Housing Voucher Recipients Find Themselves With Fewer Options

Americans relying on federal rental assistance are struggling harder than ever to find affordable housing, braving years-long wait lists and reluctant landlords.

1 minute read

January 8, 2023, 11:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Writing in Bloomberg CityLab, Sarah Holder and Airielle Lowe describe how soaring rents have hit housing voucher recipients particularly hard as the housing shortage makes finding housing much more competitive. “Already plagued by years-long wait times, those who receive so-called Section 8 housing choice vouchers are struggling to use them to find apartments with rents at or near records nationwide.”

As Holder and Lowe explain, “The government defines anyone who spends more than 30% of their income on housing as “cost burdened,” which constituted over 40% of renter households, or 19 million, from 2017-2021, according to Census Bureau data released in December.” But vouchers can only be used for apartments at “fair market rent,” a measure usually calculated for an entire metro area, making some neighborhoods “completely unaffordable” for voucher holders.

Recent changes in how fair market rent is calculated should help voucher holders access more housing in more neighborhoods. When HUD started incorporating private housing-market data into their calculations, “Fiscal year 2023’s fair market rents, in effect as of October 2022, jumped a record average of 10% across the country.”

Voucher recipients face other challenges. For example, “There are no federal housing protections against sources of income discrimination, so in most jurisdictions, landlords aren’t mandated to rent to Section 8 tenants.”

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