PORTLAND, Ore. – Section 8 tenants in Multnomah County will soon have a much easier time finding and keeping their housing, thanks to new limits set by the county’s housing authority.

Home Forward drastically increased the amount Section 8 tenants can rent homes for during a board meeting March 15.

“This is a big deal for the families we serve,” said Home Forward executive director Michael Buonocore.

No place to call home: The problem with Section 8

Section 8 is designed to allow low-income people to live in market-rate apartments, reducing segregation based on income. Tenants pay about 30 percent of their pay towards housing and Section 8 will pay the rest.

But in Multnomah County and other places in the United States with skyrocketing rents, the Section 8 limits haven’t kept up. The federal program sets limits for each region based on data that’s three years old.

In Portland, those limits are hundreds of dollars below what most apartments rent for and a quarter of people who get Section 8 vouchers in Multnomah County have to give them back.

For those who already have homes, a rent increase often means eviction. If they don’t find another place that meets Section 8’s payment standards, they could be homeless.

The old and new payment standards for Section 8 in Multnomah County
The old and new payment standards for Section 8 in Multnomah County

Because of this issue, Home Forward and other local agencies commissioned a Washington State University study on fair market rents. A spokesman for Home Forward said the agency believes the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) agreed to the increase because of the study.

“With rents skyrocketing, it’s become really hard for people to use their voucher, whether they’re looking for a place to rent or just trying to stay in their current home,” Buoncore said. “We got support from the Portland Housing Bureau, Congressman Blumenauer and our local HUD office to get this change – everyone sees how critical it is for these vouchers to work in our market. We couldn’t be happier.”

The new payment standards will go into effect on April 1 for new Section 8 tenants and tenants who are moving. For tenants staying in their homes and paying at least 50 percent of their income on rent, the new standards will start in July or early August. For all other Section 8 tenants, the standards will start when they are recertified in the program.

HUD will set the exact parameters in early April, Home Forward said.

There are just over 8,700 people who have Section 8 vouchers in Multnomah County, not including military veterans. Nearly two-thirds are seniors and people with disabilities.

Home Forward said the number of Section 8 vouchers it offers will not change.