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The Section 8 housing assistance voucher program started during the Great Depression when Congress passed the U.S. Housing Act to address the country’s housing crisis. In the 1960s and 1970s, the federal government created subsidy

programs to increase the production of low-income housing and to help families pay their rent. In 1965, the Section 23 Leased Housing Program amended the U.S. Housing Act. This subsidy program, the predecessor to the modern program, was not a pure housing allowance program. It also provided funds to develop high-quality housing units for low-income families. Housing authorities selected eligible families from their waiting list, placed them in housing from a master list of available units, and determined the rent that tenants would have to pay.

Today, people who qualify for Section 8 assistance receive a voucher that pays for about 70 percent of rent and utilities. The renter is then responsible for paying the remaining 30 percent. Recipients may choose to live wherever they want, as long as the total rent falls within standards set by HUD.The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development and Veterans Administration have a special Section 8 program called VASH (Veterans Administration Supported Housing), or HUD-VASH, which gives out a certain number of Section 8 vouchers to eligible homeless and otherwise vulnerable US armed forces veterans.

voucher may be either "project-based" (where its use is limited to a specific apartment complex; public housing agencies (PHAs) may reserve up to 20% of its vouchers as such, or "tenant-based" (where the tenant is free to choose a unit in the private sector, is not limited to specific complexes, and may reside anywhere in the United States (including Puerto Rico) where a PHA operates a Section 8 program.PHAs are required to send tenants portion, unless proven budget restrictions prevent them.

The voucher program currently helps about 2 million American households pay rent.Vouchers may sometimes be used to help low-income people make mortgage payments or buy a house. Priority is given to local residents, the disabled, veterans, and the elderly.Depending on state laws, refusing to rent to a tenant solely for the reason that they have Section 8 may be illegal. Landlords can use only general means of disqualifying a tenant (credit, criminal history, past evictions, etc.).

However, other landlords willingly accept Section 8 tenants, due to:
a large available pool of potential renters. Whether voucher or project-based, all subsidized units must meet HQS, thus ensuring that the family has a healthy and safe place to live. This improvement in the landlord's private property is an important by-product of this program, both for the individual families and for the larger goal of community development.