The Use of Housing Choice Vouchers in New York City

Research & Policy | May 20th 2024

More than 5 million low-income people across the country use Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers to help subsidize their housing costs. Typically, this source of rental assistance will cover the difference between their full rent and about 30 percent of their household income. In New York City, close to 123,000 households use a form of the federally funded Housing Choice Vouchers, with nearly 99,000 using tenant-based vouchers, which residents can use to rent a home of their choice.  

Created in 1974, the Section 8 program, the country’s largest scale and longest running rental assistance program, turns 50 this year. As advocates and policymakers both in New York and around the country have increasingly turned to tenant-based subsidies as a way to improve housing affordability for low-income households, both by calling for expanded federal resources and creating locally funded programs, the NYU Furman Center chose to examine which New York City households are able to access the Housing Choice Voucher program and how they compare to the city’s renters and renters who are poor using detailed, household-level data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

Prior research shows that vouchers can have a range of positive effects, such as reducing the rent burdens of low-income households, allowing them to live in less crowded homes, minimizing the risk of homelessness, and even increasing the academic performance of children

“Voucher programs like HCV assist some of the most vulnerable in our society, and they deliver strong results,” the authors of the report state. “Without vouchers it would be extremely challenging, if not impossible, for many voucher holders to afford a home on the open market. What’s more, households with vouchers appear to benefit from additional stability, with voucher households experiencing lower eviction filing rates compared to households nearby.” 

In this latest study, the Furman Center analyzed rent burdens and the rent paid by typical voucher holders to understand the role vouchers play in making housing affordable in New York City. Researchers also calculated the median length of time households remain in the program, noting that households are using their vouchers for longer periods than a decade ago. Additionally, they examined the neighborhoods where households with voucher holders live, finding that, similar to national patterns, these neighborhoods have very similar characteristics to those of poor renters generally. 

Here are eight key findings from the Furman Center’s analysis, The Use of Housing Choice Vouchers in New York City:

The gap between the median income of voucher holders and renters has increased dramatically over the past decade.  

Over the last decade, the gap in median income between voucher households and renters overall increased to more than $45,000. By 2020, the median renter household’s income was more than 4 times that of the median voucher holder. This gap highlights the challenge for HCV households in an environment of rising costs. 

Vouchers greatly improve affordability, with nearly 90 percent of recipients facing no rent burden due to the subsidy.

Vouchers work as intended in making housing affordable for those low-income households, who typically spend about 30 percent of their income on rent. We find that almost 90 percent of voucher households are not rent burdened, and those who are generally pay less than 40 percent of their income on rent. By comparison, more than 80 percent of unassisted poor renter households in New York City are extremely rent burdened, spending more than 50 percent of their income on rent.


Voucher holders in New York City typically spend over 15 years in the program compared to eight years in the rest of the country, and that gap grew over the past decade.

In New York, the median length of time in the program over the past decade has doubled for current voucher households in New York from seven years to 15 years. Nationally, the median length of program use increased by just three years over the same period. New York City’s extremely tight housing market contributes to the long and increasing length of time in the program, and is an indicator of how valuable vouchers are to recipients.

The share of HCV heads of households that are younger than 50 years old declined nearly 18 percentage points between 2010 and 2020, a drop that was three times larger than for renters overall.

The increase in the share of senior heads of voucher households over the last decade was mainly driven by the aging of existing HPD and NYCHA households. Meanwhile, the share of NYCHA households headed by seniors declined slightly among new voucher recipients, according to the  data analysis. Both nationally and in New York City, the share of voucher households with children declined over the last decade (by 10 and 14 percentage points, respectively).

The eviction filing rate for voucher holders is lower than that of other nearby renter households.

While eviction filing rates for units with voucher households were higher than those for other renter households in the same neighborhood in 2019, we observed a shift in 2022, with voucher households experiencing lower filing rates. One potential reason for the shift is a change after the pandemic towards prioritizing filings against tenants with larger amounts of unpaid rent. 


New York City’s subsidized housing stock is a critically important source of housing for voucher households. This is especially true for those with HPD vouchers. 

A substantial share of households with vouchers – about 36 percent – live in privately-owned subsidized housing, suggesting that New York City’s subsidized housing stock is a critically important source of housing for voucher holders. This is especially true for those with HPD vouchers, because HPD has preference categories that prioritize use of its voucher authority with its affordable housing development and preservation work. Voucher households are also more likely to live in Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) housing than any other type of subsidized housing.

Vouchers do not appear to expand neighborhood options, including for families with children. 

One of HUD’s goals for the Housing Choice Voucher programs is to enable voucher recipients to live in higher-resourced neighborhoods if they so choose, but our analysis suggests that doesn’t happen often. Instead, voucher holders are fairly concentrated in a limited set of neighborhoods similar to those of other poor renters, and with higher poverty, unemployment, and crime rates, and lower median income than the neighborhoods of renters overall. Among voucher households, those with children live in neighborhoods with slightly higher poverty rates and violent crime rates than voucher households without children.

Only half of NYCHA voucher recipients succeeded in using their voucher in 2022.

Finding a home that meets the program’s specifications and where a voucher is accepted can be challenging. Fifty-three percent of NYCHA voucher recipients were able to use their voucher to lease a home in 2022, a 13 percentage point decrease from 2018. Those that successfully used vouchers typically searched for 171 days. The national success rate was only very slightly higher (55%) while the national search time also increased to 71 days – less than half that of New York City. The recent decline in success rates was largest for families with children, who experienced a 15 percentage point decrease between 2018 and 2022.


To read more about our findings, read the report and our entire State of New York City’s Housing and Neighborhoods report.

Furman Center Interactives and Maps

Neighborhood Data Profiles: The Furman Center’s Neighborhood Data Profiles offer detailed information on New York’s neighborhoods. What’s the median household income in Greenwich Village? What’s the rental vacancy rate in Central Harlem? How has the racial composition of Bushwick changed since 2000? Find all this and more economic, social, and demographic information on Furman’s easy-to-use neighborhood profile database. 



State of New York City: Our state of the city report covers a wide range of topics, including rental and homeownership trends, housing affordability, neighborhood demographics, and housing development patterns. By synthesizing data from various sources, the report serves as an invaluable resource for policymakers, researchers, urban planners, and anyone interested in understanding and addressing housing issues in New York City.

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