How did Section 8 housing get its start?

Section 8 is a housing assistance program aimed at low-income families, the elderly and disabled; it's administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. There are around 2,400 public housing agencies responsible for the local administration of the program. The program grew out of legislation that resulted from the Great Depression. Congress passed the U.S. Housing Act in 1937, which was the start of federal housing assistance. The act provided financing to build choice public housing units for people with low incomes; the units were maintained and managed by local authorizes. The Housing Act was amended in 1961 with the Section 23 Leased Housing Program; in it, local housing authorities leased private units to qualified low-income tenants for only part of the cost of rent. The government picked up the rest of the tab. Section 8 was added to the Housing Act in 1974 in order to help low-income tenants reduce the percentage of their earnings that they spent on housing.

Instead of managing public housing, the government switched tactics with Section 8. Following several changes, the amendment now provides tenants with vouchers that cover around 70 percent of the cost of their rent and utilities. The remaining 30 percent is the renter's responsibility. Section 8 doesn't restrict where people live, as long as the sum total of the rent is within the Department of Housing and Urban Development guidelines.

Today, about 2 million American households benefit from Section 8 and get vouchers to help them pay rent. The vouchers can sometimes be used for mortgage payments or house purchases, as well. Section 8 is generally considered a success, as it helps families stay above the poverty line and spend their income on food and health care instead of rent without becoming homeless or resorting to unstable neighborhoods.