The federal government got into the housing business in the 1930s. By the mid-1970s, politicians and social activists deemed the experiment a failure as many housing projects became racially segregated and crime-ridden [source: Naison]. In 1974, Congress amended the nation's existing housing laws creating the Section 8 voucher program. Administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Section 8 shifted the focus from developing and managing public housing projects, to helping low-income families spend a limited portion of their income on rent.
The Section 8 program guarantees that families don't have to spend more than 30 percent of their income on a place to live. HUD administers the program, and 2,400 local, state and regional agencies, known as Public Housing Authorities, run Section 8. More than 2 million people across the country participate in the program [source: Center of Budgeting Policy Priorities].
To apply, a prospective Section 8 tenant should contact their local PHA, or the closest HUD office. The applicant will have to fill out various forms stating his or her citizenship or immigration status, income level, and the number of children that will be living in the unit. Housing authorities have separate applications for emergency cases, such as those who are victims of domestic abuse. Applicants have to provide various documents like pay stubs, proof of income, birth certificates and immigration papers, and they also must pass a criminal background check [source: Broward County Housing Authority].
Once you apply, don't expect to get your voucher right away. The demand for housing assistance often exceeds the supply. People wait months, or even years, for a voucher, and some PHAs have been forced to close their waiting lists, even when there are more families that need its services. These PHAs won't reopen the waiting list until everyone on the list has gone through the system. The housing authorities must inform the public that the vouchers are once again available.
Go to the next page to find out who is eligible for Section 8 housing.