San Francisco's Community Stabilization
Housing Production and Preservation

Housing Choice Voucher Program (Section 8)

Photo by MOHCD

The Housing Choice Voucher program, also known as Section 8, is a rental assistance voucher program funded by HUD and has been administered by the SF Housing Authority to provide monetary assistance for rental housing for low-income families, the disabled, and elderly populations.


What is the Housing Choice Voucher (Section 8) Program?

Qualification for the Housing Choice Voucher program is determined by household total annual gross income and family size and is limited to U.S. citizen and specified categories of non-citizens who have eligible immigration status. In general, the household’s income may not exceed 50 percent of the median income for the City. The local authority receives federal funds from HUD to administer the voucher, and then pays the landlord a subsidy on behalf of the participating household. The household is required to pay the balance of the rent, which is typically not more than 30 percent of the household’s income.

Housing Choice Vouchers can be distributed to households to then apply to units in the market (housing choice voucher), or it can be a project-based voucher (PBV) which assigns a subsidy to a unit rather than a household. In addition, there are two types of vouchers for specific populations: HOPWA (for people with HIV/AIDS) which is administered by MOHCD through the Plus Housing Program and Shelter plus Care (for homeless people with disabilities and/or substance abuse problems).

Most housing Authorities, including SFHA, can only project-base up to 20 percent of all housing choice vouchers, with certain exceptions to project-base another 10 percent of all vouchers. In addition, the number of PBV-assisted units in any one building not exceed 25 percent of the total number of dwelling units in the building, except when the units are in buildings with one to four units and when units are made available for elderly or disabled families or families receiving supportive services.

In 2018, a household of two people making a total of $58,650 is considered a very low (50 percent) income level. In the same year, a household of four people making $73,300 also falls into this income level. In 2016, 32.3 percent of all households in San Francisco made below $50,000 gross income annually (ACS), and even more making above that amount but with larger families were also eligible for Section 8 vouchers (For example, a household of four people making $73,300 is at the very low-income AMI level). The PBVs have been tied to an affordable housing development to support the development’s financing and to provide deeper subsidy to tenants.

Only a minority of households who income qualify nationwide can receive a Housing Choice Voucher due to limited federal funding for the program. As a result, most very low-income households in San Francisco and around the country do not receive rental assistance and are severely rent burdened, paying more than 50 percent of income on rent. If vouchers were more consistently available for very low-income households, housing instability would be substantially reduced and it would be easier to build and preserve affordable housing since voucher holders could afford higher rent, making building and operating quality affordable housing easier to finance.

Issues Related to Housing Choice Vouchers

More tenant and landlord support are necessary for the success of the programs. Since the Housing Choice Voucher program, relies on private landlords to accept vouchers, the lack of knowledge about how the program works can affect the success of the program. Similarly, if a tenant does not know how to find resources on voucher programs or to find housing for an existing voucher they hold, the voucher might not be utilized.

Service providers noted that clients in the Housing Choice Voucher program have a difficult time getting a response from the SFHA, which administers the vouchers and operates housing. This often results in a delay in paying landlords and paper processing. Landlords may be more reluctant to rent to tenants in the program and act to remove these tenants because of the challenges in reaching program administrators.

For Future Consideration

The ideas for future consideration that have the potential to increase community stability in San Francisco are described below. They provide a starting point for agencies, decision-makers, and community members to explore stabilization efforts and identify critical pathways forward. Based on preliminary information, staff is qualifying these ideas according to the type of task, scale of resources and level of complexity to underscore that any of these ideas would require time and additional resources not currently identified. These are not City commitments or recommendations, rather informed ideas that will require careful vetting and analysis as to their reach, resource needs, feasibility, unintended consequences, legal implications, and racial and social equity considerations.

Expand administrative capacity and support for tenants and landlords.

As MOHCD develops a plan for SFHA’s former housing portfolio, there is an opportunity to consider increasing staffing to help the lead agency for these programs to create more resources and provide more support to tenants, landlords, other agencies and community organizations. There is a need for programs and educational materials for tenants and landlords participating in housing choice voucher programs. The DAHLIA web portal may be a place to house this information or a model to follow.

Type of Response Mitigation
Type of Task Policy Implementation, Funding, Service
Policy Implementation Funding SERVICE = Service
Resource Generally only staff time and some program funding would be required
Complexity Medium – generally some legislation and/or some change of and existing program, and two to three agencies involved
Timing Long Term (more than 5 years)
Geographic Scale Citywide
Partners Mayor's Office of Housing and Community Development (MOHCD), community partners
Benefit Restructuring to accommodate for new programs will help address some of the issues associated with the Section 8 voucher program, including, but not limited to, inadequate staff support and educational materials.
Challenge This would require more resources and funding.

Advocate for increased federal funding for Housing Choice Vouchers to reach all eligible households

Only a fraction of households income qualified for housing choice vouchers receive a voucher. It would help stabilize many existing or former San Francisco residents if all very low-income households were to receive a voucher.

Type of Response Mitigation
Type of Task Funding, Policy Implementation
Funding Policy Implementation
Resource More information required
Complexity Complex – generally major legislation, and/or new program required, and more than three agencies involved
Timing Long Term (more than 5 years)
Geographic Scale Nationwide
Partners Congressional representatives
Benefit Qualified households can have a greater potential to be stabilized within their existing communities.
Challenge This would require more resources and funding. This requires education of and acceptance by landlords of vouchers and available units.


Housing Choice Vouchers Fact Sheet
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1. The Housing Needs and Trends Report published by the Planning Department in 2018 analyzed data provided by HUD to show the number and location by Census Tract of Housing Choice Vouchers (HCVs – also known as Section 8 vouchers) in use in San Francisco. The total number of HCVs in the dataset provided by HUD is different from that reported by SFHA most likely due to date differences. The Planning Department reached out to SFHA to clarify the number of housing vouchers by Census Tract but was not able to receive the data requested.

2. Race and ethnicity datasets from SFHA were shared with the Planning Department but not disaggregated between Section 8 voucher holders and public housing inhabitants, so we have not included it in this analysis.