New Research Finds That Renters with Section 8 Vouchers Face Higher Levels of Discrimination

Boston, MA – People with Section 8 rental vouchers in Greater Boston face higher levels of discrimination than people without vouchers according to a new study released today by the Housing Discrimination Testing Program (HDTP) at Suffolk University Law School, Analysis Group, and the Boston Foundation. The study also revealed that many landlords and real estate brokers discriminate against Black renters, whether they have a voucher or not.

Barbara Chandler, Senior Advisor on Civil Rights and Fair Housing at Metro Housing|Boston, served as a consultant to the research teams and assisted in the design of the testing used for the study.

The Housing Choice Voucher Program, commonly known as Section 8, is the federal government’s major program for assisting very low-income families, elders, and people with disabilities to afford housing in the private market. With a Section 8 voucher, the tenant pays up to 30 percent of his or her income toward rent and utilities and the voucher covers the rest of the housing costs up to a set maximum rent.

Metro Housing|Boston provides rental assistance to 10,000 families, and we know that people with vouchers face many barriers when trying to rent safe, decent housing that they can afford.

“My experience has shown that discrimination against voucher holders is both widespread and difficult to identify,” says Julio Marcone, Fair Housing Client Advocate at Metro Housing. “Participants often cite that property owners are unwilling to perform voucher program-mandated repairs of their units, or refuse to fill out the required paperwork. Such noncompliance is not as obvious as an ad that spells out “No Section 8”, but presents a barrier that is just as high.”

M.L. is a housing voucher holder living in Boston who is Black. He wanted to move to Revere and found an apartment he liked.  He was pre-approved; however, once the property owners learned of his voucher, M.L. began getting the run-around. “First I was approved. Then they said I needed more income to help pay for utilities,” said M.L.  “I got a part-time job in Revere. After that, they started to make up reasons why I wouldn’t be able to move in. They didn’t make any sense. It was clear that they did not want to rent to me because I had a voucher.”

“Although a voucher is a great resource to those experiencing a housing crisis, it tends to be the primary reason behind participants being denied housing opportunity,” said Deyanira Gonzalez, Fair Housing Client Advocate at Metro Housing. “Even when provided with the appropriate fair housing information, certain property owners will still choose to discriminate against voucher holders.”

The study confirmed what Metro Housing’s clients know first-hand.  Vouchers holders are shown fewer apartments and given fewer options than tenants paying market rate even when rental assistance will pay the rent being requested by the owner.

When race is added to the equation, Black folks get treated worse than those who are White.

The authors of the study encourage, and Metro Housing|Boston supports asking, policy makers to consider the data to develop policies to address the discrimination occurring throughout the Boston area. Their recommendations include:

  • Increase penalties and mandatory training for real estate professionals and prohibit them from charging broker’s fees.
  • Strengthen anti-discrimination laws and fair housing enforcement and education and increase resources for testing.
  • Improve and streamline the system for using vouchers.

Both federal and state law prohibits housing discrimination based on race, and it is illegal in Massachusetts to discriminate against a person because they have a housing voucher, known as source of income.


About Metro Housing|Boston

Serving more than 25,000 households annually, Metro Housing|Boston is dedicated to mobilizing wide-ranging resources to provide innovative and personalized services that assist families in avoiding homelessness, maintain housing stability, and achieve economic security. With more than 30 years’ experience piloting and implementing housing programs, it has solidified their position as an industry-leading expert on navigating the affordable housing field. Metro Housing|Boston is committed to making sure that every person in Greater Boston will always have a place to call home. Visit, , or follow on Twitter at @MetroHousingBos.

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