The Housing Choice Voucher program provides assistance that individuals and families use to help pay for privately-owned rental housing. Voucher holders choose where they want to live (subject to requirements that the housing be of standard quality and not have an above-market rent). The household generally pays 30 percent of its income towards rent each month, and the public housing agency (PHA) that administers the program pays the balance of the rent directly to the landlord. Households are not permitted to rent units that would result in their paying more than 40 percent of their income when they first occupy a voucher-supported unit.
More than 2 million households, including families with children, elderly people, and people with disabilities rely on Housing Choice Vouchers to afford their housing. Most have extremely low incomes (at or below 30 percent of the local median income). The program is funded with Congressional appropriations and managed by HUD, which allocates an amount of funding, estimated to cover a specific number of vouchers to the local PHAs that administer the program. As demand for vouchers far exceeds the number of households that can be supported under current appropriations levels PHAs maintain waiting lists. In most places, households wait must many months or even years to rise to the top of a waiting list. Most new households obtain vouchers as a result of turnover, as currently assisted families and individuals leave the program.
Congress also allocates funding for vouchers targeted to specific populations, and in recent years these “special purpose” vouchers have been the main source of growth in the number of households the voucher program can serve at one time. Notable among these “incremental” vouchers are those provided to homeless veterans through the HUD-VASH program, which pairs HUD housing assistance with supportive services funded by the VA. The Family Unification Program and Non-Elderly Disabled vouchers are other examples of special purpose voucher programs may help households experiencing or at risk of homelessness.
Many PHAs provide waiting list preferences and set-asides for homeless individuals and families as part of their plans for allocating Housing Choice Vouchers. Some PHAs work closely with partner organizations serving the homeless population, which make referrals and may also provide supportive services to formerly homeless voucher recipients. In 2013, HUD issued Notice PIH 2013-15, which provides guidance on how PHAs can use the Housing Choice Voucher and Public Housing programs to serve people experiencing homelessness.