Study Reveals Section 8 Vouchers Are Being Frequently (and Illegally) Denied

Obtaining and using a Section 8 voucher is not an easy task for low income tenants. A recent study conducted by the Urban Institute has proven that some landlords frequently discriminate against renters with housing vouchers. This practice is most commonly found amongst landlords in high-rent areas with well-to-do schools, jobs and transportation systems nearby.

The Housing Choice Voucher, more commonly known as “Section 8,” is run by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and is the nation’s largest rental subsidy program. According to HUD’s website, they assist more than two million low-income households each year. This program is often seen as a step towards upward mobility and a way out of poverty for low-income households and racial segregation.

Even though Section 8 vouchers are available, looking for housing can feel like a full time job. From applying to being waitlisted, sifting through listings, finding apartments that accept vouchers, making appointments with landlords and getting approved, the process often takes up more time than what people can afford to give up.

In order to participate in HCV, an individual's income must be below a certain income limit, which varies depending on state. HUD’s website states that households with vouchers, “pay rent equal to 30 percent of their incomes, after deductions, while the federal government pays the remainder of rent or rental costs.”

The Urban Institute's study also included a voucher acceptance test. Testers called landlords to ask if they accepted housing vouchers. It was clear that denial rates were high, nationally. The testers were divided by voucher and non-voucher holders and then paired by characteristics such as ethnicity or race. The study found that “58 percent of the in-person tests ended with both testers able to meet with a landlord, even though most paired telephone tests ended with both voucher holders and control testers making appointments to meet with a landlord.”

The study also found that those with vouchers were eight percent less likely to meet with a landlord to discuss housing options, but those in the control group without vouchers were informed about and invited to inspect more units.

For the most part, landlords have the option of accepting vouchers, but it’s illegal for landlords to deny housing because of a housing voucher or public assistance in twelve states, D.C. included. This provision is based on Appendix B of a housing mobility document by the Poverty and Race Research Action Council.

The Urban Institute also reported that more research on landlords is needed because their study did not “explore landlords’ motivations for accepting or denying vouchers.”  In response to the study, HUD Secretary Ben Carson created a Landlord Task Force to conduct a number of forums across the county to hear directly from landlords on ways to increase their participation in the HCV Program.

The engagement campaign will start on September 20 in Washington, D.C. and travel to Philadelphia, Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City and Salem, Oregon.