Unless you’ve relied on housing choice vouchers — also known as ”Section 8″ — at some point in your life, you likely don’t think about housing subsidies very often. This federal program, which serves over two million people annually, can be life-changing for participants — but as with other government benefits, it can also come with a burden of stigma and discrimination.
A recent study by the Urban Institute examined how prospective landlords interact with tenants who use vouchers — and their findings were pretty depressing: Up to 78 percent of landlords in some places refused to rent to tenants using vouchers.
These vouchers provide assistance with the cost of renting — and, in some cases, buying — a home. They go directly to the landlord. In instances where the vouchers don’t cover the entire cost of rent, tenants must make up the difference. People who use vouchers are exactly like other tenants, but some of their rent comes from the government — that’s it!
To qualify, people must make less than 50 percent of median income and go through an application process that includes extensive documentation. Then they’re placed on a waiting list for vouchers — and it can take years for their names to be called. The process of applying for and getting vouchers, in other words, isn’t easy. Having one in hand is no guarantee that you’ll find a rental, either.
You may have seen “No Section 8” on “for rent” signs and apartment ads — and in many places, that’s entirely legal. That’s the problem, argue the researchers: When landlords don’t face any penalties for declining vouchers, they feel free to reject perfectly good tenants.
That changes radically in areas where this kind of discrimination is prohibited. In Washington, D.C., for example, just 15 percent of voucher-using tenants were turned down.
Why Are So Many Landlords Anti-Vouchers?