Nationwide, 2.2 million households use Housing Choice Vouchers (HCV). (These are formally referred to as “Section 8 Vouchers” since it is provided for under Section 8 of the Federal Housing Act.)[i] These vouchers allow very low income households to choose their housing while their rent is paid in full or in part by grants from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The problem is that housing providers can choose not to rent to families using the vouchers simply because they do not want to be paid with them. This is called discrimination based on source of income.
Twelve states have passed legislation that protects against discrimination based on source of income. Virginia is not one of these states.
According to a 2011 HUD-funded evaluation, the implementation of laws that protect source of income improved voucher utilization rates and supported families’ ability to move to better neighborhoods. In 2010 the utilization rate for HCV’s was 89% and most families using the vouchers lived in areas where 10-50 percent of residents live below the poverty line. If lawful source of income was protected, we expect that the utilization rates of the vouchers would increase and that more families would move to low-poverty neighborhoods. Families that move to low-poverty neighborhoods using the HCV program experience significant benefits. Adults who move to areas with less than 10 percent poverty rates have lower incidences of obesity and diabetes and improved mental health. Female adolescents in families that move to low-poverty neighborhoods using the vouchers also experience significant improvements in mental health and educational outcomes. [ii]
Adding this protection to the Virginia Fair Housing Act would be a boon for HCV holders and could greatly improve the lives of many adults and children. Families with lawful sources of income are vulnerable and need as much support and protection as possible. Protecting a lawful source of income is a simple way to clear the path out of poverty for many families.
[i] United States Government Accountability Office (GAO), “Housing Choice Vouchers: Options Exist to Increase Program Efficiencies,” (Washington: U.S. GAO, March 2012).
[ii] Sanbonmatsu, L., et. al., “Moving to Opportunity Final Evaluation- Executive Summary” (October 2011).