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Housing Choice Voucher Program: Does it Work?: Background information when reading Evicted

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Poverty and Profit in the American City

by Matthew Desmond

Evicted by Matthew Desmond X
Evicted by Matthew Desmond
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2016, 432 pages
    Feb 2017, 448 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte
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Housing Choice Voucher Program: Does it Work?

This article relates to Evicted

Print Review

Rent MoneyIn Evicted, one of the solutions that Matthew Desmond recommends is the expansion of the government Housing Choice Voucher program. Called Section 8, this aid was created by Congress in 1974, and is different from public housing in that the latter restricts participants to only certain locations and buildings – the infamous Robert Taylor Homes in Chicago is an example of public housing. The voucher program, instead, can be essentially used to rent a unit almost anywhere. The Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) sets a fair market rate for rent in different areas. When a family gets off the waiting list for a home, members pay up to 30% of their joint income on housing and the rest is paid — up to the fair market rate — by HUD.

Section 8 Housing in the BronxThe goal behind the Housing Voucher program is to not only help the poor find a place to live but also to facilitate mobility and to encourage desegregation; to offer homes beyond the confines of ghettoized neighborhoods created by public housing. Unfortunately, in many areas the plan has not lived up to expectations. For one thing, the fair market rate often lowballs numbers, which means that the rents for residences in better neighborhoods are much higher than what HUD sets. This restricts program participants to areas with much lower rents, which are usually poor. Then there's the problem of discrimination. While landlords have been known to rent to voucher tenants in lower-income neighborhoods, especially since these guys can be a more reliable source of rent, this is not the case in more upscale areas where residential real estate owners are often afraid that renting to voucher holders (many of whom are minorities) will drive away market-rate tenants. Worse, since tenants lose the voucher if not used in 60-90 days, they are pressured by market forces to move into familiar low-income neighborhoods.

Choice Voucher Housing in GANevertheless solutions are being tried. In the 1990s, a program called Moving to Opportunity encouraged families to move to more expensive neighborhoods, thereby allowing them access to better schools. And in the early part of this century, the fair rent rates were increased across the board to force desegregation. These programs, too, met with the same kind of limited success. But a program started by the Obama administration promises families more money only if they move to housing in better neighborhoods. It is slowly paying dividends, although some of the old problems remain. Experts suggest that it will take more than just money to solve the problem of housing for the poor. Counseling services and support systems for people who do move into upwardly mobile neighborhoods need to be in place for sustained success.

Rent Money image, courtesy of
Section 8 housing in the Bronx, courtesy of Jim Henderson
Voucher Housing in Georgia, courtesy of

Filed under Society and Politics

Article by Poornima Apte

This "beyond the book article" relates to Evicted. It originally ran in March 2016 and has been updated for the February 2017 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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