Section 8 refers to a section of the United States Housing Act. The initial portions of this Act were passed in 1937 in response to the shortage of affordable housing for the poor, which was part of the aftermath of the Great Depression. Section 8 also references the type of government assistance for housing available to some, but not all, qualifying people. It can also be used as an adjective to describe housing programs administered under the 1937 Act and its subsequent revisions.
More recently, Section 8 has focused on reducing the difference between the rent renters can afford to pay and what landlords charge. This is accomplished by a government subsidy granted to landlords who rent to qualifying tenants. The subsidy takes the form of a voucher.
Landlords can volunteer to be part of the Section 8 program or they can agree to take a voucher when approached by a potential tenant. In fact, some rental properties are solely dedicated to providing low-income families with homes. Since 1983, the program required qualifying applicants to pay about 30% of their income towards their rent. When government funding is available, and only if the landlord charges Fair Market Rent (FMR) and safely maintains the property, the landlord will receive the difference between what he or she charges and what the tenant can pay.
Landlords are not required to participate in Section 8 housing. In fact, some resist doing so because they want to charge more than FMR or they fear that low-income renters won’t maintain their property well. Others merely dislike the hassle of obtaining rent from two sources.
Federal government funds support the Section 8 program, and unfortunately, there often aren't enough funds to meet the needs of low-income applicants. Public housing programs, especially in medium to large towns and cities, have had such large waiting lists that they've been forced to close them and only occasionally re-open them to new applicants. Some former Section 8 applicants have told stories of finally making their way to the top of the waiting list after no longer requiring public assistance.