Rural Resource Guides

Low Income Rental Assistance (Section 8) Tenant-Based Program

Low Income Rental Assistance (Section 8) Tenant-Based Program


The Section 8 rental voucher program is the federal government’s primary program for assisting very low-income families and individuals to rent decent, safe and sanitary housing in the private market. Participating households are generally responsible for locating housing that meets program health and safety requirements and rent caps (for the certificate program). The local public housing agencies (PHAs) and tribal designated housing entities (TDHEs) that administer the programs then pay a rental subsidy directly to the landlord on behalf of the participating household. The household then pays the difference between the actual rent and the subsidy. In FY1996, HUD implemented final rules that merged many features of the certificate and voucher programs, most notably concerning the portability of certificates. On October 1, 1999, the Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act (also known as the 1998 Housing Reform Act) went into effect. The Act completely merged the certificate and voucher programs into a single voucher program and encouraged the conversion of public housing units into vouchers (see the Code of Federal Regulations, 24CFR Part 982 for the Section 8 unified rule).


Purpose: Under the new merged voucher program, a PHA or TDHE makes rental assistance payments to owners (landlords) of rental property on behalf of very low-income households for decent, safe, and sanitary housing in the private market.


Applicant:Applicants for funding from HUD for both programs are limited to PHAs and TDHEs. A PHA is defined as any state, county, municipality or other governmental entity or public body (or agency or instrumentality thereof) authorized to engage in or assist in the development or operation of housing for low-income families, including TDHEs.

Beneficiary: Very low-income families (whose incomes do not exceed 50 percent of the median income for the area as determined by HUD with adjustments for family size) and, on an exception basis, low-income families (whose incomes do not exceed 80 percent of the median income for the area, adjusted for family size).


    • Applicant: The voucher program is administered by PHAs/TDHEs under contracts renewed annually with HUD.
  • Beneficiary: Rental vouchers are assigned to specific families. Each family is responsible for locating and securing an affordable unit, which must meet HUD’s Housing Quality Standards (HQS). Under the new merged voucher program, rental subsidies are based on the difference between 30 percent of the household’s adjusted monthly income and a “:payment standard” of 90 to 110 percent of the housing market’s fair market rent (FMR). A five percent “adjustment pool” has been established for use at the HUD Secretary’s discretion to make adjusted payments outside of the payment standard to PHA/TDHEs. Upon initial occupancy, a family receiving tenant-based assistance is prohibited from paying a rent which exceeds 40 percent of their monthly adjusted income.

    Tenant-based leases must be for at least one-year terms; however, the PHA/TDHE may approve shorter terms. After a certificate or voucher is issued, recipients have an initial term of 60 days to find a rental unit, and the PHA may grant one or more extensions in cases where a household has difficulty locating a suitable unit. Extensions may not exceed a total of 120 days from the beginning of the initial term. Vouchers are “portable,” which means that a household may retain rental assistance if it moves anywhere in the U.S. outside the jurisdiction of the PHA/TDHE that issued the assistance, as long as the area of relocation has a PHA/TDHE administering a voucher program. However, a housing agency may require a family initially receiving a voucher to live within its jurisdiction for the first 12 months of assistance.

Comments: The 1998 Housing Reform Act has also given authority to PHA/TDHEs providing tenant-based assistance to provide homeownership purchasing assistance to eligible tenants planning to buy a dwelling unit that will be owned by one or more members of the family. The final rule for the homeownership option was issued September 12, 2000 (see the Code of Federal Regulations, 24 CFR Parts 5, 903 and 982).

As of 1993, approximately 24 percent of households receiving Section 8 assistance lived in nonmetro areas.


Applicants should contact the HUD field office that has jurisdiction over the area where the program will be located. For further information contact HUD’s Office of Assisted Housing, Rental Assistance Division, in Washington, DC at 202-708-0477.

This Information Sheet was prepared by the Housing Assistance Council. The work that provided the basis for this publication was supported by funding from the Ford Foundation and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The substance and finding of that work are dedicated to the public. HAC is solely responsible for the accuracy of the statements and interpretations contained in this publication and such interpretations do not necessarily reflect the views of the government.