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School Districts & Housing Vouchers

Housing costs are increasing, especially in Central Ohio. A recent report featured in the Columbus Dispatch shows that the “median sales price rose from $195,000 in 2018 to $209,900 last year.” One program that helps families pay for housing is called the Housing Choice Voucher (Formerly referred to as “Section 8”). This federal program through the Department of Housing and Urban Development assists very low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled in obtaining decent, safe, and sanitary housing in the private market.

Public Housing Authorities (PHAs), like the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA), receive federal funds from HUD to administer the voucher program, and housing subsidies are paid to the landlord directly by the PHA on behalf of the participating family. The voucher recipient remains responsible for paying any difference that exists between the actual rent charged by the landlord and the amount subsidized by the program.

In theory, housing vouchers are more mobile and flexible than location-based housing.

Voucher recipients are responsible for finding a suitable housing unit where the owner agrees to rent under the program. Because housing assistance is provided on behalf of the family or individual, participants are free to choose their own housing, including single-family homes, townhouses, and apartments, provided that the chosen housing meets the requirements of the program. Recipients are not limited to units located in subsidized housing projects , and theoretically this would allow them to live in higher-opportunity areas. But data shows that recipients are often not able to live in higher-opportunity areas because property owners refuse to accept payment through the voucher.

The Luck of the Draw

Receiving a housing choice voucher can be like winning the lottery—it is a random selection process based on eligibility and a waitlist. In the U.S., more than 17 million at-risk renter households eligible for rental assistance do not receive it due to funding limitations, meaning only a select few receive the voucher. This is in contrast to housing programs like the mortgage interest tax deduction (MID), which is an entitlement claimed primarily by white homeowners, and benefits disproportionately go to higher-income households. With an annual federal expenditure of $71 billion, the MID provides no benefit to renters, and many lower and moderate income homeowners do not benefit from the mortgage deduction because they claim the standard tax deduction. “Nearly $55 billion of the MID benefit goes to homeowners with annual incomes of more than $100,000; $10.5 billion goes to households with incomes in the top 1%,” according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

Your Money is No Good Here

After receiving the voucher, recipients must find a place to live, but their money is not accepted by everyone. Many landlords refuse to accept tenants paying with a voucher, a practice which closes the door to many high-opportunity neighborhoods. (1)

Opportunities to Increase Voucher Acceptance

  1. Funds could be allocated help convince property owners to house needy families, through an advertising campaign featuring and praising landlords with success stories

  2. A risk-mitigation fund could be made available (up to a certain threshold) to landlords who accept vouchers, helping reduce the perceived risks of housing voucher holders, similar to an insurance policy against damages to the unit.

  3. Base the voucher amount on housing location. For example, if additional funds from local corporate and philanthropic sources were allocated, a voucher could hold the value of the median gross rent of the census tract in which it is applied.

  4. Creation of a rental registry could offer other options to incentivize voucher acceptance. On the rental registration, landlords could be asked if they accept HUD Housing Choice Vouchers. If they decline, the registration fee would be higher. If they accept, the fee could be reduced or waived entirely.

These policies could help disperse housing vouchers throughout the city rather than further concentrate them in certain neighborhoods.

A Few School Districts Contain Nearly All Local Vouchers, While Others Have None

Click the image above to view the interactive data table.

The demographic and housing choice voucher data (click the above link) for school districts illustrates that high-performing school districts have very low or no housing vouchers in their boundaries. Lower-performing school districts have a higher rate of housing choice vouchers, a reality that demonstrates how lower-income families face bigger challenges to accessing the highly-rated public education options.

_______________________ 1. House Bill 229, introduced to the Ohio legislature by Reps. Miller and Upchurch in 2019, would outlaw source-of-income discrimination. Federal and state fair-housing laws made some forms of discrimination illegal, but not source-of-income discrimination. More than 90% of those who use vouchers through the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority are African American, which means when housing is refused to a voucher holder, 9 of 10 times that housing is being denied to an African American household. Source:


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