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Why It’s Difficult for Section 8 Participants to Rent a House or Apartment

There has been a discussion about the prevalent discrimination that Section 8 tenants Face while searching for housing unit after qualifying for the program. Those who rely on this vital housing assistance report this prejudice very often. Section 8, a federal assistance program, which serves over two million vulnerable Americans annually, and can be life-changing for a majority of them. The major issue with this program is like other government benefits, it can also come with a burden of stigma and discrimination.

2018 Study about the Problems Tenants Face

According to a 2018 study by the Urban Institute analyzed how potential property owners respond to tenants who use vouchers provided by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (USHUD). The study revealed a very dismal picture of the state of affairs as far as finding a rented place is concerned. It found that up to 78 percent of landlords in some localities refused to rent to tenants using vouchers.

These vouchers offer support with the cost of renting — and, in a few cases, buying — a home. These vouchers go directly to the landlord of the property rented by the participant. In the cases where the rent amount is more than the voucher, tenants are supposed to pay the difference. People availing this facility are exactly like other tenants, with only a difference that portion of their rent is paid by the government and that how they are supposed to be treated.

People with less than 50 percent of the median income of certain areas where they live have to go through an application process that includes extensive documentation before qualifying for the program. After that, they are placed on a waiting list— and it can take years for their receiving these housing vouchers.  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.


It is a common experience to see “No Section 8” on “for rent” signs and apartment ads — and in many regions, that’s entirely legal. There lies the problem, argue the researchers: When owners of the housing units don’t face any fines for refusing vouchers, they feel liberated to reject good tenants. The situation is contrary to areas where this kind of bigotry is prohibited for example, in Washington, D.C., just 15 percent of voucher-using tenants were rejected.

Reasons for the Discrimination

  1. Many people correlate housing choice vouchers with poverty, assuming that low-income households or individuals don’t make good tenants. They may believe these renters are more probable to damage their property, be unable to take care of it or have unclean or troublesome habits. This notion is not realistic in the majority of the cases, without doubt, but it makes it tough for such tenants to have decent accommodation even after receiving housing vouchers. Landlords may also presume that the tenants’ share of the rent will be delayed. As a result, beneficiaries of the program often end up in economically dejected, racially segregated districts.
  2. To counter this dilemma, various regions have passed bans on housing voucher refusal. They do not force landlords to rent to tenants using vouchers, but vouchers alone cannot be taken as a sole reason to rebuff rental. They may also specify that owners are not allowed to raise the rent above the rate charged for comparable housing. For example, an apartment with a rent of $1,500 cannot be rented out to a voucher-using tenant at $1,800 to take advantage of the mixed purchasing power of the voucher and the tenant’s income.
  3. Unfortunately, landlords complain about and successfully overturn such laws, but they’re making steady progress across cities like Chicago, Newark, Washington, D.C. and other U.S. cities — along with several states.


The program beneficiaries are not protected from this form of discrimination simply due to the fact of their having the vouchers. That is where the need for the new legislation is recommended by the anti-discrimination campaigners. The researchers also pointed out the widespread inequality in the United States makes it such that the majority of housing assistance recipients are also members of particular classes including women, people of color and disabled people, the reason being, there are higher poverty rates in these groups. Discerning against them can worsen their condition when it comes to housing through vouchers.

The experts and institutions researching on the subject recommend that protective laws can help change the trend, so will landlord outreach and education, especially in moderate and high-income localities and would open more housing choices for the Section 8 tenants. In addition to vouchers, management and control of rent could provide better care to these tenants, while constructing public housing buildings can offer more housing units open to voucher holders.

One good example in this regard is that of California where landlords in San Francisco Bay Area and around the state, in general, often are uncertain to rent their properties to those subsidized rent vouchers, making it difficult for the vouchers’ holders to lodge after many years on the waiting list.  Over 300,000 California households receive housing subsidies; many of those vouchers are not utilized because landlords won’t consider applicants with them. But a proposed bill is being presented in the state legislature would potentially change that. Senate Bill 329, before the Assembly Judiciary Committee, would make it illegal for landlords to reject an approaching tenant just because he or she is getting government assistance to pay the rent. In the same way, San Jose officials have also proposed a comparable ordinance to address the issue within the city.


Senate Bill 329, moved by Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, would update the California Fair Employment and Housing Act to ban bigotry against Section 8 tenants. The law already prohibits discrimination based on a tenant’s source of income, but currently exempts Section 8 vouchers.

Owner’s viewpoint


  • The opponents of the bill in California has their version and argue like any other hesitant property owner that it’s not fair to force landlords into Section 8 contracts, which come with unusual requirements, i.e. additional property inspections.
  • Senior vice president of public affairs for the California Apartment Association said, “Our opposition is not about the tenants themselves. However, it’s about the local housing authority process which is time-consuming. The owners have to meet the terms of very different rules and the contracts are very lengthy.”








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