How vouchers work
What are housing vouchers?
The Section 8 voucher program uses federal dollars to help low-income families rent apartments or houses from private landlords.
The family pays 30 percent of its income toward rent and utilities, while the federal government covers the rest.
The program is different from traditional public housing, i.e. government-owned buildings, typically in poor neighborhoods. How much will the voucher cover? In the Dallas area, the government estimates a fair price for rent based on a unit’s ZIP code and number of bedrooms.
For a two-bedroom in east Oak Cliff, for example, the combined price that the renter and the housing authority should pay is $780. In the trendy neighborhood of Oak Lawn, it’s $1,360.
OPTION 1: Make it illegal to discriminate against families with vouchers.
Why: Across the country, cities have passed ordinances that require landlords to accept vouchers, with some success. In Chicago and San Francisco, advocates say, the law allows them to confront landlords about discrimination — and many times, that’s enough to change property owners’ minds about renting to a poor family.
Why not: Dallas considered passing such an ordinance, but decided against it because of state law. Texas and at least one other state, Indiana, say cities cannot force landlords to accept vouchers.
OPTION 2: Sublease to voucher holders through fair-housing groups.
Why: This arrangement, offered by The Inclusive Communities Project, addresses some problems raised by landlords, such as paperwork and financial hassles. Instead of renting to families directly, landlords lease to ICP, which subleases to families. The nonprofit agrees to pay the landlord on time, regardless of administrative delays with the government. Landlords also get a financial incentive: an extra month’s rent just for participating.
Why not: At least one landlord has successfully argued in federal court that the sublease program could unfairly prompt lawsuits against rental companies. The landlord said that if properties accept voucher holders who are represented by ICP, but not other families with vouchers, prospective tenants could accuse them of discrimination.
OPTION 3: Create an official list of complexes that accept vouchers.
Why: Families complain that lists of participating landlords, provided by agencies like the Dallas Housing Authority, are outdated. Meanwhile, some landlords say they have units available, but no one’s asked. Landlords and housing authorities could work together to create one comprehensive resource.
Why not: Dallas agencies that issue vouchers worry about legal liability, because officials can’t funnel business to specific properties. Meanwhile, landlords say it’s not their responsibility to find housing for low-income families.
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