The federal Housing Choice Voucher Program, better known as Section 8, exists to provide safe, clean affordable housing for low-income families and individuals. The central element of the Section 8 program caps the maximum amount of money a participating family pays for housing at about 30 percent of their income and sets a payment standard for property owners. Participants in the program — on both sides of the transaction — must abide by a thick book of rules to help ensure that both families and landlords are protected.
Although the Section 8 program generally involves renters and apartments, the St. Louis Housing Authority and its partner organizations, Habitat for Humanity St. Louis and Beyond Housing, have developed a program that is justly attracting some national attention. The SLHA’s Bridge to Homeownership Program lets qualified families and individuals use Section 8 vouchers to help buy a home, rather than rent an apartment.
Here’s how it works: Beyond Housing loans money to Habitat to cover the “soft costs” associated with building a new house. These funds allow Habitat to get the development process started. When each of the families closes on the purchase of their new home, they assume a second mortgage payable to Beyond Housing. The homeowner then uses the Section 8 vouchers to pay off that second mortgage within 10 years.
Qualifying for the program is not easy. All Habitat homeowners must go through a rigorous screening and training process. Each of the Section 8 homeowners participating in the SLHA program must qualify under all of Habitat’s criteria and meet all of the sweat equity and training requirements. In addition, the prospective homeowners must go through careful screening and training processes with both Beyond Housing and SLHA to participate in the program.
The Housing Authority’s Cheryl Lovell says that the local partnership will produce 15 or so new homes and home-owning families each year for as long as HUD funding remains in place for this program. So far, 36 families have moved into homes they own, instead of renting.
This is an American Dream story.