Prohibiting Discrimination Against Voucher Holders
By Lindsay Lincoln, Esq.
“We don’t take Section 8.” This is the devastating and all too common response many voucher holders in New Hampshire receive from landlords and property managers while searching for a place to live. Unfortunately, it is legal.
The Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) Program, also known as the Section 8 Voucher Program, is the largest federal housing program providing subsidies to low-income
individuals. Local housing authorities receive federal funds from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to administer the HCV Program. Participants in the program receive vouchers that they use to find housing in the private market that they otherwise could not afford, and they are responsible for paying approximately 30% of their household income toward rent.
If a landlord agrees to accept a tenant with a voucher, the housing authority administering the voucher enters into a contract with the landlord and makes monthly payments directly to them for the remaining portion of the rent up to the “payment standard.” The payment standard is a set, fair market rent based on the location of the unit and the number of bedrooms.
To ensure that the housing rented to voucher holders is safe and sanitary, housing authorities conduct inspections of the units before entering into a contract with the landlord. These inspections verify that the rental units meet HUD’s housing quality standards (HQS).
As the name implies, the program is meant to allow participants flexibility and choice in where they live. However, in New Hampshire, landlords can legally refuse to accept tenants who participate in the HCV Program. Tenants who cannot find a landlord who will accept their voucher within the timeframe set by HUD and local housing authorities will lose their voucher. This loss is particularly devastating because most applicants for vouchers wait at least five years to receive one.
Fair housing laws in the state currently do not prohibit landlords from having a blanket policy of refusing to accept tenants with vouchers. A bill that would have made this form of discrimination illegal, recently failed to pass.
Prohibiting discrimination against voucher holders is critical for low-income Granite Staters, particularly older adults and individuals with disabilities. New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority (NHHFA) administers the largest HCV Program in the state. Roughly two thirds of participants in the program are individuals with disabilities.
New Hampshire Legal Assistance (NHLA) surveyed the housing agencies in the state to determine how many voucher holders were not able to use their vouchers in 2021 and, thus, had their vouchers expire. Nine housing authorities sent us data which showed that 1,581 vouchers were issued in 2021 and 294 vouchers expired. Nearly 300 households in the state lost their golden ticket: the chance to rent safe and affordable housing. Such a result is unacceptable, especially in a state with rising rents and a less than one percent vacancy rate.
Voucher holders should not be prevented from accessing housing merely because they need help affording market rate rent. Payments from housing authorities for the subsidized portion of the rent are guaranteed and consistent. Indeed, voucher holders are less likely to miss rental payments if their income fluctuates because housing authorities will reduce the portion of rent for which the tenant is responsible. At the same time, a corresponding increase in the portion paid by the housing authority will occur based on those reductions in income.
Lindsay Lincoln, Esq. is the NHLA Fair Housing Project Co-Director.