Section 8 voucher program, issues that have arisen, and recent reform proposals.

Many of the key features of the program have been considered for reform, including its administration; eligible uses of program funds; the method by which tenant income is determined and rents are calculated; who is eligible and what conditions are placed on eligibility; and other features of the program such as portability and quality inspections. Some reform proposals have focused on changing aspects of the program seen as administratively cumbersome and prone to errors. Other proposals have focused on altering the incentives in the program in order to promote policy goals such as homeownership and family self-sufficiency.

Issues have also arisen regarding how the Section 8 voucher program is funded and how changes in formula allocations have affected PHAs. Partly in response to funding issues, and partly in response to programmatic issues, there have been calls for deregulation of PHAs through expansion of the Moving to Work (MTW) Demonstration.

Several voucher reform bills were considered in the 110
th Congress. The bipartisan Section 8 Voucher Reform Act of 2007 (H.R. 1851,110th Congress) was approved by the House, and the very similar Section 8 Voucher Reform Act of 2008 (S. 2684, 110th Congress) was introduced in the Senate. These bills would have made modifications to several features of the Section 8 voucher program, including how income is calculated, how inspections are conducted, and how portability is treated, and it would have adopted a new funding formula. The House version would also have renamed, expanded, and modified the MTW demonstration and permitted PHAs to implement alternate rent structures, within limits. Neither bill was enacted before the end of the 110th Congress.

The 111
th Congress continued the debate over reforming the Section 8 voucher program with the introduction of the Section 8 Voucher Reform Act of 2009 (H.R. 3045). The 2009 version of SEVRA—as the reform bill has come to be called—was very similar to the 2008 version, but with several important changes, including modification to the replacement MTW program. It was ordered reported by the House Financial Services Committee in July 2009, but not enacted before the end of the 111th Congress. It is unclear if SEVRA or other Section 8 voucher reform legislation will be considered in the 112th Congress.

Date of Report: January 6, 2011
Number of Pages: 48
Order Number: RL34002
Price: $29.95

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