For a quarter of a century Bob Hachey has called Waltham, Mass., home. Most recently, he has lived in a rented basement apartment in this hardscrabble city just a few miles from leafy Harvard Yard and Boston's historic North End.
These days Hachey, 47, struggles to pay his rent. He wants to buy a house, but he knows that is now out of the question. Hachey lost his full-time job three years ago. He is blind and lives on disability benefits. His girlfriend works at a day-care center. Although more than 30 percent of their household income goes toward keeping a roof over their heads, Hachey doesn't think he could qualify for federal housing assistance under the Section 8 program [source: Kocian and Carroll].
Hachey is not alone. According to Waltham's regional planning council, 44 percent of local renters spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing. That leaves little money for life's other bills. Even if Hachey could qualify for Section 8 assistance, he wouldn't get a voucher anytime soon. There is five-year waiting list [source: Kocian and Carroll]. The situation won't remedy itself in the near future. Lawmakers in Washington plan to cut money from the Section 8 program hoping to reduce the national deficit.
Administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Section 8 rental-assistance program makes it easier for underprivileged families to find suitable housing by spending no more than 30 percent of their income on rent. The government pays the balance. While HUD administers the program, 2,400 local, state and regional agencies, known as Public Housing Authorities (PHA), run Section 8. Each agency has a limited number of vouchers.
Section 8 has been an economic lifeline for millions, allowing some to save for their own homes while helping others move out of blighted neighborhoods. However, the demand of housing assistance often exceeds supply, especially during tough economic times. That leaves many low-income people scrambling to find housing. Some wait months, if not years, for vouchers. As such, a PHA may be forced to close its waiting list when there are more families than it can serve.
Under the program, the landlord must provide Section 8 tenants with a clean and safe place to live, while also charging a reasonable rent. The PHA gives tenants the funds to cover their portion of the rent [source: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development]. Over the years, the program has provided more than 2 million people with a decent place to live [source: Center of Budgeting Policy Priorities].
Read on to learn more about the Section 8 requirements.