Policy Basics: Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance

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January 25, 2013

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The Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance (PBRA) programs enable more than 2 million people in 1.2 million low-income households to afford modest apartments by contracting with private owners to rent some or all of the units in their housing developments to low-income families.  Seniors or people with disabilities head two-thirds of PBRA-assisted households.

“Project-based” rental assistance differs from “tenant-based” rental assistance, which low-income families can use to rent any private apartment that meets program guidelines.  The main form of tenant-based rental assistance is the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program.

Who Is Eligible for Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance?

A family must be “low-income” — meaning that its income may not exceed 80 percent of the local median income — in order to move into Section 8 PBRA housing.

Also, at least 40 percent of the assisted units in each development that become available annually must go to families with “extremely low incomes” (no greater than 30 percent of the local median).  Most of the remaining units are restricted to families with incomes not above half of the local median income.  Undocumented immigrants are not eligible for PBRA assistance.

How Much Do Section 8 PBRA Tenants Pay for Rent?

Tenants pay 30 percent of their income (after certain deductions are taken out) for rent and utilities, or a minimum of $25 per month.  The gap between the tenant contribution and the cost of maintaining and operating the apartment is filled by a monthly Section 8 PBRA payment to the private owner of the building.

Who Owns and Manages Section 8 PBRA Properties?

Private owners who have entered into multiyear rental assistance agreements with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) (or with public housing agencies, for contracts funded under the Section 8 Moderate Rehabilitation program) own and operate Section 8 PBRA properties.  Most owners are for-profit entities, but non-profits own a significant share of Section 8 PBRA properties.  About 16 percent of Section 8 PBRA-assisted units are in non-metropolitan areas.

How Does Section 8 PBRA Help Recipients?

Section 8 PBRA helps families to afford modest housing and avoid homelessness or other kinds of housing instability.  (Some Section 8 PBRA properties serve only formerly homeless individuals.)  For frail seniors and people with disabilities, Section 8 PBRA enables them to continue to live in their home communities and avoid or delay placement into nursing homes or other institutional settings that are much more costly for both the families and the state and federal governments.

How Is Section 8 PBRA Funded?

Congress appropriates funding annually to renew approximately four-fifths of Section 8 PBRA contracts.  The remaining fifth are funded from appropriations that Congress made many years ago when the program’s original, multiyear contracts were signed.   As these contracts expire, HUD replaces them with new contracts that are funded annually.

What Is the Difference between Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance and “Project-Based Vouchers”?

While Section 8 PBRA is the largest by far, a number of smaller programs also provide project-based rental assistance under similar rules.  In addition, a hybrid form of tenant-based rental assistance — called “project-based vouchers” — may be tied to particular housing developments.  In contrast to other forms of project-based rental assistance, families using project-based vouchers retain the ability to keep their rental assistance when they move to a new location. 

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