Income-based housing benefit

From HousingWiki
protest over Housing Benefit cuts, London

An income-based housing benefit  is a government program which provides some type of financial or tax support for housing use to individuals who qualify on the basis of low income.  By contrast, other major housing programs in the United States provide benefits to homeowners, typically regardless of income (e.g. home mortgage interest deduction), or help fund development of housing (e.g. Low-Income Housing Tax Credit), or help fund housing-related service providers (e.g. homelessness programs). 

(note: this term was coined by YIMBYwiki, for apparent lack of a suitable existing one, or one we've found yet. It describes a category which is best-known in the United States in the example of the Housing Choice Voucher Program, but has other existing and proposed cases as described below, and various other possible forms. Programs of this type are today increasingly advocated as a key redirection of US federal housing policy, particularly due to the large impact of Matthew Desmond's 2016 book, Evicted. We suggest this category to help gather and discuss existing/proposed programs.  -ed]. 


Housing Choice Voucher Program

In the United States, the largest income-based housing benefit is Housing Choice, commonly known as "Section 8", one of the programs authorized under Section 8 of the Housing Act of 1937. Managed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), it pays to landlords a large portion of the rents and utilities of about 2.1 million lower-income households which have been issued a voucher, on an ongoing basis as long as they remain eligible for the voucher. Housing Choice vouchers are "tenant-based," as opposed to "project-based," so a tenant with a voucher may apply the voucher benefit for any apartment meeting minimum standards whose landlord will accept the voucher. Housing Choice also allows individuals to apply their monthly voucher towards the purchase of a home.

Section 8 also authorizes a variety of "project-based" rental assistance programs, under which the owner reserves some or all of the units in a building for low-income tenants, in return for a federal government guarantee to make up the difference between the tenant's contribution and the rent in the owner's contract with the government. A tenant who leaves such a subsidized project loses access to the project-based subsidy.  (Wikipedia). 

Housing Benefit (UK) 

The UK's Housing Benefit is a means-tested social security benefit that is intended to help meet housing costs for rented accommodation. It is the second biggest item in the Department for Work and Pensions' budget after the state pension, totalling £23.8 billion in 2013–14.  [more: Wikipedia: Housing Benefit]. 

India - rent vouchers pilot

BT Online. "Government might soon pay your house rent through vouchers in 100 Indian cities." March 9th, 2017.

Portable housing benefit (in Canada's National Housing Strategy, 2017)

from [OAFB 2017]:
"As policies that supported a healthy rental system disappeared, so too did the commitments to rent-geared-toincome units (RGI), or what is more commonly referred to as social housing. Until 1994, Canada’s social housing program had been building 20,000 new units per year, which greatly boosted the availability of housing options for low-income Canadians.25 Around the same time, the Government of Ontario transferred all responsibility of operating and maintaining existing social housing units to the municipalities, which lack the taxation powers and revenues seen at the provincial and federal levels.28 This added increased strain on the budgets of cities and towns across the province, and to this day continues to contribute to the poor quality and long wait lists associated with social housing. With little investment in affordable housing since the 1990s, Ontario’s housing market has been headed towards a state of emergency for years."

"The current federal investment of $11 billion for a National Housing Strategy is promising; however, it has yet to be announced when this funding will be released and where it will be invested. The Ontario Association of Food Banks believes that part of this funding should be invested into [the proposed] portable housing benefit for low-income households

"Under this recommendation, the portable housing benefit would be provided directly to a low-income tenant to ensure that their rent does not exceed 30 per cent of their household income. At its most basic, this benefit would allow low-income families to stay in their homes, and complement supply-side efforts to build new, or repair aging, social housing units. Beyond this, a portable housing benefit would drastically reduce the red tape that is involved in managing the various social housing systems that are in place across the province, helping to reduce wait times and ensuring that families in need are able to secure safe and adequate housing as quickly as possible. At present, individuals that live in rentgeared-to-income housing experience a number of challenges. For example, in the current system, an individual living in social housing cannot move out of fear of losing their RGI unit. As the current benefit is tied to that specific unit, if an individual must move cities for any reason, whether it be employment or to be near family, they would then return to the bottom of the waiting list, where they would likely remain for years before landing a new affordable unit. A portable housing benefit would allow for greater choice and flexibility, providing individuals with the ability to move more freely throughout the province and pursue new opportunities.

"To put the cost of the portable housing benefit into context, it is important to note that all three levels of government already subsidize both homeowners and market-rate private renters. In 2008/2009, the subsidies to both totaled $8.9 billion, with the vast majority ($8.4 billion) targeting homeowners through policies like the First-Time Home Buyer’s Tax Credit, capital gains tax exemptions on primary residences, and home renovation tax credits. Much of these homeownertargeted benefits ended up in the hands of higher-income Ontarians, as households with an income of $100,000 or more have an ownership rate of 90.6 per cent, which is almost three times higher than low income Ontarians, who have a home ownership rate of less than 38 per cent."


Universal housing vouchers

Bipartisan Policy Center proposal (2013)

"The commission recommends that our nation transition to a system in which our most vulnerable households, those with extremely low incomes (at or below 30 percent of area median income) are assured access to housing assistance if they need it. Assistance should be delivered through a reformed Housing Choice Voucher program that, over time, limits eligibility to only the most vulnerable families."
[BPC 2013]: 

"We recommend providing the expanded assistance through a reformed housing voucher program. To reduce costs, we further recommend that, as families currently enrolled in the housing voucher program turn back their subsidies due to rising household income or other factors, all newly available vouchers be issued to extremely low-income households, ensuring that voucher assistance is deeply targeted to the households with the greatest needs.118 Households who qualify for the program and subsequently experience increased income would not immediately lose assistance; however, these households would be expected to make an increased payment that is proportionate to their increase in income." 

According to an analysis prepared for the commission by Abt Associates, the estimated annual cost of providing this increased coverage is approximately $22.5 billion.d This is the estimated cost of providing a Housing Choice Voucher type subsidy to currently unassisted, cost-burdened renter households with incomes at or below 30 percent of AMI who would be expected to participate in such a program were it available. The estimated cost takes into consideration resources that are projected to become available, over time, as the existing voucher program shifts from serving households up to 80 percent of AMI to serving households with incomes that do not exceed 30 percent of AMI." 

proposed in Matthew Desmond's Evicted. 

In “Home and Hope,” the epilogue of Evicted, Desmond lays out his policy prescription for America’s broken housing system. “The idea is simple,” Desmond writes. The government should guarantee rental subsidies to all low-income families struggling to pay rent. With vouchers in hand, families could choose where they wanted to live — “as long as their housing was neither too expensive, big, and luxurious nor too shabby and run-down” — without the fear of falling into debt and, inevitably, facing eviction. 

Rental tax credit 

Center for Budget and Policy Priories, 2013

Barbara Sard and Will Fischer. "Renters’ Tax Credit Would Promote Equity and Advance Balanced Housing Policy." Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, 21 August 2013. 

Summary [from [Sard 2013]: 

Over the past several decades, the nation’s housing policy has focused predominantly on increasing homeownership.  Most federal housing expenditures now benefit families with relatively little need for assistance.  More than 75 percent of federal housing expenditures support homeownership, when both direct spending and tax subsidies are counted.  The bulk of homeownership expenditures go to the top fifth of households by income, who typically could afford to purchase a home without subsidies.  Overall, more than half of federal spending on housing benefits households with incomes above $100,000.

Meanwhile, low-income renters are far more likely than higher-income households to pay a very high share of their income for housing and to face other serious housing-related problems.  Research has shown that rental assistance sharply reduces homelessness and housing instability — conditions that have a major long-term impact on children’s health and development — and generates other important benefits.  Yet, federal rental assistance programs only reach about one in four eligible low-income renters, due to funding limitations.

The time is right to implement a more balanced housing policy.  Policymakers in both parties have proposed reforms to homeownership tax expenditures that would make them more efficient andraise added revenues to reduce the deficit.  The Bowles-Simpson and Rivlin-Domenici deficit reduction commissions and the George W. Bush Administration’s Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform each proposed to convert the mortgage interest deduction to a credit that would increase revenues and reach a broader share of low- and middle-income homeowners.  Congress could further improve the effectiveness and fairness of the nation’s housing expenditures by directing a modest share of the savings from reform of homeownership subsidies or other tax expenditures (once deficit reduction goals have been met) to address part of the unmet need for housing assistance among lower income renters, in the form of a federal renters’ tax credit.

The renters’ credit would be administered by states and implemented through a public-private partnership with property owners and lenders.  Each state would receive a fixed dollar amount of credits, and would allocate the credits based on federal income eligibility rules and state policy preferences.  This approach would make it possible to provide credits sufficient to help more poor families afford housing at a relatively modest overall cost.  For example, a renters’ credit capped at $5 billion — costing less than 3 percent of total federal homeownership tax expenditures — could assist about 1.2 million of the lowest-income renter households.  It could reduce each household’s monthly rent by an average of $400; its value alone would lift 270,000 families out of poverty and lift four of five of the poorest families it assists out of deep poverty (defined as having income below 50 percent of the federal poverty guidelines).

Families assisted with credits would pay no more than 30 percent of their income for rent (unless the rent exceeds a cap based on typical rents in the local market, in which case the family would pay the remainder).  States could award families credit certificates that would enable them to use the credit to help rent a modest unit of the family’s choice.  Alternatively, states could also enter into agreements allocating credits to particular owners or lenders, which would use the credits to assist eligible families.  The owner of the rental unit would claim a federal tax credit based on the rent reduction it provides, or the lender holding the mortgage on the property could claim the credit in return for a reducing the owner’s mortgage payments.

A renters’ tax credit would complement the existing Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (which works well as a subsidy for affordable housing development but is rarely sufficient on its own to push rents down to levels poor families can pay), and rental assistance programs such as Section 8 vouchers (which are highly effective but meet only a modest share of the need).

States could also coordinate the credits with other state-run programs and target the credits to address state priorities.  For example, states could use credits to:

  • end or substantially reduce homelessness among veterans and individuals with severe health needs;
  • provide supportive housing to families at risk of having their children placed in foster care;
  • help families participating in state TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) or other employment-promoting programs for whom lack of stable affordable housing is a barrier to work;
  • provide stable housing near high-performing schools for families with school-age children; or
  • enable low-income elderly people or people with disabilities to live in service-enriched developments rather than in nursing homes or other institutions.

Such initiatives would not only further important policy goals and provide needed help to some of the nation’s most vulnerable people, but they would also generate savings in health care, child welfare, and other systems.

Refundable housing tax credit - City Observatory, 2016

proposed in City Observatory, 2016, by Daniel Hertz. 


FAIR (Federal Assistance In Rental) Credit - Terner Center, 2017

(proposed by Galante, et al, at Terner Center for Housing Innovation, UC Berkeley). 

"The Federal Assistance In Rental (FAIR) Tax Credit is a policy proposal that uses the federal tax code to provide millions of American families with relief from their current rent burdens. Our federal budget and tax code reflects our priorities as a nation, and right now, renters are largely left out; while wealthy homeowners collect thousands of dollars in deductions from the federal government by filling out a form, low-income renters stand in line to enter a lottery in which only 1 in 4 will receive any support at all.

"The FAIR Credit seeks to rebalance this distribution of resources within the tax code to more fairly meet the needs of the renter population and to better ensure equal access to opportunity. It is a proposal that addresses our “demand side” challenges, and would serve as an important complement to supply-side solutions which are also needed to lower overall rental burdens. Ultimately, with big solutions on both fronts, quality rental housing that is affordable to a range of incomes will be within our reach."


Rent Relief Act - US Rep. Crowley, 2017

federal legislation from U.S. Representative Joe Crowley that would provide refundable tax credits to renters spending >30% of income. 


EITC (Earned-Income Tax Credit) Housing Supplement

[Dolbeare 2001]

"discussions of the voucher program often tend to be negative. Unless the NLIHC findings are badly off base, it is unlikely that such discussions will generate the scale of support that is needed to make a meaningful dent in the housing affordability problem."

"There are now, however, three mainstream Federal programs that could be adapted to meet the scale of the housing affordability problem: the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for working families, Supplementary Security Income (SSI) for elderly or disabled households, and the food stamp program. Moreover, none of these programs is limited to renter households, as is the current HUD voucher program. One-half of all households with severe problems are owners, and they are predominantly low-income owners. Therefore, it would make sense to explore how these programs might be expanded and adapted to address at least severe housing affordability problems at their true scale. Such an approach should, in my view, be explored as a supplement to, not a replacement for, HUD’s current programs, including vouchers."

"Expanding the EITC:
The driving concept behind the EITC is the notion that people who work full time should be able to afford the basic necessities of life for themselves and their families. Therefore, it would make sense to explore ways of adapting the EITC to enable it to cover at least a substantial portion of the gap between earnings and the housing wage, or the income needed to
afford modest but adequate housing. This would require both a substantial increase in the cost of the credit and developing workable means of linking the amount of the credit to the local cost of housing and to make at least the housing portion of the credit payable monthly.

"It could be worth exploring how a housing add-on to the EITC could be designed initially to address the affordability problems of most working families. For example, such an add-on could cover one-half of housing costs in excess of 30 percent of income, capped at the relevant payment standard or FMR in the jurisdiction. Such a program, if fully implemented, could assist a substantial portion of the 12.7 million cost-burdened families who receive at least one-half of their income from work. In 1999 there were 11.3 million cost-burdened working households with incomes below 120 percent of area median and the total gap between 30 percent of their incomes and their housing costs (or the relevant FMR, whichever is lower) amounted to more than $19 billion annually."


[Stegman et al, Brookings Institute 2013]

"The authors’ proposal to expand the EITC would relieve 510,000 families of severe housing-cost burdens. Configuring EITC parameters to help renters afford typically priced units in most major metropolitan markets would assist working families with children most significantly."

[Dreier 2016]:

"Congress should revise the EITC’s benefit levels to account for differences in the cost of living, particularly housing costs. This approach would reach many more families and require much less bureaucracy than the housing voucher program. Cushing Dolbeare, founder of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, first proposed this idea in 2001, and several researchers at the University of North Carolina explored it two years later, but it gained no political traction at the time. As the housing crisis has worsened, and the EITC has gained in popularity, it is time to give the idea a second look, and make it simpler.

"A formula similar to HUD’s FMRs can be used to determine the size of the EITC housing supplement in each area. Like HUD’s FMRs, the EITC housing supplement would vary from area to area depending on market conditions.

"The EITC serves a much wider range of families than the housing voucher program, including more who work and more who earn over the minimum wage. As a result, if the goal is to reduce rent payments to no more than 30 percent of household income, the subsidy required for most EITC recipients would be significantly less than the typical per-household voucher subsidy.

"The EITC housing supplement could be set at the difference between 30 percent of the household’s income (including the EITC benefit) and the local fair market rent. In this way, the benefit would be tied to a family’s earnings as well as their housing costs. If a household’s income is greater than the difference between 30 percent of household income and the local FMR, the family would not quality for the housing component. It is likely that a significant number of EITC recipient households would not qualify for the housing supplement, because they already pay less than 30 percent of income for rent. But for those who face a serious income/rent squeeze, the supplement would make a significant difference.

"Another plus is the simplicity of implementation. HUD’s housing voucher program is administered through local government housing agencies, which take applications, make sure that families meet the income guidelines, establish a waiting list, and inform participants of the maximum subsidy they qualify for. (Participants can rent apartments above the FMR if they are willing to pay more from their own pockets). By contrast, the EITC housing supplement program would require little bureaucracy. To receive the EITC, families simply fill out an income tax form. Depending on their income, they either pay less in taxes or receive a reimbursement check in the mail.

"Moreover, the EITC is an invisible subsidy. Just as it works now, landlords would not know whether would-be renters are receiving any EITC benefits, including the housing supplement. It could thus have the effect of reducing discrimination against low-income households with subsidies."

Local & state-level housing vouchers

Chicago Trust Fund (1989-)

"Chicago started a trust fund in 1989 that now subsidizes the rent of 2,800 households, by bridging the gap between the rent of the housing unit and 30 percent of the family’s income. To be eligible for the program, a family of four must make $24,250 a year or less.."  -Waldroupe. 

Washington, D.C. Local Rent Supplement Program (2007-)

Washington, D.C., started its Local Rent Supplement Program in 2007, which now subsidizes the rent of 1,718 households that make less than 30 percent of median income. The district’s Housing Production Trust Fund pays for the program with deed record and transfer taxes it collects. 

New York City rent subsidies

New York City has a similar program that provides rent subsidies for qualifying people who live in homeless and domestic violence shelters. 


Portland, Oregon pilot (2017)

"In November 2015, Northwest Pilot Project, the Urban League of Portland and Home Forward, the region’s federal housing agency, launched the first pilot project to test the effectiveness of a locally funded voucher program with funding from the Meyer Memorial Trust.

"Home Forward supplied 60 of its housing choice vouchers for the program, something the housing agency is able to do because the federal government allows Home Forward to use some of its vouchers for innovative programs. 

"The project targeted seniors on fixed incomes, who were facing rent increases they could not afford and who would likely be forced to move. The project was designed to test whether a voucher could prevent those seniors from being displaced from inner North and Northeast Portland neighborhoods, where many of them had lived for many years."

"The voucher pilot program is the brainchild of Bobby Weinstock, a housing advocate with Northwest Pilot Project. So strong is his advocacy for vouchers that Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury jokingly refers to the pilot project as 'the Bobby Weinstock voucher.'"

"Elisa Harrigan, Meyer Memorial Trust’s Affordable Housing Initiative program officer, said the pilot program is one of the most successful affordable housing initiatives that the Trust has funded."

"Weinstock estimates it would cost $6 million to fund 1,000 vouchers. 'Taking local voucher programs to scale is a significant financial challenge,' Jolin said. "

- [Waldroupe 2017].

@multco ANNOUNCED: @meyermt commits $150K to help local voucher efforts says @Dkafoury #SOC2018 
8:26 AM · Mar 16, 2018·


proposed Oregon rental assistance program (2019)

Oregon Center for Public Policy released a study on September 23, 2019, called "A State Rent Assistance Program Would Strengthen Oregon Communities." [see Hauser & Ordóñez 2019]. 

The report notes: "This work is made possible in part by generous grants from Meyer Memorial Trust and by gifts from individuals and organizations." 

"In total, federal rent assistance programs helped about 51,000 Oregon households in 2018 — significant but well short of covering existing needs. In 2017, the year of most recent data, about 290,000 renter households in Oregon met the definition of being cost burdened, devoting more than 30 percent of their income towards housing. Of these, 149,000 were severely cost-burdened, paying more than 50 percent of their income on housing."

"About three in four renter households in Oregon eligible for a housing voucher don’t receive one.41 Waitlists are closed in many Oregon communities — including the two most populous counties, Multnomah and Washington — and have been for years. When Oregonians are able to get on a waitlist the average wait time is more than two years to get a voucher."

"Many states, Oregon included, have small state-funded rent assistance programs that target specific populations, such as seniors or the chronically homeless. "

"Massachusetts is an example of a state with a broader rent assistance program, one aimed at low-income people. Through a combination of tenant- and project-based vouchers, the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program serves over 5,000 low-income households. The program is administered by Public Housing Agencies but overseen by the state housing agency."


The proposal was commented on by Margot Black, founder and now co-chair of Portland Tenants Union, in a September 29 Twitter conversation:




















The idea was supported by Multnomah County Commissioner for District 2 (N and NE Portland), Susheela Jayapal in a Nov 3, 2019 editorial in The Oregonian, "Opinion: It’s time for a statewide rental voucher program." The Oregonian. Nov 03, 2019.  [see Jayapal 2019]. 

"It’s time for a statewide rental voucher program.

"For decades, the federal government played a crucial role in preventing homelessness. Federal rent vouchers helped make housing affordable by subsidizing rents for people who would otherwise not have been able to afford it. This approach worked. Studies show federal rent vouchers help seniors, families with children and people with disabilities stay housed.Unfortunately, over the past few decades, the federal government has shirked this responsibility. The wait list for federal vouchers in Multnomah County is thousands of people long. In addition, the wait to get into public housing is at least two years and can be more than 10 years."

"National studies continue to show that long-term rent vouchers are the quickest, most effective way to keep people housed and out of that downward spiral."

"And a voucher program is something we can act on right now, while we also pursue other important strategies that might take several years to bear fruit — like building more affordable apartments."


United for Homes (from NLIHC etc)

United for Homes is an advocacy project led by NLIHC, National Low Income Housing Coalition.  Information from 

United for Homes is a national campaign comprised of individuals, elected officials, organizations, and agencies—in all 435 congressional districts—working to end homelessness, build a strong foundation, and strengthen communities. We are united by the belief that everyone deserves a decent, affordable home. United for Homes was created to end homelessness, help build a strong foundation and strengthen communities. Families–and especially children–who live in a stable, affordable homes have better health and education outcomes, have greater access to economic opportunities, and benefit from stronger communities. United for Homes urges reform of the mortgage interest deduction (MID)—a $70 billion a year tax write-off that largely benefits America’s highest income families—and a reinvestment of the savings in housing that serves families with the greatest, clearest, most pressing needs through solutions like the national Housing Trust Fund (HTF) and rental assistance programs. More than 2,300 national, state, and local organizations, as well as government officials, support United for Homes and our proposal.


"Proposal To Foster Economic Growth Submitted to the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs."
April 14, 2017.

the voucher/credit sections of this are as follows: 

"We recommend that Congress expand rental assistance programs, including equivalent programs on the tax side, to serve an additional 2.4 million low-income families over the next 10 years. This assistance should include:

  • 1 million new Housing Choice Vouchers for homeless and at-risk families with children. Vouchers are a proven tool in reducing homelessness and housing insecurity, as well as helping families climb the economic ladder. Housing vouchers help people with the lowest incomes afford housing in the private housing market by paying landlords the difference between what a household can afford to pay in rent and the rent itself, up to a reasonable amount. Administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), housing vouchers comprise the agency’s largest rental assistance program, assisting more than 2.2 million households.
  • 500,000 new “opportunity” Housing Choice Vouchers and mobility counseling to help poor families with children live in safe neighborhoods with access to good schools, good jobs, healthcare, and transit. We support giving 4 recipients of housing assistance more choice. While housing vouchers offer families the prospect of moving to areas of opportunity, families face many barriers to moving successfully. We therefore recommend that Congress also provide funding to create a mobility counseling pilot program. Pilot funds could be used to improve collaboration between agencies and align policies and administrative systems to eliminate barriers to moving. Funds could also be used to better recruit landlords and educate families about their housing options.
  • A new project-based renter’s tax credit for the lowest income families. A renters’ tax credit could complement the existing Low Income Housing Tax Credit—which works well as a subsidy for affordable housing development, but is rarely sufficient on its own to push rents down to levels poor families can pay—and rental assistance programs such as Housing Choice Vouchers—which are highly effective, but meet only a modest share of the need. Under the proposal, Congress would authorize states to allocate a capped amount of credits to developments for renewable periods of up to 15 years, subject to federal income eligibility rules and state policy preferences. This would allow the credit to be delivered at a limited budgetary cost, but still provide subsidies large enough to help even the poorest families afford housing. Each state’s share of the credits would be set based on its population with a minimum allocation for small states. 



 @YIMBYwiki… "Scarcity of Housing Undermines Housing Vouchers. "





@YIMBYwiki… "Scarcity of Housing Undermines Housing Vouchers. "