The purpose of this website is to share the experiences of people with housing choice vouchers and display the characteristics of the neighborhoods in which they live. If you are experiencing housing instability, please contact the following resources:
The Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program is the largest national rental assistance program, and it is administered by local Public Housing Agencies. It aims to allow participants to move to higher opportunity neighborhoods and find suitable housing in the private market. Participants with housing choice vouchers must pay at least 30% percent of their monthly adjusted gross income toward rent and utilities. In Durham County, the Durham Housing Authority (DHA) is responsible for setting a payment standard, which is the amount generally needed to rent a moderately-priced unit in the local housing market. DHA then pays a subsidy to the landlord to cover the difference between what a tenant can afford and the payment standard. After getting off the waitlist, participants receive a voucher and are responsible for finding a suitable unit within 90 days. Landlords must be willing to rent to a tenant with a voucher, and the unit must pass an inspection process before it is approved by DHA1.
DHA is currently working on a redevelopment plan2 that includes converting existing developments into mixed income units. During the redevelopment construction period, residents will be displaced. Though the housing authority will offer all previous residents a home in the newly developed property after the units are rebuilt, these units will be built over time, so it is unclear how many original community members will be able to return. One of the ways DHA is dealing with displaced residents is to offer them Housing Choice Vouchers.
1Learn more about the housing choice voucher program here.
2Learn more about the Durham Housing Authority Downtown and Neighborhood Plan here.
We spoke to 4 residents who have experience with housing choice vouchers. Minister Burruss received a voucher through a lottery in 2017. Though her search for a home was difficult, she was able to find an apartment. She believes the voucher program is a blessing, but that not enough landlords accept tenants who have vouchers. Ms. Ferrell has had a voucher on two separate occasions, and she lost her voucher both times. She was unable to find a suitable unit, and said that the only places that would accept her voucher were no better than public housing or were located in high crime areas. Ms. Johnson currently has a voucher, and was granted a one-time extension after not being able to find a place by the original voucher expiration date. She is still struggling to find a suitable home, but she does not want to lose her voucher. Miz L previously had a voucher, but was unable to find a suitable home during the 90 day search period. She is looking forward to the waitlist opening up again, but feels conflicted about whether to take a voucher because she knows how much she means to her community now. All of the tenants we spoke to expressed frustration at the stigma surrounding voucher holders and at not having a clear list of landlords in higher opportunity areas who accept vouchers, which would make the housing search significantly more accessible.
As of May 2021, 153 families in Durham County had a voucher but were still searching for a house3. Based on census data displayed on the “Dashboard” page of this website, the places where housing choice voucher residents in Durham County live are not evenly distributed across the county. There are census tracts in Durham County where no housing choice voucher residents live, and census tracts with a concentration of housing choice voucher residents.
There are no clear publicly available guidelines that detail how the housing choice voucher program is assessed in Durham County. Durham Housing Authority is required to enact landlord outreach programs, monitor the number of families who are unable to find housing within 90 days, and consider whether families must leave the jurisdiction to find housing. However, it is not clear how these policies are enacted or whether the program’s strategies have ever changed in response to low efficiency.
3View statistics about the housing choice voucher program here.
There are many ways to create better outcomes for participants in the housing choice voucher program. Tenants should be able to access clear guidelines for the process of finding a unit and submitting paperwork. Tenants and landlords must establish a professional relationship and create a system of two-way accountability. While tenants should be held responsible for any tenant-caused damages, landlords should make repairs in a timely manner and ensure their units are up to inspection standards. Landlord outreach programs must be emphasized to decrease the stigma of voucher holders and increase the number of landlords who accept tenants with vouchers. Landlord incentive programs can be explored, such as rewarding landlords with successful long-term tenants, giving landlords a stipend during tenant vacancies if their next tenant is a voucher holder, or creating a more streamlined inspection process. The climate of the local housing market should be considered when implementing procedures and conducting outreach. The outcomes of housing choice voucher tenants should also be tracked to ensure that the program is deconcentrating poverty as advertised and that residents are not being displaced.
This research will be used to support Durham CAN’s organizing campaigns. As the eviction moratorium expires and the price of housing in Durham continues to rise, we must work to ensure that everyone has a decent, safe, and affordable place to live.