Books Public Health

Section 8 Housing Vouchers: Origin Story

Section 8 housing vouchers uses government funds to subsidize low-income households when paying rent to private landlords. While the program may drive up rent somewhat, it does allow low-income households (that are lucky enough to get the voucher) to afford higher quality, more stable housing. But the Section 8 program was not the idea of social justice reformers or Washington bureaucrats.

As described by Matthew Desmond in his interesting book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City the true origin story is as follows:

The idea of a “rent certificate program” was first proposed in the 1930s, not by some Washington bureaucrats or tenants’ union representative but by the National Association of Real Estate Boards [later named National Association of Realtors]…Landlords and Realtors saw government-built and -managed buildings offered at cut-rate rents as a direct threat to their legitimacy and bottom line…Eventually, after America’s public housing experiment was defunded and declared a failure (in that order), they would have their day. As housing projects were demolished, the voucher program grew into the nation’s largest housing subsidy program for low-income families.

Personally, I think Section 8 vouchers are superior to public housing. They give poor residents more choice of housing and do not confine these residents to potentially dangerous public housing. Nevertheless, it is interesting that landlords rather than social reformers were the ones who advocated for this program.


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