Merriam-Webster defines stigma as a mark of shame or discredit. However, for Section 8 participants, it is a mark that has been imposed by others and has had long-reaching consequences.
Many people associate Section 8 with poverty, laziness, and the broken welfare system of days past. They retain a picture of old and rundown buildings filled with hard-faced families who are trying to “work the system” instead of a system that provides a hand up for those in need.
It is these assumptions that have created and perpetuated the stigmas applied to Section 8 families and have contributed to the current crisis of voucher holders not being able to find adequate housing.
Let’s take a closer look at some of these common misconceptions, and the data surrounding them.
“Most Section 8 people are just lazy and don’t want to work.”
This is probably one of the most common stigmas surrounding Section 8 families. The reality is that 43% of Section 8 households have one or more disabled members. To be considered disabled under Section 8, the disability has to be well-documented and verified by a third-party source, such as a medical professional.
Many of these households live on disability benefits they receive through Social Security, or on the income they are able to bring in under their circumstances.
56% of Section 8 families with children are single-parent households. Without diving too deeply into the web of issues unique to single parents, the cost of living has made it extremely difficult for one-income households to make ends meet.
The average cost of living in the United States is $4,832 per month for a family of 4, while the average annual income in the United States is only $3,960 per month. That is a difference of almost $900 per month.
So, the reality here is that families on the Section 8 program don’t have to be jobless or without an income to qualify or have a legitimate need for assistance.
“Section 8 tenants won’t take care of my property.”
There is absolutely no data to justify this falsehood.
Every landlord has an experience with bad tenants from time to time.
The reality is, Section 8 tenants actually run the risk of being terminated from the program if they are evicted, owe money to an owner, or if they have a history of serious and repeated lease violations.
All tenants, whether Section 8 or not, can and should be screened properly. Whatever methods an owner uses to screen prospective market renters they can use to screen Section 8 tenants as well. Background checks, credit checks, personal references, rental history, etc. Section 8 tenants are not given a free pass.
They are also within their rights to apply the same consequences for damages. Just because a tenant receives Section 8 does not mean the owner or landlord is powerless. The lease is still a legally binding agreement, and if the terms of the lease are broken, Section 8 tenants can be evicted, sued for damages, and held financially and legally responsible.
“The Section 8 program is a bureaucratic nightmare.”
Some will feel like this is a truth, but only if they aren’t taking the time to understand all Section 8 housing has to offer. It’s imperative for each owner to ensure they are well-educated on the processes and procedures of the Section 8 program. Knowing what each party’s rights and responsibilities are goes a long way toward eliminating any unfounded expectations. This empowers owners and landlords to make the appropriate decisions as situations arise.
It is also good to note that the tradeoffs can be significant.
The reality is that owners and landlords who work with Section 8 voucher holders have the ability to see less turnover, less vacancies, and more dependable cashflow.
Section 8 families have limited time and resources to search for housing and with so many owners refusing Section 8 vouchers, these families are more than happy to occupy units long-term. As long as they remain on the program and in the unit, the landlord is paid.
“That would never happen to me.”
The reality here is that any one of us could end up in a situation where we are in need of assistance.
If we have learned anything from the last 2 years, it is that none of us are immune to unexpected circumstances. With 57% of people unable to work during the pandemic, the possibility of losing our employment isn’t nearly as far-fetched as it used to be. The truth is any of us could find ourselves in need of Section 8 support.
Breaking the Cycle
“We have an ocean of information at our fingertips, and we are drowning in ignorance.” – Louie Giglio
We can only say we are doing our best until we know better. So, education is a key component to breaking these stigmas. It’s important we do our research and become dedicated to furthering positivity and truth, not just falling in line with rhetoric and anecdotes.
In order to break a stigma, you have to see the person as greater than what their paperwork says. Ask yourself what you would want people to say or do, if it was you or someone you care about, and then do that.
As long as we continue to contribute to these harmful stigmas, we are a part of the problem. We each have the power to be a catalyst for change. We should be intentional about how we choose to see and participate in the world.