What Do We Know About Housing Choice Vouchers?

Ingrid Gould Ellen
Working Paper, August 2017.

Congress created the Section 8 Existing Housing Certificate program (now the Housing Choice Voucher Program) in 1974. Unlike previous federal programs that subsidized the creation of place-based affordable housing, the Section 8 program provided vouchers to households to rent units on the private market. Four decades later, the Housing Choice Voucher Program is now the largest low-income housing subsidy program managed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Research shows that vouchers reduce the rent burdens of low-income households, allow them to live in less crowded homes, and help them to avoid homelessness. The program has been less successful, however, in getting recipients to better neighborhoods and schools, and perhaps the greatest disappointment of the program is its limited reach. Families wait for years in most places to receive a voucher, and only one in four households eligible for a voucher nationally receives any federal housing assistance. Further, a significant minority of households who receive vouchers never use them, in part because of the difficulty of finding willing landlords with acceptable units. Thus, as effective as the program is, there is still much to learn about its operation and how we might improve it.

Wagner Faculty