A Building Capacity with Black Women Action Research Project

Author: Principal Investigator, Dr. Brittany Lewis, Senior Research Associate

Contributing Authors: Dr. Shana Riddick, Arundhathi Sasikumar, Sophia Margaret Manolis, Carolyn Szczepanski


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Black women in Minneapolis have experienced economic crisis and housing shortages for far too long with little reprieve. Expected to be tirelessly ‘resilient,’ these women have to navigate not only their own daily experiences with racism but also have to navigate the complex systems established by the state and their city, which have often presented more roadblocks than solutions. Participant 22 in our study shared thoughts that echo this struggle: “The only problem that I have with section 8 is...how hard it is to find places. I would probably like for them to have, like, when I’m looking things up on the internet and then they'll be houses that accept section 8, but then it's like - not really houses that accept section 8. Make it a little bit easier for people to find places. I feel like it's a job, just trying to find a house. Even though you got the money, you got the income - you got this, you got that - but you’re still struggling just trying to put a roof over your head.

In the Twin Cities, households seeking a Section 8 voucher have historically had a wait time of anywhere from three to five years, before even conducting a search for housing that accepts Section 8 once received.[1] With a dramatic shortage of housing vouchers (45,000 applicants for 7,500 spots in 2019),[2] a vacancy rate of 4% in Minneapolis,[3] and rent increasing by as much as 28% since 2007 across the Twin Cities,[4] a stark housing crisis exists that disproportionately impacts Black women and their families. These issues have grown in intensity after decades of disinvestment and neglect due to redlining, unscrupulous mortgage practices and policies, segregation, white flight, and racial deindustrialization.[5] In Minneapolis, unemployment, the academic ‘opportunity gap,’ segregated communities, and inequitable policing are only a few of the many systemic issues fueled by strategic city and state policies and racial prejudice.[6],[7] Due to these elements, North Minneapolis, in particular, has become highly segregated[8] and representative of the city’s wide achievement and employment gaps between Blacks and whites, pervasive inequalities which are among the worst in the nation.[9] For example, recent data sheds light on the fact that Black poverty rates in the Twin Cities were over four times that of whites in 2019; only one-fourth of Black families own homes compared to the three-fourths of white families who do; the incarceration rate of Black folks is 11 times that of white folks; and Minnesota at large ranked 50th in the nation for racial disparities in high school graduation rates.[10] This is reflective of a larger issue in Minnesota, deemed the “Minnesota Paradox,”[11] where the state and Twin Cities are among the best places to live in America across several measures, from educational achievement to housing and leisure, while at the same time Minnesota is ranked second worst of the 50 U.S. states in terms of racial inequality.[12]  At the center of this harsh, inequitable reality are Black women: the renters of undignified housing, the residents of over-policed and under-resourced neighborhoods, and the mothers of disadvantaged students.

Recognizing the centrality of Black women in the overall inequalities in Minneapolis, CURA took a deeply strategic approach to build and facilitate an inclusive participatory research process in order to equip a group of Black women with the resources to conduct an action research project of their choosing and examine the qualitative experiences of Section 8 voucher holders in the City of Minneapolis, specifically. We believe that centering the voices of those directly impacted by housing injustice and discriminatory practices is the best way to find the most accurate depiction of lived experiences, understanding that those who experience exploitation are the experts of this reality. The Building Capacity for Black Women (BCBW) project is an effort to directly give power and voice to those who have historically been disempowered, silenced, and ignored.


  • How did the action research team develop its own skills and activate leaders among themselves while challenging structural housing inequities?
  • What research-informed tactical approaches/questions does the action research team develop to support Black women who are most affected by housing instability?

From five cohort-developed research questions, the group decided to undertake an action research project examining the experiences and mobility patterns of Section 8 voucher holders in the City of Minneapolis. This project was executed in conjunction with the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority (MPHA) Housing Choice Voucher Program Team. The BCBW cohort and MPHA team were research partners investigating trends in voucher holders’ access, mobility, and experiences navigating the city’s housing authority. More specifically, this project examined how MPHA Housing Choice Voucher holders make decisions about where to live, experience the program and its partners, and maintain or respond to the challenges of maintaining a Section 8 voucher. MPHA’s Housing Choice Voucher Program staff are interested in making policy/practice changes and want those adjustments to be based upon the needs of their voucher holders. BCBW and MPHA are collectively creating a space for voucher holders to share their housing experiences as well as their experiences working with MPHA staff. Ultimately, the themes shared by interviews from 56 voucher holders in Minneapolis included the following: 1) true housing stability is difficult to define; 2) unsafe and unhealthy conditions are common; 3) frequent rejections, too little time to search; 4) rents far beyond what a voucher supports; 5) varied relationships with landlords; and 6) challenging process for voucher holders. Black female heads of households were directly targeted as participants due to both historic exploitation and compelling data regarding their overrepresentation among voucher holders overall.

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Literature Review

Black households are dramatically over-represented among voucher holders
Black households are dramatically over-represented among voucher holders

The Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) Program, managed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) serves over five million people in 2.2 million households each year.[13] It is currently the largest low-income housing subsidy program managed by HUD and exists to provide low-income renters access to the private housing market.[14] While research shows that the Section 8 program is successful in reducing housing costs, crowding, and the risk of homelessness for renters,[15] it creates difficulties for recipients trying to find better housing and has not effectively given recipients access to better neighborhoods or schools.[16]   This literature review demonstrates that available research on voucher recipients primarily draws from quantitative data, and there are few qualitative studies on voucher holders’ experiences. This results in limited opportunities for voucher holders to be featured in the reporting, creating a missed opportunity to gain unparalleled first-hand knowledge from voucher holders about their experiences with the program.  This limitation in research approach/design exists in reporting at all levels but central to this examination is the lack of qualitative research on voucher holders' experiences with local public housing authorities (PHAs), such as the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority (MPHA).

Overview and History of National Program

The national HCV program was created by Congress in 1974.[17]  Proponents of the program argued that it would provide significantly more flexibility over location choice than project-based assistance like public housing, giving voucher holders better access to affluent areas with nicer amenities and schools. By 1980 more than 625,000 households held vouchers, and in 2008 the number of households with vouchers grew to more than 2.2 million.[18]

A 2018 report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities* indicates that voucher holders are able to live in housing units with rents priced up to Fair Market Rent (defined as either the 40th or 50th percentile of rents in a metropolitan area) by receiving rent subsidies from the federal government. Eligible voucher recipients must have incomes below 80% of the area median income (AMI) in their region. Voucher holders can pay 30% of their income on rent; the rest of rental payments are directly deposited to landlords by local PHAs, which receive money from HUD.

Amendments in the Section 8 statute over the years expanded the portability of vouchers. In 1987 Congress allowed voucher use across given metropolitan areas, and in 1999 the statute was further amended to allow voucher use anywhere throughout the U.S. Since 1998 HUD has designated a few public housing authorities as Moving to Work (MTW) agencies, allowing them to bypass certain rules in order to promote self-sufficiency and mitigate administrative burdens within their programs.[19]  For example, these locations can simplify housing quality inspections, reduce income certification frequency, and change rent formulas. HUD also developed a Small Area Fair Market Rent (FMR) program in 2011, which limits Fair Market Rent (FMR) standards to the zip code level to expand the number of affordable housing units in higher-income neighborhoods.[20] The program was piloted through five local PHAs: the Housing Authority of the City of Laredo (TX), the Town of Mamaroneck Housing Authority (NY), the Chattanooga Housing Authority (TN), the Housing Authority of Cook County (IL), and the City of Long Beach Housing Authority (CA). Findings from a HUD FMR Demonstration Program confirmed that Small Area FMRs have increased the pool of units potentially available to voucher holders in high-opportunity neighborhoods.*[21] 

Impact of HCV Program

Studies show evidence for increased opportunity through the HCV program, such as reduction in rent, reduction in homelessness, and an increase in mobility to less disadvantaged neighborhoods.[22],[23],[24],[25]  For example, a HUD-sponsored Welfare-to-Work experiment,[26] found that voucher holders spent $211 per month less on rent and utilities than the control group non-voucher holders,[27] This experiment also found that housing vouchers led to an increase in housing unit size and a reduction in crowding, they reduced the probability of homelessness from 45 to nine percentage points, and resulted in voucher holders often moving to slightly lower-poverty neighborhoods than the control group.[28]

However, beyond these studies, scholars have shown that most voucher holders still live in very disadvantaged neighborhoods. Nationally, census tracts with 10% or greater concentrations of voucher holders in the late 1990s had an average poverty rate of 27%, whereas census tracts with less than 2% voucher holders had only a 12% poverty rate[29]. A study of spatial location patterns of voucher holders in Los Angeles found positive correlations between tracts with higher concentrations of voucher holders and higher rates of unemployment, lower rents, and lower rates of rental occupancy,[30] Tracts with higher concentrations of voucher holders are also predominantly Black, whereas low concentration tracts are predominantly white,[31] Although residents in affluent neighborhoods have developed assumptions that voucher holders bring higher crime and lower property values to surrounding communities, a 2012 study led by Ingrid Gould Ellen found no evidence that an increase in voucher households results in more crime.[32]Another study led by Anna Santiago (2001) found that voucher use was positively associated with property values in Denver's higher-valued census tracts.[33]

Many studies have attempted to explain why vouchers are not very effective at increasing mobility to higher-opportunity areas. Research shows that landlords greatly contribute to sorting voucher holders by matching lower-end voucher holders to hard-to-rent units in impoverished neighborhoods.[34] Another study demonstrated that voucher holders are unlikely to find as many units with rents at or below FMR rates in more affluent neighborhoods.[35]Landlords in higher-income areas are also often less willing to rent to voucher holders.[36] Finally, social networks play a role in where voucher holders choose to live because people tend to want to live within established communities of friends and family.[37] Families also commonly struggle from limited access to the HCV program. Firstly, there are not enough vouchers to provide for the large number of low-income families; only one in four eligible households actually receives a voucher.[38] Secondly, families face long waitlists, typically lasting up to two years or longer.[39]Finally, voucher holders often do not have enough time to find units that accept vouchers. The latest national study of success rates found that three out of every ten households that received a voucher in 2000 failed to rent a unit in the 60-day timeframe allowed by the program.[40] The qualitative data that the CURA team collected from voucher holders in Minneapolis reflected national findings that show limited mobility to higher-income areas among voucher holders and a lack of accessibility to the overall Housing Choice Voucher program.

Analysis of National Literature

Most studies on the history and impact of the HCV program draw from national census data, financial records, data files from programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and the Public Housing Information Center (PIC), housing and employment data, and participant surveys. They are quantitative in nature and do not feature the voices of voucher holders. Although there are few nationally cited qualitative studies, two prominent examples are offered by Eva Rosen and Sean Zielenbach. Rosen’s book, The Voucher Promise: Section 8 and the Fate of the American Neighborhood, was published in July 2020. This ethnographic study, which is the product of Rosen’s year-long immersion in Park Heights, unpacks the daily lives of voucher holders, homeowners, renters without housing assistance, and landlords in the Park Heights neighborhood of Baltimore, MD. Rosen has also conducted several qualitative studies on landlords’ perceptions of voucher holders.[41] Overall, Rosen’s research offers a close-up perspective on the challenges HCV participants face obtaining and using vouchers, which leads many voucher holders to segregate in low-income areas. She also demonstrates how and why landlords often exploit or discriminate against voucher holders. However, Rosen still argues that the HCV program, with improvements, is a crucial step in mitigating the nation’s housing crisis.[42] Sean Zielenbach’s 2006 report on the impact of the HCV in lower-income neighborhoods explored why, in some areas, there is significant opposition to the HCV program. Zielenbach drew from interviews with voucher holders and PHA staff in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore. He found that the cities with the strongest opposition to the HCV program generally stigmatize the program and believe it contributes to systemic social and economic issues.[43] Rather than a broad focus on the national program,  Zielenbach uses this qualitative data to provide in-depth analysis of the differing impact the HCV program can have in local areas.

HCV Program in Minnesota

In Minnesota, 32,802 households participate in the Housing Choice Voucher Program annually as of 2018, and the average annual household income for Minnesota voucher holders is $12,443.[44] When the national Section 8 HCV Program was created in 1974, PHAs began to form throughout Minnesota’s 87 counties. The largest Minnesota PHAs are in Hennepin and Ramsey counties. More recently, the biggest challenges for the statewide administration of the HCV program have been long waitlists for voucher holders, national budget cuts, and subsequent funding shortages.[45], [46] Due to shortages in housing stock and inaccessibility of the program, in 2006 MN HCV waitlists surpassed 47,000 individuals, and the median average wait-time for a voucher was about 12 months.[47] According to a 2013 report by the Minnesota Housing Partnership, HUD funding for the HCV program has been cut by 8% since 2010, after adjusting for inflation.[48] In 2013, 35% of Minnesota PHAs administering vouchers eliminated staff, over half expected their waitlists to exceed two years by January of 2014, and 8% of MN PHAs reported changing public housing preferences to favor higher income residents.[49] According to the same source, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities predicted that Minnesota would lose between 2,500 and 3,200 vouchers by the end of 2014 (MHP, 2013).[50] 

Examination of MPHA’s Involvement with the HCV Program

The Minneapolis Public Housing Authority (MPHA) became an independent agency in 1990. The former Minneapolis Housing and Redevelopment Authority started a Section 8 rental assistance program in 1974.[51] MPHA currently operates around 5,943 public housing units and 5,076 Housing Choice Vouchers (HCV) per year in Minneapolis.[52] In 2008, they became a Moving to Work agency, which meant that they could bypass certain HUD rules to improve their programs for Minneapolis residents. For example, with Moving to Work status, MPHA has implemented minimum rent subsidies; eliminated the 40% affordability cap; revised portability policies; and eliminated childcare, medical care, and dependent deductions when calculating adjusted income.[53] MPHA has also attempted to run self-sufficiency programs for Section 8 participants, including the ‘Moving Home’ program,[54] the Family Self-sufficiency program,[55] the HOME (Home Ownership Made Easy) program[56] (for both public housing and Section 8 families), homeownership counseling, and cost assistance. However, the ‘Moving Home’ and HOME programs ended in 2012 due to HUD funding cuts to PHAs across the country.[57]  In 2010, MPHA created the Mobility Voucher Program to support families moving out of high-poverty areas but the program struggles with a high turnover of staff and a lack of affordable housing in higher-income areas.[58]

There is a dramatic shortage of housing vouchers to meet demand. In 2019, there were 45,000 applicants for both Twin Cities Housing Authorities but only 7,500 spots.
There is a dramatic shortage of housing vouchers to meet demand. In 2019, there were 45,000 applicants for both Twin Cities Housing Authorities but only 7,500 spots.

The most prominent issues with the MPHA HCV Program result from a lack of funding and capacity.[59] In 2006, households seeking a Section 8 voucher in the Twin Cities metropolitan area could expect to wait between three and five years.[60] In 2019, there were 45,000 applicants for both Twin Cities Housing Authorities but only 7,500 spots,[61] and there were 2,199 households on the Section 8 waiting list.[62] In 2017, MPHA initiated a third-party assessment of their programs and policies, which was funded by the Family Housing Fund and conducted by Quadel Consulting and Training Company. The assessment found that the bureaucratic structure results in too much of a focus on top-down procedures instead of community needs, and a lack of community outreach and collaboration with nonprofit organizations and voucher holders. The report concludes with a number of policy recommendations for MPHA, such as using the location of project-based vouchers as a strategy to expand housing opportunities for families, allowing families more time to search for housing, ensuring consistent communication between MPHA and landlords, developing a portability process that promotes consistency and coordination with regional housing authorities, and pro-rating rent to begin when the Housing Assistance Payment contract (required for Section 8 participants) is approved.[63] Since these findings were published, MPHA has consequently reduced paperwork requirements and simplified forms for participants; hired a community engagement liaison to mediate among tenants, landlords, and owners; and made their caseload distribution equal among MPHA staff instead of divided by alphabetical order. According to the Twin Cities Metro Area Fair Housing Implementation Council,[64] HCV program participants in Minneapolis are still challenged with the limited number of rental units with 3+ bedrooms; high rental application denial rates in communities of color; an inability to place tenant-based rental assistance vouchers for those with disabilities, households with children, and households of color; and NIMBY-ism (“Not in my backyard”) with regard to siting and placement of affordable housing.[65]

Analysis of Literature on HCV Program in Minneapolis

A few reports containing qualitative data on Minneapolis residents’ experiences with the Section 8 program already exist,[66], [67] but not enough to fully give voucher holders a prominent voice in the overarching literature. In 2008, the Minnesota Housing Partnership (MHP) conducted a survey of applicants on the MPHA waiting list. They found that most residents saw Section 8 vouchers as an improbable but life-changing opportunity that would help them save more money for food, gas, and other fixed costs of living,[68]  In 2019, University of Minnesota (UMN) Senior Research Associate Dr. Brittany Lewis conducted a community-based research study on evictions in North Minneapolis.  The study participants included Section 8 voucher holders and landlords. Her research team found that most voucher holders felt constrained in the housing market because landlords do not often take Section 8 tenants. They also found that many landlords stigmatize Section 8 participants, commonly refuse to rent to voucher holders, or attempt to take advantage of them economically.[69] Finally, the Family Housing Fund 2017 research team interviewed stakeholders, including property owners, landlords, voucher holders, and MPHA staff, in the process of writing their report; however, the report does not include quotes from staff or stakeholders and it’s unclear what stakeholders actually means. It’s clear from the existing literature that more is needed to document the experiences of Minneapolis voucher holders and consequently evaluate MPHA programs and procedures.



The Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA) advocates for the necessity of community-engaged research – centering the knowledge and inclusion of community partners throughout the research process.  This research model inverts the power dynamics commonly seen in community-based research, where an academic enters a space with a predetermined focus and questions, extracts data from the community, analyzes data without the inclusion of community voices, and disseminates findings within their peer communities. Rather than the community being a means to a “scholarly end,” this model asserts that collaboration with community partners produces research that is not only robust, but also bolsters trust, usage, and accessibility for practitioners and policymakers. The Building Capacity with Black Women (BCBW) Research Team and Cohort Members upheld this CURA research standard. The BCBW cohort members were integral to the development of this project from its inception, to the partnership developed with stakeholders at a local housing authority, and finally, the recommendations advanced in this report. The BCBW research team acted as facilitators, ushering cohort members through the research process as they gained new skills as qualitative researchers – knowledgeable and capable of contributing to the city’s housing policy landscape.

Research Design

This is a mixed method research project. By using both qualitative and quantitative research approaches, the intent is to offer a more comprehensive examination of HCV Program participants’ experiences navigating the local housing market and engagement with landlords and HCV Program staff. Qualitative data was collected through in-depth interviews and focus groups. The project’s quantitative data resulted from project intake forms as well as demographic and program data obtained from MPHA. 

Project Participants

Each partner brought unique intentions to the partnership that reflected their initial investment in the work. For example, BCBW cohort members were drawn to the project because they wanted to better understand a disconnect they perceived between the timeframe allocated to voucher holders to locate housing and the limited inventory accepting vouchers. HCV Program staff were interested in examining the experiences of their “frequent movers.”[70] During a BCBW cohort session in January 2020, the project’s HCV Program contact person and the Director of Research presented the graphic below, introducing the BCBW team to the program’s frequent movers. This document was a central tool utilized to determine the project’s participant pool.  

Percent of all housing voucher holders, Percent of voucher frequent movers

The HCV Program defines a “frequent mover” as someone that has moved at least once every two years in their history with the MPHA HCV Program. Because of a lower response rate we expanded upon this definition (and our potential participant pool) to include individuals who moved once every 2.5 years.
The HCV Program defines a “frequent mover” as someone that has moved at least once every two years in their history with the MPHA HCV Program. Because of a lower response rate we expanded upon this definition (and our potential participant pool) to include individuals who moved once every 2.5 years.

Source: Minneapolis Pubilc Housing Authority

From this meeting, black female heads of household (the overwhelming majority of the frequent movers and 68% of voucher holders overall) became the targeted population. They comprised 321 of the program’s 401 frequent movers. Recruitment measures included: an automated call dispensed to the targeted voucher holders every three days, a mailed letter, emails (language based upon content from the letter) went out each Friday, and a flyer advertising the project was placed in the HCV Program lobby. Early on, MPHA staff communicated that a sizable percentage of the targeted frequent movers were East African (specifically Somalians). After discussions and efforts to secure translation services through different means, HCV Program leadership allocated funds and staff support to translate the automated call, letter, email, and flyer into Somali. Interpreter services were also made available to register non-English speaking voucher holders and for interpreters at the project’s data collection event. The greatest need was for Somali-speaking interpreters. One voucher holder required an Oromo-speaking interpreter and another an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter. Though requested, the latter interpreter was not provided by MPHA. The interpreter was obtained through the University of Minnesota’s Disability Resource Center.[71]

Project outreach was approximately six weeks and at a mid-point check-in meeting with HCV Program staff, recruitment numbers were not on target. It was determined that a second sample population would be generated with slightly larger parameters defining frequent movers. The second pool of voucher holders, which yielded another 304 potential participants, was black female heads of household who moved at least once every 2.5 years. Recruitment materials went out in English and Somali. Geographically, the majority of the voucher holders from the original and extended participant pools resided in two zip codes in North Minneapolis (55411 and 55412) and two  zip codes in South Minneapolis (55454 and 55406). The graphic below illustrates the number of frequent mover households by census tract within the project.

Participant demographics
Of the 56 participants in the survey, 91% identified as African American or East African. The most common age range among participants was 31 to 40 years old (21 participants), and 2/3 (37 participants) have finished high school / attained a GED or completed some college.

Data: Interview participant intake survey

By February 19, 2020, 54 individuals were registered for the project. Six translators were on site - four Somali-speaking, one Oromo-speaking, and 1one ASL interpreter. The night of the data collection event approximately 30 walk-ins showed up interested in participating. Every prospective participant who remained on site was able to participate once a time slot opened up in the schedule. Ultimately, 56 participants, 18 of whom were walk-ins, participated in the project.[72]

Data Collection

The project’s data collection took place on a single night in North Minneapolis at NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center. NorthPoint volunteered space to the BCBW project for its twice-monthly cohort sessions. They allowed usage of their administrative wing for the data collection event. All research tools were developed by the BCBW Project cohort members and research team, and finalized in collaboration with MPHA staff. The majority of the interviews were completed by BCBW cohort members, with UMN graduate student volunteers playing a supplementary role. The focus groups were led by BCBW research team members (with UMN graduate students taking notes). Data was collected through three mediums – an intake form, semi-structured one-on-one interviews, and focus group participation. Following registration, individuals participated in a 20-minute interview and 30-minute focus group. The interviews and focus groups took place in a rotating format with five rounds of interviews and five rounds of focus groups taking place within a 3.5-hour timeframe. At a maximum, 15 interviews and two focus groups took place during each 30-minute interval. Walk-ins were seen if there was a “no-show” or a natural opening in the schedule.

Data Analysis

Initially, the intent was to complete a bulk of the data analysis during a weekend retreat. However, because of Covid-19 the BCBW Project team was forced to move the entire project online. The data analysis phase began with training sessions where the cohort members were introduced to the thematic coding process. The project’s interviews were analyzed collectively by the entire BCBW Project team and the focus group data was analyzed by the project’s graduate research assistant. Transcripts were disbursed to the project team and data analysis took place through a two-part thematic coding process. The most consistent themes that surfaced and guided the coding process were: stable housing, forced choice, landlord communication/process, general assumptions about Section 8 voucher holders, and MPHA communication/process. While coding, the BCBW Project team members were paired off, with each given a theme to examine across all of the transcripts. At the conclusion of the closed-code phase, each pair had produced a document – providing a thematic description for their theme, key quotes substantiating the theme, and recommendations for MPHA based upon the theme.

Key Findings Theme 1: Housing Stability

P20 has never lived long enough in one place to take housing stability for granted. They were homeless for most of their life, and consistently moved around from place to place. When they had the chance to live in their own apartment, it’s no surprise that they weren’t able to stay long because of extenuating circumstances. In the winter of 2019, after moving into a place they really liked, they were forced out due to a house fire: “My car caught on fire. And it was parked in the carport. And somehow, [the house] caught fire. They said it was electrical, I think. And, yeah, basically there was only a fourth of the house roof leftover after they got done.” P20 had few other options and ended up in a space they weren’t happy about. But, they said they were content as long as they have a roof over their own head. According to P20, “You don't even know the definition of stability until you get your own place.

Participants in the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) Program struggled to define what “stable housing” meant to them when asked by BCBW interviewers. As many struggled to get their basic needs met, it was hard to even imagine having a stable life or living situation. When they did discuss their vision for housing stability, it often revolved around the mitigation of unstable living conditions instead of the type of housing they desired -- or they simply spoke about the desire to have a roof over their head.

How is Housing Stability Defined by HCV Program Participants?

“Stable housing is a place that is clean, safe, and warm that I don’t have to worry about moving from and is safe inside and out. Also some place I can afford and still have money left over to live. I have a lot of food instability so I want to prepare food.” -P49

“Just a nice home that doesn’t just look nice on the outside or in, but is really sturdy. How about that? Stuff looks nice and then when you actually get in it breaks and now that’s your fault because they didn't do it right the first time. So, those are my things - on stability.” - P03

“Housing stability is having a place that you can go to and it’s a place where you can call home and you don’t have to worry about, you know, um…losing it.” -P22

“Basically having a place to call your own. Your name is on the lease. The housing is - has running water.” - P47

“Stable housing to me would look like, I think like it is - but I feel that women should be able to have their husbands, or their husbands living in with them. Or whether it's the husband, fiancee, boyfriend - whatever. Because stability comes with folks. You don’t just come for one person, you know what I’m saying?” -P29

59% of participants initially expressed confusion and required additional probing to explain what stable housing meant to them.

In every interview, voucher holders were asked how they would define housing stability. Many initially expressed confusion about the question and required additional probing to ascertain what stable housing meant to them. These common signs of hesitation and confusion signified the lack of experience many project participants had with stable housing.

For example, in response to the initial question about housing stability, P05’s interpreter said, “Can you explain one more time? He said ‘when you say describe stable housing -  Do you mean paying the rent? Do you mean, the relationship with Section 8 and communication?” After the interviewer further explained housing stability, P05 said, “The problem is that the area that we live in, its okay. But the problem is, it's a lack of housing. Its hard to find housing.”

47% of participants said they were experiencing housing instability. 25% of participants said they experienced unsafe living situations

When probed further, voucher holders often emphasized their desire to have basic needs met. For example, when discussing their current housing situation P26 said, “I will define it [current housing situation] as stable because it is habitable.” P26 went on to state, “being able to pay my rent on time is peace of mind so that grants me stability. And just basically having a warm roof over our head for my kids.”  Whether it was housing without rodents, sufficient plumbing, or walls that were not falling down, voucher holders frequently mentioned their desire for housing conditions that most renters and homeowners take for granted. Similarly, many expressed the desire to stay in one place for an extended period of time without having to worry about moving. Finally, many said they wanted to eliminate or prevent housing conditions that many homeowners would consider unlivable or undesirable. These included unaffordable rent prices, inadequate home maintenance, extremely cramped housing units, and unsafe living conditions.


“The houses are getting expensive. They’re not getting cheaper, they’re getting higher. If you find a house and they say it’s high and then you can’t have it.” -P14

Voucher holders struggled to attain housing stability because housing is expensive, even with subsidized rent through the HCV Program. This creates significant obstacles that prevent housing stability. In cities like Minneapolis, rent prices continue to rise because of societal factors such as gentrification, while the amount subsidized by Section 8 is not changing. Though vouchers are intended to ensure that residents pay 30-50% of their monthly income on housing, costs are so high that nearly 40% of voucher holders pay more than 30% so they can live in adequate housing.

“It’s so hard to find a place, especially when you have kids and you need more rooms. It’s very difficult and it’s expensive.” - P08

“I mean, just the credit score and the amount of money they want. Three times the rent. They just ask for too much. You have to be lucky to know somebody. That’s how I got this one.” -P18

“It should have something that’s worth the price that they’re asking for, not just because it’s just got, you know, a room with a door to it.” -P22

“Yeah. That’s why we’re working. Every house that I like and I want to live in, that I feel comfortable in, they’re telling me, ‘no, that high income’. Like over $2000. They just have specific money that you have to rent. And the house should be that money. The city knows that houses are going up.” -P14 via Translator

“She said, if you got a comfortable apartment, or housing, it is expensive. And the Section 8 department they are not covering, they’re not accepting all of that. For example 2000-3000 or so. So that’s the issue. There is not enough money for renting what they want. She said Section 8 they are not paying all of that.” -P46 via Translator

Some voucher holders were directly displaced because of gentrification, creating situations of intense housing instability for them. P41 said that their landlord displaced most of the Section 8 voucher holders and low-income residents in their apartment building to rent to local university graduate students.

That was my last visit with gentrification. The landlord decided that they wanted to do graduate students. Because they could double the rent and then get all their money from these grads. And they were not secretive about this at all… They put people out because of what they did, they threw the whole building out. And they redid the building, and they allowed one woman who had been there since the building was built, to move back in.

P41 said that they felt like even if they discussed the situation with their HCV Program caseworkers, nothing would be done: “There wasn’t anything they could do… there is nothing you can say about it.” This situation illustrates that voucher holders’ needs can easily be dismissed by landlords when an opportunity to increase profit arises. As a result, voucher holders have even fewer opportunities to access affordable housing, and there is not much one’s caseworker can do to support them.

Quality of Housing

“The worst thing was, I was looking for an apartment. I went there. I called them and they said ‘oh yeah we accept section 8’. And then when I went, when they were giving the tour of the house. I just leaned on the wall and the wall fell down… That’s the kind of housing that accepts section 8 nowadays. Not the new ones, the comfortable ones.” -P14

Voucher holders often talked about experiencing housing instability due to living in undesirable or unlivable housing conditions. For example, many voucher holders shared that units were too small, dirty, or in disrepair. When asked what housing stability meant to them, this led to common desires for more space and proper maintenance of their unit.

“The sink in the kitchen, the water comes straight down and runs directly into the basement. When we first moved in, like two days before it snowed they had a person - I don’t know who inspected what - but it was full of boo-boo pampers. And I don’t have no pamper-aged children. It's full of garbage and all that stuff so when the snow melts and the weather breaks they are going to want me to clean all of that stuff up.” -P40

“The housing, the house that I live in right now, we don’t get enough warm water to take a shower. Like if it’s on for five minutes it turns cold right away.” -P23

“When the water comes out, first it's rusty all of the time. I’m like ‘why does this water always start off rusty like this? What’s wrong with you all?’ I got asthma. I got little kids... But no one cares, so.” -P40

“I lived in my property, my past unit, for over five years. They never painted. They never replaced carpet in five years. Got to the point where I painted it myself. You know, there should be some regulation, where if a person’s living in your house over five years they can get some paint in the house or at least put some deep carpet in it, you know throw some white paint on the wall every now and then.” -P01

“We’re a family of six. We live in a two bedroom. We've been looking for a house for over a year now. You know, to fit all of us. There are a lot of houses that you can rent, but they don't take Section 8.” -P05

“She said that it's an old property too and the number of bathrooms is only one… She is afraid that it is an old property, and the painting is old. She’s afraid that it is lead.” -P24 via Translator

Some participants believed they had stable housing even with unlivable housing conditions. This is a perspective for many that is shaped by routine access to subpar housing options. For example, P48 said their housing was stable even though she experienced persistent maintenance issues. Landlords are supposed to oversee rental repairs. P48’s landlord never responded to maintenance requests. “She says once something is broken and you need it fixed. You call the landlord, but they don’t answer,” P48 said. Yet P48 still said that their housing was stable despite these undesirable conditions. “It’s stable, but right now my landlord doesn’t fix anything. So it's frustrating. [And] they [still] want all your money.”

In addition to not responding to voucher holders’ maintenance requests, some landlords asked voucher holders to repair housing issues themselves. According to P45, who had standing water in her basement, “We asked them to fix this and they said we had to make an appointment online. We did. It took five months. The water was there for the whole five months, and when they came they said “you guys are supposed to fix it.”  Eventually, the landlord fixed the issue, but P45 said that if it lasted any longer “anything could have happened.” Because voucher holders usually are not able or unqualified to complete maintenance needs, if landlords are not willing to respond to maintenance issues in their property it can easily lead to situations where Section 8 housing units go unfixed. Given this reality, it’s understandable why many voucher holders expect to experience repair issues and are not surprised or outraged when they are asked to deal with these situations themselves. Or, over time, living in undesirable situations can become normalized.

Voucher holders also experienced unstable housing because of extremely cramped living spaces. For example, multiple participants described fitting five- or six-person families into a two-bedroom apartment. Some participants said that their voucher was supposed to grant their family an apartment with more bedrooms, but because larger apartments were not affordable they were forced to move into smaller units. Along with instability manifesting in a person’s physical space, low quality housing also created mental instability for voucher holders. For example, P40 shared that they lived in a housing situation that included not only an unresponsive landlord but one who was regularly verbally abusive. Many of her basic appliances were broken for months and her unit experienced plumbing issues that led to flooding. The lack of attention to the unit and her family’s housing needs took an emotional toll on her. She concluded a conversation on housing quality by fervently describing her current housing situation as “not good, I hate that house. I hate it! I hate it! I hate it!” Similarly, many other participants expressed feelings of frustration, anger, sadness, and hopelessness when discussing their housing experiences. 

Safe and Comfortable Environment

“It was the first couple months that I moved in that someone broke the window. But after that, I didn’t sleep. I was scared. I didn’t feel safe so I just moved after I finished the one year lease.” -P14 via translator

Finally, many voucher holders expressed the importance of safety and comfort when they discussed housing stability, but many did not experience this in their Section 8 units. Some participants said they did not feel safe or comfortable because of neighbors or random people loitering in their buildings. Participants also shared feeling unsafe because of violence in their neighborhoods. Most voucher holders experiencing unsafe situations wanted to move, but because of the limitations of available Section 8 housing they usually were unable to do so.

“I moved out because a girl came to my home, she came to my front door, she maced me. Over there that’s a section 8 building, they knocked down the security. Your safety over there is not protected at all. People could walk in off the street and get into the building. People just give out the code to get into the building and things like that. So she maced me in my face and then I moved from over there. I was homeless.” -P29

“It’s the environment, like, smoking in the hallways. We don’t want to get up in the morning and smell marijuana while I’m putting my baby on the bus, and stuff like [that].” Apparently, the people in the building are “rude. Disrespectful… Smoking in the hallway. Peeing in the hallway. Fighting in the hallway. Just a lot.” -P25

“So, this guy, homeless guy, was in the hallway. You know, and that scared the dickens out of me. You know, so he kept being there every day, and I reported it to the office. And they told me, ‘well, call the police’. You know, I was like, ‘call the police ?’ So I thought about that. I was like if I call the police everyday this man is in there then they gonna be telling me.” -P09

Due to common experiences with unsafe, undesirable, and unaffordable living conditions, many Section 8 voucher holders dealt with housing instability. This opening interview question - what does stable housing mean to you - regularly set the tone for the housing experiences that voucher holders shared.

Key Findings Theme 2: Forced Choice

P06 was forced to live in unstable housing because of extreme limitations the housing market places on Section 8 voucher holders.  They started their housing search on Zillow, looking at a countless numbers of places. They sent messages asking if the owners would accept Section 8 but did not receive any replies, so they had to schedule in-person tours to find out. Once they went to the tours, they were almost always told “no.” After many denials, they finally found a place that accepted Section 8 tenants and decided to move in. “And I took the place. And the only reason why I took the place was because it was very hard for me to find something and landlords just kept telling me ‘no’,” P06 said. Although they felt lucky to find housing, they said their current home still was not ideal because of maintenance issues and “bed bugs.” They said the best part is that “it was a step better than the last place I was in.” Unfortunately, P06 did not have the opportunity to choose a home they wanted because it was such a struggle finding housing in the first place.

Interviewed voucher holders commonly expressed frustration with the limitations in the housing search process that forced them to a small subset of housing options. The majority of participants experienced many denials from landlords because of their voucher status. They also dealt with limited time to find housing and barriers due to rules about income and rent in the HCV Program. Ultimately, because of these factors, most participants were limited to non-ideal housing situations.

Landlords Won’t Accept Section 8 Housing

It's really hard to find housing when you tell them you got a voucher, period. Landlords will turn you away. They will say, ‘we don't accept it’. They won’t even give you a chance, and not everybody on Section 8 is the same as the next person on Section 8. We are all different individuals, but they all look at us being the same. They all look at us like we're going to tear up their properties because they had a current tenant, a previous tenant who did it - so they look at us as if we’re gonna do the same. And we are not all the same on Section 8. We do not all come from, breaking people’s shit and just running from house to house. -P03

60% of participants said that they encountered landlords who wouldn’t rent to voucher holders.

The most significant reason that voucher holders are forced into undesirable housing is because many landlords do not accept Section 8 vouchers. The majority of participants said this was one of the most challenging aspects of their housing search. It’s clear that housing options for voucher holders are quite limited when using search tools like the HousingLink database. Sometimes, landlords explicitly stated that they did not accept Section 8 vouchers, deterring voucher holders from reaching out to them. However, in other cases, they simply did not acknowledge or respond to voucher holders when they reached out. While many said they thought these experiences were caused by landlord bias against voucher holders, most participants were not aware of why they were getting turned away because landlords usually did not provide any explanation.

“First time they hear you have a voucher or Section 8, they will look at you two times, every landlord like (nonverbal interaction) you're not gonna be the first person they will give priority to.” -P08

“It’s discrimination or something. You look up a place and they say, “no section 8. No section 8.” You just scroll down the whole page in big red “Xs”, saying no section 8.” -P40

P11 said they received responses to housing inquiries until they asked explicitly about Section 8. “When I sent a message saying, ‘okay, is this house available? Yes it is. But I have a voucher, section 8. Do you guys accept section 8?’. They don't even answer, nothing,” P11 said. They continued: Some people will never, some people will not even talk to you. Some people, when you apply for a house or search and then they don't even answer.”

“In Minneapolis or Hennepin County, there is, I can say there are few, few, few, few apartments that accept Section 8. I guess my current apartment is the only one I know. For example if I wanted to move to another apartment it is so hard to hear, ‘yes we accept Section 8.’ Most of the apartments, most of the buildings don’t accept Section 8.” -P16

“Well I think I had like two or three months to find somewhere. It took me basically all that time, because a lot of people don’t accept Section 8.” -P22

The process of repeatedly being told “no” by landlords was very degrading for most voucher holders. They felt discriminated against by landlords and not viewed as a typical or standard renter because of their voucher. As a result, participants commonly described a stressful and challenging process searching for housing in the city of Minneapolis. They were usually forced to settle for undesirable and unaffordable housing, with many waiting indefinitely to find housing that was an appropriate fit for their families.

Not Enough Time to Look for Units

43% of participants said they had limited time finding adequate housing.

Voucher holders struggled to find adequate housing because they had limited time to choose a home before their voucher expired. According to many participants, the HCV Program only gave them 90 days to search for new housing; they usually found that it was not enough time.

“I mean, once I'm in there, I'm stable. It’s just the point of getting in there. You know some...I moved in some places where I had to clean up. I had to wash the windows. I had to mop. I had to, you know, I had to do stuff before I moved in because I had to move in, in an emergency because my voucher was going to expire. Or it had already been six months and I don't have any more time.” -P18

“They should give people more time now because landlords are not really renting. Some apartment buildings aren’t taking Section 8, so it's hard. And I can’t walk out there because my legs and my feet, I'm disabled... I suffer from a lot of illness.” -P21

As far as Section 8, that's the only thing that I see… [that’s an issue is] not giving you enough time to find housing.” -P09

In 2019, only 20% of voucher holders in Minneapolis requested in extension to find housing, according to MPHA.

While voucher holders are able to apply for up to two extensions, many participants said that this process is confusing or did not seem to be aware that this was a possibility.  For example, it was clear throughout her interview that P21 was incredibly stressed by the prospect of finding housing within a limited amount of time remaining on her voucher. She never mentioned the possibility of an extension. “The new owners only gave me 30 days so that was stressing me. So I took whatever I could take, because I didn't want to lose my section 8… You shouldn’t have to pick something just to keep your voucher because you’re on a time limit,” P21 said. Despite most participants experiencing difficulty with time constraints when searching, only 20% requested an extension, indicating a possible lack of information from their technicians regarding their options. Additionally, it was difficult for BCBW team members to understand the time frame allotted to secure housing and the process for requesting an extension from the information voucher holders gave them.[73]

 The limited time frame also took a toll on some voucher holders. Some were forced to repair their homes by themselves in order to move within a given timeframe. Others expressed great difficulties navigating the process with physical ailments, mental health difficulties, or excessive work and family responsibilities. Because it often took multiple months for voucher holders to navigate the constrained housing market, most participants said the process would be significantly easier if they automatically received the extended timeframe for their housing search. As P25 said, “It was very frustrating to me. I was to a point where I was down to having a little time or I’d lose my Section 8. That's hard too because they don’t give you enough time. And then these landlords are not willing to work with you, and stuff is gone. It was kind of like a rush move for me.”

High Rent and Income Limits

Finally, participants were forced into undesirable housing because most of their options were too expensive and they usually did not receive enough housing assistance from the HCV Program to make stable living situations affordable. While HCV Program participants must have incomes under 50% AMI (Area Median Income), 75% of available vouchers have to be distributed to residents making under 30% AMI, limiting the number of vouchers available to residents in the 30-50% AMI bracket. Furthermore, PHAs determine the housing assistance available to each family by subtracting 30% of the family’s income from the gross rent of the unit. This means that as voucher holders’ incomes rise the subsidies they receive shrink, limiting many housing options for voucher holders in general. 

“Section 8 gave him a voucher for four bedrooms, but because he has no other option - they are living in the same three bedroom.” -P14 via Translator

“When you work, I work all the time, since I came in the United States, and every time when you work, it's like, you have to pay more...You have to pay more for your rent, which is okay, but sometimes if you get 3 bedrooms and you go there and they tell you it's too expensive, from the income that you make.” -P08

“So for example, if your limit is $1700 and you find a house for $2000… when you get it, they say your limit is $1700. They say it’s above your limit.” -P42

“It goes according to your income… that means it all depends on how much money you make… Horrible. Everybody didn’t want to rent to people. They wanted, like, 2-times the income, the credit score.” -P25

“What are we going to do? The houses are getting expensive. They’re not getting cheaper, they’re getting higher. If you find a house and they say it’s high and then you can’t have it,” -P14

Ultimately, limits on rent and income, paired with rising housing prices, resulted in forced choice for voucher holders. P14, for example, was given a voucher to cover a three-bedroom apartment but they could not find any affordable apartments that size in Minneapolis. “The Section 8 staff told me I can move to a three bedroom when my son is six years old. Now he’s six years old, but it’s hard to find an apartment, or somewhere to live in the Minneapolis area.” Therefore, they said they were stuck living in their two-bedroom apartment indefinitely.

Because of frequent rejections from landlords, limited time to search for housing, the high cost of housing, and income limits, voucher holders were usually forced into undesirable housing and lacked choice during the process. These factors significantly contributed to the lack of housing stability that voucher holders often dealt with. Experiences with forced choice are also very important to examine when considering that Section 8 is one of the only legislative solutions that aims to increase housing mobility for low-income U.S. residents.

Key Findings Theme 3: Relationships with Landlords

Some people will never, some people will not even talk to you. When you apply for a house or search they don’t even answer. When I sent a message saying, ‘okay, is this house available?’ I was told ‘yes it is’. I told them I have a voucher, Section 8. Do you guys accept Section 8? They didn’t even answer, nothing.” - P11

Outright Dismissal

The majority of the voucher holders we interviewed struggled to find housing. Being denied housing in-person or over the phone because they were voucher holders was a common experience among the participants. From P11’s experience, we learned that the property owners she spoke with briefly engaged her. However, when they learned she was a voucher holder, they stopped communication. Apart from direct denial for housing, voucher holders also experienced insensitivity and discrimination while communicating with landlords. P08 shared “first time they hear you have a voucher or Section 8, they will look at you two times, every landlord like (gesturing - looking a person up and down) you are not gonna be the first person they will give priority to.” P03 also experienced bias from many of the landlords she dealt with. She stated “landlords will turn you away. They will say, ‘we don’t accept it’. They won’t even give you a chance, and not everybody on Section 8 is the same as the next person on Section 8. P03 spoke to a common sentiment shared by project participants - landlords treating voucher holders as a homogenous entity and avoiding them as potential tenants.

“It is really hard to find housing when you tell them you got a voucher, period.” - P03

People are not just that excited about taking vouchers anymore. That’s one of the biggest things. -P34

“It’s discrimination or something. You look up a place and they say, ‘no Section 8. No Section 8.’” - P40

Why did me and my family have to be homeless? And that was because I was being told no. -P29

I’m having a hard time finding housing. We have to start looking for housing, I cannot find housing. That’s one of the problems that I’m facing. All houses say no, say no voucher. Most of the houses that are for rent, they refuse the Section 8 voucher. - P31 via Translator

The worst thing was, I was looking for an apartment. I went there. I called them and they said ‘oh yeah we accept Section 8’. And then when I went, when they were giving the tour of the house. I just leaned on the wall and the wall fell down. That’s the kind of housing that accepts section 8 nowadays. Not the new ones, the comfortable ones. - P14 response via Translator

The landlords’ denial posed a harsh predicament for voucher holders - extending their searches and the anxiety associated with potentially being unhoused. Voucher holders' fear  was so great that their vouchers would expire before they could find housing, that some took huge financial risks in the hopes of securing housing. P18 shared “Yeah, six months, six months, I was homeless for six months. I found something and was going to look at it, even paid money, and somebody else I guess gave more money, so I didn't get that one. But you see another one. Pay the security deposit, then you don't get it. And you know I never got my security deposit back.” P18  had given a deposit to the owner (or property management) while they still had the property on the market and were accepting bids from other potential renters. P13 also shared financial burdens she faced while trying to secure a new unit. “I signed the contract with him, and then I brought that to the Section 8 department. And then they said they’d do an inspection later. He [new landlord] said that it wasn't approved immediately. So he said, ‘I was going to have to pay many months’ rent, until he fixed the things that are supposed to be fixed according to Section 8 requirements”.

A few voucher holders shared stories of landlord exploitation while they attempted to secure housing before a voucher expired.  P18 shared “You know, I’ve moved into some places where I had to clean up. I had to wash the windows. I had to mop. I had to do stuff before I moved in because I had to move in, in an emergency. My voucher was going to expire. Or it had already been six months and I didn’t have any more time.” A few voucher holders had to clean up housing units on their own in order to pass the HCV Program inspection, even though they knew it was the responsibility of property owners. However, they took on the burden because they needed to obtain housing. While participating in this project, P27 was in the midst of her inspection process at a unit where she was renewing her lease. She shared “And on Friday, the inspection man is coming back and my landlord wants me to fix all this stuff myself”. P30 shared extreme frustration with her landlord forcing his responsibilities upon her; “My landlord ain’t cleaning nothing. He doesn't clean anything, he doesn't do anything. And the thing was filthy when I moved in. I had to clean it up. And I was going to clean it up, that’s the way I am - I’m clean. But, no. he doesn’t do a thing. Yeah they are passing him, but it's crazy - it’s like ‘how do these places pass inspection? Are you kidding?!”

It was clear from the interviews that participants faced various challenges that stopped them from having the experience in the city’s housing market that the HCV Program desires for them. The pressure to find a unit that a tenant does not have to labor over to pass inspection before a voucher expires was a stress that worried project participants. Individuals were willing to forgo basic tenant rights, deal with landlord exploitation, and at times take on financial risks to locate housing. Often voucher holders lacked the opportunity to choose from diverse housing options and ended up settling for less appealing or disadvantageous situations:

“And the only reason why I took the place was because it was very hard for me to find something and landlords just kept telling me “No.” I moved-in a month later, ended up with bed bugs.” - P06

“It was very frustrating to me. I was to a point where I was down to having a little time or I’d lose my Section 8. That's hard too because they don’t give you enough time. And then these landlords are not willing to work with you, and stuff is gone. It was kind of a rush-move for me.” -P25

“The reason that we move into this kind of house or apartment is because Section 8 gives you a couple months, three months to find a new home. And the place that we live in, because of the family size, they asked us to move out. So they are telling you to move out in a certain time and Section 8 gives you a timeframe too. So it is hard for you to find a place. So anywhere you find a place you just need to move because the time is about to expire.” -P45 via Translator

“Well I got my voucher. It took me more than 90 days for someone to rent to me.” -P34

Varied Relationships

Relationship with landlord spectrum: Positive (18 participants), Neutral (14 participants), Negative (11 participants), Toxic (4 participants)

All 56 participants were explicitly asked about their relationship with their current/past landlords. Based upon their responses, the relationships between voucher holders and their landlords can be visualized in a continuum.

About 37% of the interviewed participants found themselves at one end of the continuum with a healthy working relationship with their current landlord. P15 states they’re friendly. They’re nice people. Like I said, you go to them, you ask them or you tell them something - right away they try to get on it...If they see that I’m running into a problem, they come right there for me. They do take care of me.”

The majority of the participants who experienced a healthy relationship with their landlords found factors like ‘good communication’ and ‘timely maintenance repairs’ to sit at the foundation of those relationships. P46 and P42 echoed these sentiments when describing interactions with their landlords. The former emphasized easy access: “ My landlord, property managers, and maintenance - I get along with them. I’m able to talk to them.” The latter, who has not had good relationships with past landlords, spoke to her current landlord’s active engagement with maintenance as a cornerstone to their positive relationship. “Yeah they are very respectful. They help out a lot in the building. They do a lot of good caretaking.”

35% of participants found themselves somewhere in the middle of the continuum, where they did not necessarily feel they had a relationship with their landlord, but had just enough touch-points to maintain the housing situation. For example, when asked about her landlord, P41 said; It used to go well with him. They keep up with their end of the paperwork here, which oddly enough, my old place didn't do.” During her interview, P41 described a working relationship where she and her landlord did not have interactions unless absolutely necessary. Other participants used neutral words like “okay,” “alright,” and ”decent” to describe dynamics with their landlords. There were also participants who had highly mixed opinions about their landlord interactions. Both P03 and P06 felt they had a good relationship with their landlords, but at the same time experienced distant and nonchalance attitudes. P03 said “I don't, me and my landlord get along, but we don’t get along. I think he is, I think, these rental companies don't have to live in the situation that you're in. So they kind of just be like, whatever. Or they bark orders, instead of acting or being an understanding landlord.” P03 felt that her housing was only “somewhat” stable because her landlord was unable to communicate and was not interested in understanding her housing needs. P06 shared “well my landlord, he is really good with maintenance problems. But he’s just, every year, you would think he would come in and say, ‘oh do you need fresh paint? Do you need some new blinds? How are the appliances going?’ You know just those sort of things. Like checking up, every year, with the maintenance of the house. Because it is just like years go by they don’t even call and say, ‘you need this done?’ Or, can I get some paint? I am really upset about the paint on my walls. It's just- dingy. But yeah, and I don’t want to ask and be like- ‘Can you paint?’ He could say ‘no’. I don’t, I don’t even know how to talk to him about it.” Within the interview, P06 indicated that she had a “decent” relationship with her landlord. She felt that her landlord was good with maintenance requests but her landlord lacked the initiative she desired to routinely check on the condition of the house. At the same time, P06 felt skeptical to call, unaware of how to initiate the interaction. Communication between landlords and tenants is key and comfort and confidence are important components to healthy communication.

“They talk to you any type of way they feel, like we are the scum of the earth because we are on a voucher….They look at us like we ain’t shit.” - P03


“He [the landlord] said his idea was he wanted me to lose section 8... Saying he was going to put me out. That he was going to come by everyday. That I’m a bitch. Get out of his property.” -P40

28% of the participants were on the other end of the spectrum dealing with negative to toxic relationships with their landlords. The specific areas of concerns included basic communication between landlord and tenant, landlord accountability and discriminatory practices towards tenants.  When interviewing participants, it was evident that they wanted a communicative and working relationship with their landlord. They expressed its centrality in sustaining stable housing. Three participants specifically used the term “slumlord” when referring to their landlords. Others used terms such as, “monster” and “asshole.”  According to P39 her housing was unstable because the landlord was a slumlord. She didn't do anything when I called her.Many voucher holders felt that their landlords did not take the time to listen and understand their problems or housing needs.  P27 said “He don’t want to fix anything and sometimes he just comes by unannounced. I’ll call him and I try to tell him that he can't do that. He says it’s his place he can do whatever he wants.” Instead of showing accountability as property owners, landlords tended to show authority and “bark” orders at their tenants. 

Fearful to Exercise Their Rights as Tenants

“And that’s what I am scared of. Once I complain, management is gonna try and find a way to put me out. And then I have so many days to find something- moving, it’s hard. I’m scared to say something. I don’t want to get put out. - P09

16% of participants said their landlords failed to complete maintenance requests or provide a clean unit during the move-in.

The earlier sections of this theme discussed how voucher holders felt taken advantage of by landlords, especially at move-in and during inspection processes. These voucher holders knew that their rights were being violated and were clearly frustrated by landlord behavior, but never mentioned reporting their landlords to the HCV Program.  However, as stated above, P09 expressed fear about reporting poor practices by her landlord and discussed the situation at length in her interview. P09 lived in fear that her actions could put her in conflict with her landlord. She never complained about happenings in the building, which put her in compromising positions. P09 went on to state “So, this guy, homeless guy, was in the hallway. And that scared the dickens out of me. He kept being there every day, and I reported it to the office. And they told me, ‘well, call the police’. I was like why should I call the police every day this man is here. She said that they couldn’t do anything about it, and that if I had a problem with it, then I could get out my lease.”  P09 yielded some of her rights to remain housed. She was frustrated with her property management’s lack of accountability for her personal safety, but chose not to report them because she was worried that the property management would push her out or retaliate to HCV Program staff.

Key Findings Theme 4: Assumptions about Voucher Holders

Destructive Tenants

“The landlord that doesn’t like, or will rent to you if you have children, but don’t want their property messed up. There was one incident where I moved into somewhere over South, and they were like ‘yeah, it’s cool’ And then they came in one day and the kids had made a mess in the closet. And then they kicked me out because of that. I had only been there for four days.” -P20

Through the interviews, voucher holders shared that they felt discriminated against by landlords - viewed as unclean, irresponsible and destructive. P20 is a single mother who provided for her family, but felt her landlord wrote her off because of a single instance. In her interview she shared that her landlord felt she was unclean and would destroy their property, and as a result evicted her. She went on to say that HCV Program staff blamed her for the incident and “marked it against my record. So, I didn’t care for that part.” P20 felt that this infraction would negatively affect her future housing prospects. P03 added further context to this problem by sharing that voucher holders can feel dehumanized by their landlords; that they merely“bark orders, instead of acting or being understanding” and that such views can lead to voucher holders feeling a lower sense of worth.

Some project participants indicated that negative views may be warranted for some voucher holders, but that they should not be used to categorize voucher holders in general. P25 spoke to this point:

To be truthful, I dont care if you live on Section 8, people in general mess people’s houses up. Some people dont value or appreciate their voucher. Yeah, when they get a nice house, they dont care - they let their company come in and they have a lot to lose. And they kind of mess it up for other people. I don't blame half of the landlords but you cant pick and choose who you’re gonna let in. So its kind of a strict process, but a lot of it comes down to the people not taking care of the landlord’s property...They get something nice and some people don’t know how to act.

P03 felt strongly that biases toward voucher holders were a major deterrent to securing housing. She stated,

Landlords will turn you away. They will say, ‘we dont accept Section 8’. They won’t even give you a chance, and not everybody on Section 8 is the same as the next person on Section 8. We are all different individuals, but they all look at us being the same. They all look at us like were going to tear up their properties because they had a current tenant, a previous tenant who did it - so they look at us as if we’re gonna do the same. And we are not all the same on Section 8. We do not all come from breaking people’s shit and just running from house to house. That's not what the working class does.

The voucher holders interviewed felt that landlords’ negative experiences with past voucher recipients held too much weight in present interactions. Landlords are powerful stakeholders in the HCV Program; they grant or deny housing access and their assumptions and biases have life-altering effects for voucher holders and their families.

Sense of Self

When searching for a unit, approximately 25%  of the participants shared that they were looked down upon by property owners and landlords because of their voucher status and that this was reflected in the landlord’s body language, word choice, and actions. These participants expressed that their interactions with landlords were predominantly unpleasant and unfriendly.

Why did me and my family have to be homeless? And that was because I was being told no. Because I looked like this on that particular day. It was summertime, I didnt have on no booty shorts. I did not have on a little mini skirt with my coon hanging out. I didnt have my titties showin’... I’m saying, its the way they look at us. I don’t know why they look at us the way that they do, but its hard, very hard.” -P29

The discrimination that tenants felt had negative ramifications that ranged from experiencing low self-worth to resulting in homelessness. P11 shared how program participation completely altered her view of the program and herself on the housing market. “Before I entered the program I thought Section 8 was okay. To have it youre just like other people, but now they make me feel like, if you have a Section 8 you are nothing. You are dumb. You are nothing.” Section 8 is a service that all who are eligible have the right to utilize and ideally without repercussions. P11 rightfully assumed that the HCV Program was an ordinary social service that she could rely on and enroll in without fear or stigma. However, if basic stakeholder interactions make voucher holders like P11 feel incompetent and worthless, then there are fundamental aspects of the service that need re-imagining. P29 provided further insight regarding the lengths voucher holders have to go to get fair and equal treatment from landlords; “You guys give us the vouchers to be able to find housing, but its hard. We have to go in - I had to put weave in my hair. I had to get my nails done in order for me to find housing. Thats not me. Look at how I look” [natural hairstyle, casual dress]. P29 felt she had to put on a facade and transform physically in order to achieve the program’s central objective: helping low-income residents secure housing. A landlords’ biases are not only unfair and can complicate the searching process, but can also compromise voucher holders’ sense of self. 

Despite negative perceptions, many voucher holders rooted their sense of self in positive and aspirational dreams for upward mobility in the housing market. P11 shared a sentiment heard throughout the data collection process - housing stability is achieved by “not having to be on Section 8;” the ability to “just be able to work and pay your rent.” P8 echoed “I wish I could pay my rent on my own, but I can’t. It's too expensive.” Many shared that Section 8 should be a stepping stone - not something an individual remains on permanently. All interviewees were asked questions regarding housing stability, and when responses included discussions regarding their long-term goals - only one person (a senior who experienced a long stretch of homelessness) described Section 8 as something they wanted to stay on for “all of their days.” All other participants discussed housing goals that extended beyond the HCV Program. They would like to transition from renting to owning - or to “permanent housing” as many described it. According to P03:

Giving somebody a voucher and telling them to go find a place - ain’t going to help them. I think that the federal government needs to give them [HCV Program] some money so they can buy homes, fix them up, put recipients in it, and then show them. Like, ‘hey, one day, this could really be your home. If you continue to do the right things’. And let them buy that one day. We aint reproducing, we’re staying the same. We're not evolving; were staying the bare minimum. Im sorry we are. We’re supposed to be evolving.

P22 desired homeownership and wanted the HCV Program to help her achieve that goal but concluded her thought on a powerful yet somber note: “The only problem that I have with Section 8 is the lack of - how hard it is to find places. I feel like its a job, just trying to find a house. I think that one of the things that I would like for Section 8 to do is work with people to get their credit cleared and help them, to where they can buy their own home. So thats what I want. Thats what I would want to do, to own my own home. HCV Program helps somebody to learn, to get, to help make it easier to get this debt off of you. That would be, that would be ideal. Thats a dream, though.” (laughs to self)

Permanent housing, owning rather than renting, was a desire for many. They wanted the HCV Program to do more than help them access rental units. P22 wished the program helped participants repair their credit and get out of debt so homeownership could be an option. P13 wished the program “helped us by paying the down payment, even offering a loan.” P24 felt a focus on ownership would do more to help participants “instead of giving us a voucher that most landlords aren’t accepting” and in a housing market where “new apartments are so expensive to rent.” She felt that access to “permanent housing could be a solution.” And P36 felt that access to a homeownership program through the HCV Program would be invaluable where a “portion of their payments could go towards a house - like a down payment.” The aspirations that voucher holders had for themselves often differed from how they were treated in the housing market. There was a strong desire by program participants for the HCV Program to do more to help transform their aspirations into realities for themselves and their families.

Key Findings Theme 5: MPHA Communication/Processes

“Sometimes its a lot of rules and a lot of short times to do things, like, if you’re moving out or moving in. Its difficult. Like, two months this, two months that- and when you have kids and a job, it's a lot of work to do when you move apartment to apartment. With both landlords and Section 8, you’re gonna get overwhelmed.” -P08

The Minneapolis Public Housing Authority’s Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) Program provides an essential resource – a housing life-line – to thousands in the city of Minneapolis. In rudimentary terms, the program operates as a broker, pivoting between voucher holders and landlords – helping the former meet the latter’s market-rate rent prices. As the above voucher holder shared, and many others echoed throughout the 56 recorded interviews, navigating the system associated with this life-line can be overwhelming. Voucher holders indicated that inquiries to their technician, annual recertification meetings, and when moving - are the main times they interact with program staff. The latter being the most involved process, in terms of time, steps, and impact on a voucher holder’s housing. By deconstructing the above quote we can begin to paint a picture of the processes that voucher holders navigate when utilizing the HCV Program to engage in an essential program function: moving from one Section 8-approved unit to another.

its a lot of rules and a lot of short times to do things

Through attendance at HCV Program briefing sessions for new voucher holders, recertification appointments,[74] and countless communications between BCBW team members and HCV Program leadership, we gained an understanding of the central steps involved in moving from one Section 8-approved unit to another. Main touchpoints:

Section 8 process
  1. Voucher holder submits notice to their technician that they intend to move
  2. The HCV Program gives a voucher holder’s current landlord official notice (60 days) that the occupant intends to vacate
  3. The voucher holder begins the search process with a four-month window to secure a unit, and, if necessary (and the voucher holder can show that they have diligently been searching) up to two one-month extensions can be awarded
  4. Compliance paperwork is completed by the voucher holder and the new landlord
  5. And an inspection is performed by HCV Program staff to confirm that the new unit meets program standards. With a successful inspection, major hurdles have been cleared and a voucher holder’s housing subsidy can be applied to a new apartment. With official approval from HCV Program staff, a voucher holder can receive six months to complete this process. 

Its difficult. Like, two months this, two months that-

The voucher holder’s compartmentalization into two-month windows reflects the various steps involved in moving from one Section 8-approved unit to the next. As this project examined the housing experiences of the HCV Program’s frequent movers, these voucher holders are navigating this process every few years. Simply finding a new unit that accepts Section 8, is an appropriate size for one’s family, and falls within a specified rent-to-income formula can be a daunting process that takes months on its own. Coupling that process with the logistics and time involved in coordinating between “both landlords and Section 8” there are a lot of moving parts that must be handled within a finite window of time.

and when you have kids and a job, its a lot of work to do when you move apartment to apartment.

This voucher holder, as was the case with all the voucher holders we met, saw herself as an able-bodied agent. She was a woman who had to juggle multiple responsibilities to support herself and her family. P08 spoke to the processes involved in moving, conscientious of the time and steps involved. Relocating was work that had to be managed along with other factors in her life such as “kids” and a “job.” As we learned from voucher holders, the relocation process involved multiple actors, was aided by good communication with HCV Program staff, and required great coordination to move from Step 1 into an approved unit. Ultimately, this voucher holder described the process as “overwhelm[ing].” Others referred to the overall process as “scary,” “hard work,” and “a job.” Factors such as language barriers, relations with program staff, landlord communication, program policies, and the personal demands shaping a voucher holder’s daily life played major roles in defining their housing and relocation experiences.

The opening quote provides an opportunity to understand how many experienced relocation - an essential program function. When voucher holders described this process, four main topics repeatedly surfaced: working relations with their technician, voucher time limits, inspection processes, and the lack of upward housing mobility provided through the HCV Program. Two of these topics were discussed in previous sections of this report and the other two, relations with technicians and inspection processes, will be addressed below.


The most consistent touchpoint any voucher holder has within the HCV Program is with their technician. This HCV staff member moves through the housing market with them – responding to general inquiries, aiding them as they secure housing (either within the city or when porting in or out of Minneapolis), and during annual re-certification proceedings. The gravity of the technician’s role, and the importance of the relationship established between the voucher holder and technician, was not lost on our participants. They also understood that technicians were not a homogenous entity, and felt that their performance and work ethic varied.

“Now we have some really great workers in Section 8 who have done this for years. Who are well oiled, well equipped. Who know what theyre talking about. Who cross their Ts and dot their I’s. And there are just some who are straggling and struggling and just keeping a job over their head because they dont have anybody else to take their slot. So then youre putting us at a standstill as the participants.” - P03

“When you come and visit your worker, you know you can’t just come in and want to see your worker. You have to call and sometimes they dont answer. So I had my first worker, she would never - I had to leave so many voicemails and I needed to move, you know?” - P09

“And then people are not the same, some people, the one that I have, I never had her before - shes, shes bad. I used to have another one. She listened to me and everything, but now this one is like, ‘I don't care’. Everything is ‘I don’t care’.” - P011

“I think that - some of the people that work for Section 8 are great, but some aren’t. Some are very pleasant, some act like they dont like their job very much. I think they should get a new one if they dont like it. I’m just sayin,’ this is my opinion. But on the other hand, Ive never really had a worker from Section 8 thats been rude. Its just hard to contact, get in contact with them. Thats really the only issue I’ve had - being able to get in contact. If I need you, like if its an emergency and I need something from you, I need to be able to get a hold of you….I dont even know, right now, who my contact person is because the person who was my contact person, the phone number isn’t working for them anymore. So I don't know whats going on with that.” - P20

Our participants did not think of technicians as a homogenous group. Some, like P34, had technicians that went above and beyond the requirements of their position, for example, sharing insights about rental units that accepted vouchers. P34’s technician: “started connecting me to some different places and the place that I am at now is one of the places that she said she thought would be really really good for me. I think we processed it for about four or five months before I actually moved from where I was and I was approved for this place.”

Others had experienced multiple technicians while in the HCV Program, and knew that encounters could vary. However, challenges connecting with their technician, at times even knowing who their assigned technician was, posed major frustrations. Delays in reaching this central program figure could have costly consequences, especially when moving.

P06 shared an ongoing crisis, her inability to reach program staff to complete her port-out paperwork process within the designated time frame. “So, I'm already here. It's almost the 28th and I haven't gotten nothing from my worker [data collection took place on 2/19], telling me about my paperwork - to come in and do the reporting thing. And it's been, this whole 60 days is almost over. You see what I’m saying? Communication.” P06 went on to state that she was concerned about her ability to get an extension to finalize the port-out process since she could not reach HCV Program staff. P40 shared a reality that P06 was looking to avoid. P40 shared an inexcusable situation, the result of unprofessionalism, a lack of communication, and mismanaged paperwork when attempting to port-out from Minneapolis to Chicago. The ordeal left her homeless in Chicago with five kids for weeks. “My caseworker, her name was [name redacted]- that LADY! I put in my porting out papers. I'm waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting. Meanwhile I told my landlord I was moving. I found out five weeks down the line, that Chicago sent my papers back a few days after she sent it. So Chicago did not have my papers. The landlord was knocking on my door like you gotta leave, I got people trying to rent this place.” When Participant 40 confronted her technician looking for an explanation and some accountability, she relayed that her technician stated, “It wasn’t my job!! I asked her ‘why didn’t you tell the person responsible, she was like '' it's his job!” I said “why didn’t you tell him”. And she said, “I got my caseload.” The lack of empathy and unprofessionalism in this situation was astounding and the ramifications were life altering for a mother with five children ranging in age from a teen to a toddler.

When the participants expressed the lack of consistent access to their assigned MPHA staff member, they clearly implied their frustration with the larger system and the level of stress they experienced. P03 has been a voucher holder for close to a decade and spoke candidly about her experiences navigating the program with different technicians – a process that’s had its ups and downs.

“Stop just putting people in slots to fill a job! They aren't educated to know the Section 8 system, the public housing system, and they’re not trying to get there. Stop trying to put us [voucher holders] in compromising positions. I had another worker who was on a sick leave for a fucking year and a half. Who am I supposed to talk to if I have a problem? I’m just supposed to be like, whatever. When I went to the meetings for my recertification now I’m talking to somebody else who still won’t have my caseload six months from now and then I gotta go through talking to somebody else six months from now who doesn’t know my caseload. Who won’t return my phone calls. What type of system are we in? It gets to the point where workers don’t even pick up their phones, like why are you working!? (slaps surface) What are you here for!?”

The HCV Program is a vital housing resource. There are clear expectations for how voucher holders should conduct themselves to maintain program compliance. However, voucher holders used this project to share their expectations and desires for the program. P03 was a passionate participant. She was excited by the opportunity to share her housing experiences as a voucher holder. She felt that HCV Program staff  “only see it from the federal guidelines, not from the perspective of the people who are actually using this program. And this is why, I don't give a damn about the $25 gift card [small token given to each project participant], I just think that a lot of things just need to be said that won't ever be said or won't nobody listen to.” She shared her gratitude for participation in the HCV program, “I love the program, don't get me wrong, it's given me a start.” However, she was still critical of some of the program’s day-to-day operating practices. When describing her encounters with her current technician she shared:

“So, what is it - would you rather have a person with great skill, about the program? Or you just want to have somebody who’s just barely making it? I would rather have the person who has great skills about this program. Who is gonna be able to educate other new people who are coming in. Who is gonna be able to pick it up (snaps fingers) and understand. Don’t just give me anybody. I had to fight for the worker I got! And I love her, but I think in a year or two she’s leaving.

P03’s positive relationship with her current technician is not a relationship that she feels she can depend upon long-term. 

Inspection Process

It was slumlords, but they accepted Section 8. (stated matter-a-factly). That’s mostly all you get with slumlords, but they accept Section 8. If you’re not the type to go in there and clean up yourself and improve your living conditions, that’s what you get. But it doesn’t matter, you know. There is no one coming from Section 8, other than that inspection. Just to say, you know, you really need to do this or you really need to do that. I needed a new screen door. The inspector put that on there. But the landlord had a choice of replacement or just taking the screen door off. He did not have to fix it. The law did not say he had to fix it. He could take it off.

As P01 stated, once housed, the inspector becomes the intermediary between voucher holders and landlords. They are the only entity from the HCV Program who enters a voucher holders’ unit – regularly doing so when a program participant moves into a new unit or has their annual inspection. Inspectors play a major role in confirming compliance and maintaining program standards for both voucher holders and landlords. When this research project was undertaken, a HCV program inspector shared that there were approximately ten inspectors servicing all Section 8 units in the city, and that an inspector typically serviced 12 units a day. These numbers were substantiated by an HCV program manager, who was also this project’s liaison. They confirmed that there were five inspectors and three employees from her unit (including herself) who were trained to perform inspections. Similar to technicians, inspectors have daunting caseloads[75] - with some units requiring repeat inspections until they pass and are cleared from an inspector’s workload. As inspectors move units through the approval process, it is voucher holders that endure the ultimate consequences.

Through the assistance of interpreters, P23 and P13 shared the following regarding their latest units:

“Yes, she found it on her own. She said, the Section 8 voucher when they came to inspect it, the inspection failed three times. So the first month I paid by myself.” - P23

“Finding a house when you have a Section 8 voucher, is hard. Yeah, they are not accepting the voucher now. He said, I call people if they know of a house for rent in their area and so they tell me “yeah there is a house at that street.” And so I go there. I contact the owner. I paid the down payment, or he paid the deposit in order to hold the house. And then he said, I signed the contract with him, and then I brought that to the Section 8 department. And then they said they’d do an inspection later. He said that it wasn’t approved immediately. So he said, ‘I was paying many months, until he fixed the things that are supposed to be fixed according to Section 8 requirements’.” - P13

From the standpoint of HCV Program policy, both voucher holders were operating outside of program regulations. They had both moved forward on units without an inspector’s approval, a final clearance before a voucher holders’ subsidy is attached to their rent. Earlier in her interview, P23 shared that she searched for four months before she found the unit with the assistance of a friend. She described the process as “very hard - the voucher was about to expire. I searched all the time. Everywhere. North Minneapolis. South Minneapolis. Northeast. Everywhere says ‘we don't take Section 8.’ I don’t know why they refuse.” With the time spent for the landlord to respond to the three failed inspections, rescheduling inspection appointments, and completing compliance paperwork by the HCV Program – beginning the search again may not have been feasible. P13 does not state in his interview what led him to place a down payment or deposit (commonly non-refundable) to secure his unit. P13 has a family of six (with four children) and finding a larger unit in the city that accepted Section 8 was difficult for many. It is clear that the need to house his family led to a decision that had great financial consequences.

The inspection process is a constant – occurring when a voucher holder moves into a new unit and each year. Although passing an HCV Program inspection should be the responsibility of the landlord, voucher holders shared the lengths they have been forced to go to help a unit pass inspection. 

“I moved in some places where I had to clean up. I had to wash the windows. I had to mop. I had to, you know, I had to do stuff before I moved in because I had to move in, in an emergency because my voucher was going to expire. Or it had already been six months and I don’t have any more time. And so I had to, it was the second unit that I got where I had to come in and actually clean up for the inspector man. Then the inspector people had to come back out because I’m not a landlord. I don't know what they’re looking for, you know, when they get in the basement looking for stuff. But I’ve been on Section 8, you know, long enough to look for the crack paint, light fixtures that don’t work, the smoke detectors, you know, they looking for all of that, I know.” - P18

“Yes, time will tell with the landlord. They want their money. And on Friday, the inspection man is coming back and he wants me to fix all this stuff myself. So, if it doesn’t pass I’m like ‘Don’t worry about it, it’s not my problem’. It’s, it’s rough. It’s frustrating too. Being in a situation like this.” - P27

Many tenants shared frustrations regarding the quality and quantity of the housing stock available to them. Throughout this report we shared their voices as they described their housing situations. P30 shared her experiences, but ends her point with an interesting question.

“Yes. Come on now. How else is, I just told you the man ain’t cleaning nothing. He doesn’t clean anything, he doesn’t do anything. And the thing was filthy when I moved in. I had to clean it up. And I was going to clean it up, that’s the way I am - I’m clean. But, no. Not a thing. Yeah they are passing him, you know. Everybody can tell you that. It’s like ‘how do these places pass inspection? Are you kidding?!’” - P30

The inspection process plays an integral part in maintaining accountability and program standards. Inspectors affirm to voucher holders and landlords what behavior and living standards are acceptable within the program. Voucher holders shared their elation at receiving a voucher. The summer of 2019, when the application process opened up for the first time in ten years (all pending voucher requests had been processed),  14,701 individuals applied to the program during a two-week window. A lottery system was established where 2,000 applicants were selected to receive a voucher within the next two - three years. These numbers make clear that participation in this program is a privilege and voucher holders understand that. Fear of losing one’s voucher was shared repeatedly. Listening to voucher holders, this same sense of privilege did not come through when discussing how some landlords treat their own program participation.

From the experiences of these voucher holders, not all, but many landlords placed their tenants in subpar housing conditions. In these situations, voucher holders shared that their maintenance requests went unheard for weeks, months, or at times, permanently. Such an attitude persists, in large part, because landlords, as program participants, have been socialized to know that this behavior is acceptable. Voucher holders shared being subjected to deplorable conditions and absenteeism and their landlords still remained participants in the HCV Program. How are some of these units passing inspection? How are landlords able to ignore tenants’ maintenance requests and their behavior not impact program eligibility? The privilege of program participation should run both ways and inspection processes can play a major role in setting the tone for both voucher holders and landlord accountability.

Primary Recommendations

1. Tenant Rights Training/Leadership Development Training

“I had squirrels in my attic that eventually got in the house because the landlord didn’t come. He didn’t send certified pest control people, he sent one of his workers. I ended up having to push-back and getting them to send a professional exterminator, and make them get a year contract. But that didn’t happen until you made some fuss.” - P01

We recommend that voucher holders have access to tenant rights training that builds participants’ power, knowledge, and creates a sense of community. It is important that training not only helps voucher holders gain an understanding of how best to navigate the local housing market, but also the HCV Program. HCV Program participants must have a clear understanding of program policies and procedures, the resources available to them, and an understanding of the program’s organizational structure so they can see how the different units work together to support their housing needs. Training should also emphasize the value of forming or joining tenant associations.

Training could be offered as new programming at HCV headquarters in the downtown Minneapolis office or take place as a segment during Section 8 voucher holder sub-committee meetings. Occurring in either form, training opportunities would help voucher holders develop advocacy, organizing, and leadership skills that would empower them as city renters.

Currently, tenant rights training is not something that the HCV Program offers. However, they intend to pilot a new program through the Partner Engagement unit that will focus on renters’ rights and personal finance. The pilot program will be framed around the RentWise curriculum created by University of Minnesota Extension. The pilot program will be offered to participants with a special voucher or a metro mobility voucher. Individuals in both categories are historically known to have the hardest time securing housing. In response to the pandemic, the new program will begin electronically. Such programming could be a platform to incorporate the tenant rights training components recommended by the BCBW cohort.

Along with offering tenant rights/leadership development training – focusing on navigating both the HCV program and the local housing market – program staff could do more to make voucher holders aware of existing training offered by local housing advocates, such as HOME Line and mid-MN Legal Aid. These are organizations with whichMPHA has established relationships and who consistently offer educational training to renters. The Partner Engagement unit’s newly created Resource Guide and the HCV Program’s new electronic portal system could also be resources to share some of the information offered at a tenant rights training. There are various means to get components of a tenant rights/leadership development training publicized and those avenues should be exhausted. However, they should not be used in place of creating dynamic face-to-face programming (in-person or virtual) that specifically helps voucher holders become more informed HCV Program participants and Minneapolis residents. 

2. Cultural Competency Training

“With Section 8 what they need to do, is get people who are equipped, who know their job. Don’t just give this person a job and be like ‘here, this is what you got.’ And they don’t know what they’re doing. They don’t know the right information that they’re telling people. You’re putting people in a compromising position. -P03   

Administered by a third-party, cultural competency training is beneficial programming for any organization. BCBW cohort members highly recommend such a training for all MPHA staff, but at a minimum the HCV program staff. The objectives for such training can take various forms – examining staff experiences within the organization, engagement with external community partners, or relations between program staff and participants. Cultural competency training is beneficial in each of these scenarios but BCBW cohort members are advocating for training that addresses staff’s engagement with HCV Program participants.

To support its effectiveness, prior to the cultural competency training, the BCBW cohort recommends the completion of an intercultural assessment. For example, an Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) which establishes “baseline data” and offers an image of the organization. Assessment results should be shared with staff and shape the cultural competency training’s design. Following the training, supervisors must hold staff accountable (e.g., through monthly meetings, quarterly assessments, or annual reviews), monitoring the ways they are executing what they learned. It may be beneficial to administer a survey to voucher holders, checking in with them regarding their interactions with program staff (specifically program technicians), to discern whether or not program participants feel the impact of the training. Do voucher holders feel heard and respected when interacting with program staff? Do they feel their needs are recognized?

After speaking with HCV Program leadership, it is clear that MPHA is moving forward in this area.[76] In 2019, a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) committee was formed to hold space for staff to discuss the types of inclusive practices they would like to see within MPHA. This committee, which will continue to meet, focuses specifically on staff needs. IDIs will be administered to senior staff and DEI committee members. The hiring of a new agency-wide Director of Human Resources, Equity and Inclusion should impact the experiences of program participants, such as the HCV Program’s voucher holders. The agency is also engaging in diversity and inclusion training through the company, PINK Consulting. HCV Program staff will take part in this agency training, but intend to hold their own unit-specific training. HCV Program’s cultural training will address staff-client relations. The HCV Program Asst Director intends for this training to begin electronically and move to in-person offerings post-COVID. As HCV Program leadership determines the type of training they will offer, the strategies recommended by BCBW cohort members should be strongly considered when designing the training.

3. Clearly Communicate Time Participants Have to Search

“It was very frustrating to me. I was to a point where I was down to having a little time or I’d lose my section 8. That’s hard too because they don’t give you enough time. And then these landlords are not willing to work with you, and stuff is gone. It was kind of like a rush move for me.” - P25

This recommendation comes out of a more fundamental need by voucher holders – increased transparency and support when searching for housing. When interviewing the 56 voucher holders who participated in this project, as a research team we heard great variation in the time individuals have to secure housing. Voucher holders stated that they had anywhere from two to six months to search, with some individuals aware of the possibility of time extensions. Along with the variation in time limits, voucher holders reported searching for housing alone or with support from personal networks. However, they desired the professional support of HCV Program staff to help locate apartment communities and landlords who accepted Section 8 vouchers These factors (misinformation on time limits and lacking program support) led to situations where individuals made hasty decisions or moved into undesirable housing out of fear they would lose their voucher. Although program leadership shared that the HCV Program experiences a low rate of individuals losing their vouchers due to expiration, that does not mean the program has a high rate of individuals securing desired housing.

We argue that the HCV Program must first do a better job of communicating to voucher holders the amount of time they have access to when searching for housing. Program leadership shared that time limits can vary by agency. The HCV Program at MPHA currently gives individuals 120 days upfront to search and the opportunity to access two 30-day extensions. HUD requires that each agency give voucher holders at least 60 days to secure housing. The HCV Program grants voucher holders considerably more time than the federal program requires, but that time limit must be well communicated to program participants. Information that also must be communicated to program participants are intricacies embedded in their “search time.” They must be informed that the “clock stops” during the inspection process - that period is not a part of their official search time. However, if a unit fails to pass inspection and a program participant must begin their search again, their “search time” then commences. The general time allotted to voucher holders (120 days with two one-month extensions) as well as the intricacies of their search time must be relayed. 

Though there may be valid reasons to explain why some voucher holders shared the time limits they did with us, all HCV Program participants must be aware of the current timeframe granted to secure housing. We recommend that HCV Program leadership reflect upon all of the current opportunities voucher holders have to receive the time limit (e.g., briefings, technician appointments, on the physical voucher documentation and make sure the messaging is clear, consistent, and easily visible. With the addition of some of the new resources, such as the Resource Guide and the portal system, leadership should reflect upon how these tools can support increased transparency. Voucher holders’ awareness of the time they have to search is paramount. If a voucher holder knows anything about this program, they should know how much time you have to secure housing.

To the second point, accessing professional support, the housing coordinator within the Partner Engagement unit will begin meeting with individuals at the 90-day mark of their initial 120 days if they have not obtained housing. The point of the meeting is to check in regarding their search and understand any barriers they may be facing. This is an additional touchpoint during the search process that could be essential. From the voucher holders we met with, receiving information regarding apartment communities and landlords that accept Section 8 vouchers would be extremely beneficial. A conversation at the 90-day mark (on a 120-day clock) needs to be a very strategic and pointed conversation. Creating an opportunity for the housing coordinator to better understand the barriers being faced by voucher holders is important, as well as communicating the program features a voucher holder can access (e.g., an extension), but sharing specific resources that will support their housing search is most paramount.

Secondary Recommendations

MPHA helping tenants locate available Section 8 housing

As noted, the experiences of voucher holders would be improved if HCV Program staff provided assistance locating available housing options. MPHA can help tenants locate available housing in four key ways.

  1. MPHA could set up an online database with all available housing for Section 8 voucher holders. This database should provide information such as the landlord’s contact information, number of bedrooms, square footage of the unit, and location of the unit. This type of service is provided through HousingLink but it could be improved by requiring all landlords to register properties into this system and creating incentives for landlords to offer housing to voucher holders when they register. A comparable database was created by the Philadelphia Housing Authority, which only contains available units that accept voucher holders. To create this database, PHA partnered with gosection8.com. They require that all landlords register their homes in this system.
  2. MPHA should hire personnel -- ideally those who were formerly voucher holders themselves -- to help clients find and secure housing. These individuals could contact landlords for voucher holders, as landlords may be more receptive to communication coming from MPHA staff versus a tenant. These services are similar to the case management support that some PHAs provide to help clients increase their self-sufficiency. For example, HUD has created a resource list to help caseworkers guide clients through an individual service plan to improve their health and wellness, find adequate employment and financial stability, and secure stable housing. Through this type of individualized case management, MPHA could provide additional support to voucher holders during the housing search, such as creating a list of housing options that fit the tenants’ income, family size, and desired living situation. Caseworkers can use the “Housing Preferences Worksheet” created by HUD to understand voucher holders’ housing desires. Additionally, caseworkers can more easily help voucher holders find housing if they are assigned to a certain zip code or neighborhood in the city in which they work. This practice is implemented by the Miami-Dade Housing Authority and it helps landlords develop a stronger relationship with housing authority caseworkers and contact them more easily.[77]
  3. Caseworkers should establish strong relationships with landlords. They can do this by setting up a landlord advisory group, which is recommended in HUD’s Housing Search Assistance Toolkit. The group can be used to discuss landlords' fears about accepting voucher holders, and what it would take to get them to change their minds. Another way to do this is through specialized programs; for example, the Marin Housing Authority (MHA) in California has established a Landlord Partnership Program in which caseworkers and landlords work together to eliminate barriers for their tenants. MHA gives landlords security deposit payments for situations when tenants cannot pay them, damage coverage, vacancy loss coverage, and customer service workshops. These services will ensure that caseworkers keep up their relationships with landlords, which will consequently help them find housing for voucher holders and help to eliminate barriers in the housing search.
  4. MPHA should provide additional programmatic assistance to help voucher holders find housing, such as workshops or resource guides. For example, Santa Clara County Housing Authority offers monthly Housing Search Workshops taught in multiple languages, which allows tenants to gain ideas for how to impress prospective landlords and access community resources that will assist them in their search process.


Models for providing housing search services: https://www.hudexchange.info/resources/housingsearchtool/?housingsearchtoolaction=public:main.models-for-providing-housing-search-services

Santa Clara County workshops: https://www.scchousingauthority.org/section-8-current-participants/housing-choice-voucher-current-participants/move-process/

Better communication throughout the inspection process/increase frequency of inspections

The current inspection process in the MPHA HCV Program makes it difficult for tenants to ensure their homes are properly repaired. Inspections are required once a year and upon initial move-in, but the infrequency of these appointments make it easier for disrepairs to go unaddressed for long periods of time. According to many voucher holders, there were frequent situations where inspectors failed to hold landlords accountable for addressing repair issues. For example, P13 said that their inspection was delayed many times, meaning they had to pay rent for a disrepaired unit for multiple months before the landlord ensured that the repairs were made. As project participants illustrated, the current inspection processes leave something to be desired in terms of landlord accountability.

To improve this process, MPHA can implement several key changes to the inspection process:

  1. Create an accessible procedure for the tenants to contact inspectors and make intermediate inspection appointments. This would allow tenants to ensure repair issues are fixed when their landlords are ignoring the problem. In Miami-Dade County, for example, tenants can request “complaint” inspections by calling the MDHCV inspections department. The inspections department staff then notify the landlord, who is responsible for repairing the issue in order to pass the complaint inspection. If the unit does not pass the complaint inspection, a re-inspection is automatically scheduled a month in advance, allowing the landlord more time to repair the unit. If the landlord does not pass the re-inspection, the unit goes into abatement, which means that Housing Assistance Payments are no longer given to the landlord and they would have to subsidize the tenant’s rent themselves. To end the unit’s abatement, the landlord has to schedule and pass a compliance inspection -- essentially requiring them to fix the original repair issue.[78] Additionally, the Philadelphia Housing Authorityallows tenants, owners, and third parties to request interim inspections for Section 8 units through their HCV database[79].
  2. Create a database where tenants, owners, and inspectors can enter and view cited repair issues, request appointments with inspectors, and view upcoming inspection dates. The  Miami-Dade County and Philadelphiahousing choice voucher programs have created databases where Housing Quality Standards (HQS) inspection data can be accessed. The PHA database is just for owners, but allows them to access photos and dates of inspection appointments. In the MDHCV database, tenants, owners, and landlords can access up to 12 months of past data on inspections results, and view upcoming inspection dates.
  3. Require follow-up inspections conducted by a third party to ensure that repair issues are being fully addressed. For example, the Philadelphia Housing Authority requires quality control inspections in addition to initial and annual inspections.[80] Quality control inspections are conducted by a third party, with the goal of ensuring that HQS are being enforced correctly and uniformly by all inspectors.
  4. Create a process for an immediate response to emergency repairs. Ideally, once MPHA is notified about these repair issues they would be addressed within 24 hours. According to the Philadelphia Housing Authority, situations that pose an immediate threat to the health and safety of tenants qualify as emergency repair issues. Tenants can contact PHA staff, who will then immediately notify the household, owner, and landlord about who is responsible for correcting the issue. The corrective action must be taken within 24 hours.[81]
  5. Increase the number of inspectors, so that inspectors can focus on quality over quantity. According to an MPHA HCV program inspector, there are only ten inspectors servicing all Section 8 units in Minneapolis. Although the research team could not locate information on the number of inspectors in other counties across the country, it’s clear that this action would help MPHA increase the overall number of inspections available to voucher holders.

Miami-Dade inspection process: https://www.miamidade.gov/housing/library/instructions/hcv-owner-manual.pdf

Homeownership training/preparation

Many participants expressed the desire for programmatic support that could lead to homeownership. Participants want a viable way to transition out of Section 8. Therefore, MPHA should offer Family Self-Sufficiency and Homeownership programs. These programs would ideally provide families with financial and educational support to increase stability in their lives and give them greater opportunity to own a home. MPHA should also offer financial literacy, credit-building, and homebuyer workshops to residents free of charge.

These methods of support are proven to be effective within a number of different Public Housing Authorities across the country. For example, Portland Housing Authority has a Family Self-Sufficiency program that provides families with focused case management and creates savings accounts for each family that is paying over $300 per month in rent. Every dollar over $300 is redirected into an account that families can use to meet their self-sufficiency or homeownership goals. Oakland Housing Authority also provides residents with financial support through their Homeownership program, allowing participants to have their housing subsidy apply toward a monthly mortgage payment after their home is purchased. Residents are also required to attend a free homeownership orientation and education course in order to prepare for homeownership. To provide residents with more resources, OHA has partnered with a number of nonprofit groups -- listed on their website -- that offer various services. MPHA could use a similar strategy and partner with entities such as the City of Minneapolis, Twin Cities Rise!, and Emerge to connect residents with a greater number of housing-related resources. 

Creating a point system or benefits system to encourage landlord and tenant rapport and relationships

During the interviews, many participants shared their experience of being denied housing units merely because they were voucher holders. Landlords could refuse vouchers for several reasons, including financial concerns, assumptions regarding voucher holders’ behavior and/or administrative burdens that could fall on landlords. The experiences shared during the interviews and the findings from other HUD sponsored studies[82],[83] collectively emphasize the lack of incentives for landlords to find Section 8 participation beneficial. The BCBW team suggests that MPHA consider creating a point or a benefits system that could help to increase landlords’ buy-in and in the process hopefully improve landlord-tenant rapport. Here are a few prevailing methods that MPHA could consider learning more from:

  • Tax credits

MPHA could consider providing tax credits or similar benefits to incentivize local landlords. Tax credits essentially lower the annual taxes that landlords owe to the government, and as a result saves them money in the long-run.[84] Providing tax credits to landlords who lease housing units to voucher holders has proven to be a successful technique to increase landlord buy-in in Virginia.[85] In 2010, Virginia started an income tax credit program named The Communities of Opportunity Program (COP) where income tax credits were provided to landlords who leased qualified housing units in low-income neighborhoods that participated in the Housing Choice Voucher program. The tax credit is offered through the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) and provides approximately 10% of the annual fair market rent for one or more housing units rented to a voucher holder in a tax year. This means the landlord could subtract 10% of the monthly rent per unit from their annual taxes. Unused credits can be carried over up to five years depending upon the funds. Even though there have not been any evaluation studies conducted on this model, MPHA could still learn from it and consequently introduce tax rates that are more suitable for the local Minneapolis market.

  • Property maintenance incentives for landlords

The two major barriers experienced by voucher holders when accessing housing units are (1) the landlord-held perception that voucher holders will damage a unit and (2) paying the security deposit before move-in. By administering property maintenance incentives to landlords, MPHA could reduce the burden on voucher holders and increase landlord buy-in. For example, the Marin Housing Authority (MHA), California developed the Landlord Partnership Program (LPP) in 2016 that incorporated two strategies[86]:

  • MHA could cover security deposits proportional to the number of bedrooms.
  • Landlords can also receive up to $3,000 per family for damages beyond normal wear and tear.

While there are no known evaluation studies conducted on this model, MHA won three HUD awards for these efforts.

Cambridge Housing Authority (CHA) in Massachusetts also offers the same strategies as the Marin Housing Authority but with slightly different administrative guidelines. In an interview with HUD, the director of leased housing at CHA said that the landlords expressed confidence in CHA’s ongoing efforts. The director also mentioned that according to an internal evaluation conducted by CHA in 2017, the incentives led to high levels of landlord satisfaction with the HCV program. The evaluation report is not yet available to the public. In addition, CHA stresses tenant education and tenants being provided with information on the incentives so they can share with landlords who might be unsure about renting to voucher holders.

  • Loans for landlords

While increasing landlord participation increases the number of available units, it is also important to incentivize landlords to continue maintenance and improvement of their housing units. Almost 16% of the participants in this project emphasized landlord negligence when it came to home improvement and maintenance. Some of the ways other states have responded to this issue is by providing lucrative loans to landlords to invest in their properties. The Marin Housing Authority (MHA)[87] in California offers landlords loans of up to $35,000 to rehabilitate units. Landlords do not have to repay the loan unless they sell their property or decide to rent to tenants without vouchers. To ensure affordable housing, the program also provides waivers or reductions in building permit fees to properties in unincorporated areas of the county if at least half of the units meet affordability standards.

Minneapolis currently has the 4d Affordable Housing Incentive Program[88] that provides property owners funds for energy efficiency improvements. MPHA could potentially request the City of Minneapolis Department of Community Planning and Economic Development to expand the 4d program to accommodate loans for HCV landlords as well.

  • Tax credit system or benefits to incentivize tenants for working with their landlord

The interviews illustrated that many voucher holders had a frictional or an unhealthy relationship with their landlords. It is important to incentivize both stakeholders (tenant and landlord) to help build a working relationship, in order to achieve the housing outcomes the HCV program desires. However, most studies that discuss incentives within HCV programs, emphasize incentivizing landlords. There is very little discussion around providing benefits to tenants. The BCBW team suggests providing benefits and creating reward programs that would encourage voucher holders to work with their landlords to make the leasing experience more successful.

  • Landlord investment in relationships with tenants

Another way to improve landlord-tenant relationships is by having MPHA actively involved in building the relationship. MPHA staff could reach out to landlords and provide more clear guidelines on landlord expectations during tenancy. For example, during the interviews, a few expectations that voucher holders had for their landlords included: regular landlord-tenant check-in meetings about appliances and having landlord communications outside of rental payments. MPHA could act as an intermediary or use a third-party advocate to conduct mandatory meetings with both landlords and tenants. Such meetings could occur annually and focus on expectations for each party. Hopefully by increasing constructive lines of communication, toxic landlord-tenant relationships could be avoided.

Landlord/property management training and outreach

As discussed previously, voucher holders felt that landlord-held misconceptions become a major hurdle for them to find housing units. Through the interviews, we learned that some voucher holders felt discriminated against by landlords, understood by these participants to be destructive towards their relationship. Others felt that landlords’ negative assumptions were reflected in their body language, the tone taken in communication, and through physical action - impacting voucher holders' sense of self and mental health. These themes were also evident in other research studies conducted on HCV programs.[89] Landlords are crucial stakeholders in the HCV program and it is important that their attitudes and interactions toward tenants be regulated. One of the ways in which MPHA could achieve this is by providing training to landlords and property management staff that include (include who?). The Cambridge Housing Authority (CHA)[90] in Massachusetts provides local landlords with training to overcome misconceptions about voucher holders. They also provide training to tenants that inform them about the incentives given to landlords, in order for them to relay the information to prospective landlords who are unsure about renting to a voucher holder.

The Marin Housing Authority (MHA)[91] has provided another great model for training and outreach from which MPHA could learn. The MHA developed a landlord advisory committee that helped to make HCV program participation more appealing to landlords. Guided by the committee, MHA developed the Landlord Partnership Program (LPP) that conducted outreach efforts and training sessions relevant to local landlords. With the help of local organizations, LPP trains landlords in landlord/tenant issues and housing quality standards (HQS) inspections. Landlords can access all information regarding inspections and housing assistance payments through an online portal provided by MHA. Landlords are also provided with a 24-hour hotline and email service for their queries. Additionally, MHA publishes quarterly newsletters to regularly update and inform landlords about information on maintaining rental properties.

Have a Vetting Process for Landlords

HCV programs across the nation are structured so that landlords can establish screening rules to select tenants of their choice but voucher holders do not get a similar choice when considering a landlord. Through the interviews, we learned that 28% of the participants were dealing with a negative or toxic relationship with their landlord. Common reasons for this included lack of communication between landlord and tenant, limited landlord accountability, and landlord prejudice toward their tenant. The lack of a landlord vetting process creates an imbalance in power within the landlord-tenant relationship, resulting in unstable housing conditions for voucher holders. Unfortunately, the research team could not locate any studies that discussed a landlord vetting process in an HCV Program.

However, one of the recommendations from the BCBW cohort is for MPHA to create a vetting process for landlords. Tenants need information to help them make informed decisions regarding prospective landlords and housing situations. A database could be created, accessible to tenants, that introduces them to landlords who are in the HCV Program. The database can indicate the Section 8-approved properties a landlord owns, any compliance issues, and include commentary from past voucher holders who rented from the landlord. The latter information can be collected from exit interviews with voucher holders when they vacate a unit. The interviews are an opportunity for voucher holders to discuss their housing experience, specifically landlord-tenant relations. The database could also act as a regulatory tool for landlords, helping them to remain accountable to the needs of their tenants and program expectations.


During this process invaluable qualitative data was gathered through the BCBW cohort’s work. Through partnership with the MPHA team, trends in voucher holders’ access, mobility, and their experiences navigating the local housing authority, were explored up close. In order to obtain expert, first-hand knowledge and generate practical next steps, the CURA team deliberately sought the voices of Black women at the center of harm from the inequitable policies, practices, and attitudes that permeate Minneapolis. Interview participants shared their insights to how they decide where to live, experiences with the Housing Choice Voucher program and its partners, and challenges of the Section 8 voucher itself. These insights, combined with MPHA program staff’s vested interest in policy/practice change, were channeled into relevant, actionable recommendations for improvement. The three primary recommendations generated by the BCBW cohort were: 1) tenant rights and leadership development training, 2) cultural competency training for MPHA staff, and 3) clear communication to voucher holders regarding time limits on their housing search. Cohort members argue that programmatic changes at the HCV Program in these areas are central to supporting voucher holders’ experiences working with program staff and navigating the local housing market. Finally, six secondary recommendations were also generated: 1) assist tenants with finding housing, 2) better communication about the inspection process and more frequent inspections, 3) homeownership training and preparation, 4) creating a points/benefits system to support landlord/tenant relations, 5) landlord/property management training and outreach, and 6) a vetting process for landlords.

The purpose of the BCBW cohort was to provide the residents most impacted by Minneapolis housing issues with the power of defining their own research question, conducting analysis using their own expertise, and producing knowledge in both the attainment of research skills as well as this report with workable recommendations. Valuing the community-based knowledge provided an avenue for this cohort to pinpoint what should be explored and it provided them with the tools to raise the voices of 56 voucher-holding participants who shared their lived experiences. This provides the HCVP team with functional actions that it can take, knowing that the rationale is provided directly from participants who represent the most impacted stakeholder group involved. Not only do these participants deserve to move beyond definitions of ‘stable housing’ as merely a warm roof over one’s head, they deserve to have their expressed needs addressed and this report gives public voice to those needs and potential remedies.


[1] Survey of Applicants to the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority Section 8 Waiting List. Minnesota Housing Partnership (MHP). November 2008.

[2] Moylin, Martin. “Section 8 demand in Twin Cities overwhelms available waitlist spots.” Minnesota Public Radio. June 20, 2019.

[3] Lewis, B. et al. 2019. The Illusion of Choice: Evictions and Profit in North Minneapolis. University of Minnesota Center for Urban and Regional Affairs.

[4] Ibid.

[5] ​​Miller, G. (2020, January 8). Mapping the Segregation of Minneapolis. Retrieved from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-01-08/mapping-the-segregation-of-minneapolis

[6] Rosalsky, G. (2020, June 02). Minneapolis Ranks Near The Bottom For Racial Equality. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/money/2020/06/02/867195676/minneapolis-ranks-near-the-bottom-for-racial-equality

[7] Waxman, O. B. (2020, May 28). George Floyd's Death and the History of Race in Minneapolis. Retrieved from https://time.com/5844030/george-floyd-minneapolis-history/

[8] Hankin-Redmon, E. (2020, January 20). How Near North came to be one of Minneapolis' largest black communities. Retrieved from https://www.minnpost.com/mnopedia/2020/01/how-near-north-came-to-be-one-of-minneapolis-largest-black-communities/

[9] Sauter, M. B. (2017, August 18). Black and White Inequality in All 50 States. Retrieved from https://247wallst.com/special-report/2017/08/18/black-and-white-inequality-in-all-50-states-2/12/

[10] Rosalsky, G. (2020, June 02). Minneapolis Ranks Near The Bottom For Racial Equality. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/money/2020/06/02/867195676/minneapolis-ranks-near-the-bottom-for-racial-equality

[11] Myers, S. L., Jr. (n.d.). The Minnesota Paradox. Retrieved from https://www.hhh.umn.edu/research-centers/roy-wilkins-center-human-relations-and-social-justice/minnesota-paradox

[12] Sauter, M. B. (2017, August 18). Black and White Inequality in All 50 States. Retrieved from https://247wallst.com/special-report/2017/08/18/black-and-white-inequality-in-all-50-states-2/12/

[14] Ibid.

[15] “Clearinghouse for Labor Evaluation and Research (CLEAR).” Accessed September 29, 2020. https://clear.dol.gov/study/effects-housing-vouchers-welfare-families-final-report-mills-et-al-2006.

[17] Ibid.

[20] Khan, Peter B., and Geoffrey B. Newton. "The small area FMR demonstration."Cityscape (2013): 325-328.

[25] Jacob, Brian A., and Jens Ludwig. "The effects of housing assistance on labor supply: Evidence from a voucher lottery." American Economic Review102, no. 1 (2012): 272-304.

[26] The HUD-sponsored Welfare to Work experiment (2000-2004) was a national evaluation of the HUD Welfare to Work program in which a research sample of 8,731 families were randomly assigned at six sites in early 2000. Families with vouchers were assigned to “treatment groups” and were compared to control group members. They used various data sources, including census data, surveys, unemployment insurance records, and TANF files, to assess financial decisions of treatment and control groups.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Thomas Kingsley, G., Jennifer Johnson, and Kathryn LS Pettit. "Patterns of Section 8 relocation in the HOPE VI program." Journal of Urban Affairs 25, no. 4 (2003): 427-447.

[30] Zonta, Michael. “Place and Economic Status Among Voucher and Certificate Recipients: Evidence from Los Angeles (UCLA Institute for the Study of Homelessness and Poverty, Aug. 2000).

[33] Santiago, Anna M., George C. Galster, and Peter Tatian. "Assessing the property value impacts of the dispersed subsidy housing program in Denver." Journal of Policy Analysis and Management: The Journal of the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management 20, no. 1 (2001): 65-88.

[35] Collinson, Robert, and Peter Ganong. "The incidence of housing voucher generosity." Unpublished manuscript (2016).

[36] Lawyers Committee for Better Housing, 2002. Locked Out: Barriers to Choice for Housing Voucher Holders. Lawyers Committee for Better Housing, Chicago, IL.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Collinson, Robert, Ingrid Gould Ellen, and Jens Ludwig. "Low-income housing policy." In Economics of Means-Tested Transfer Programs in the United States, Volume 2, pp. 59-126. University of Chicago Press, 2015.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Zielenbach, Sean. "Moving beyond the rhetoric: Section 8 housing choice voucher program and lower-income urban neighborhoods." Journal of Affordable Housing & Community Development Law (2006): 9-39.

[44] Minnesota Housing 2020-2021 Affordable Housing Plan. Minnesota Housing, 2020.

[45] Lawyers Committee for Better Housing, 2002. Locked Out: Barriers to Choice for Housing Voucher Holders. Lawyers Committee for Better Housing, Chicago, IL.

[47] Section 8 Survey Findings. Minnesota Housing Partnership (MHP), December 2006.

[48] Out in the Cold: Sequestration and Federal Housing Programs in Minnesota. Minnesota Housing Partnership (MHP), Dec. 2013.

[49] Ibid.

[50] Ibid.

[51] MPHA History. Minneapolis Public Housing Authority, 2020. https://mphaonline.org/about/agency-overview-2/history/

[52] Enhancements and Best Practices Designed to Expand Resident Choice and Mobility in Minneapolis. Quadel Consulting and Training; Family Housing Fund. February 10, 2017.


[54] MPHA created the “Moving Home” program in 1998, with the goal of helping voucher holders to use their Section 8 assistance towards home ownership. Instead of just paying the landlord, money was given to voucher holders for mortgage payments. In the first year, 100 families participated in the program and 21 families successfully purchased a home. Since 1993, 192 families have purchased homes.

[55] The Family Self-Sufficiency program is a national employment and savings incentive program established by the Bush Administration in 1990. It consists of case management services and financial support for families to pay increased rent as their income rises. It is administered by PHAs, and unfortunately it’s utilized by fewer than half of PHAs nationally (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 2001).

[56] The HOME (Home Ownership Made Easy program) was created by MPHA, the Family Housing Fund, and the St. Paul Public Housing Agency (SPPHA) in 1990. It was initially established to connect families in public housing to educational resources and support, but it expanded to include Section 8 families as well. Over the program’s duration, 3,495 families received homeownership counseling and 504 families purchased a home. 

[57] MPHA 2012 Annual Report. Minneapolis Public Housing Authority, 2012.

[58] Enhancements and Best Practices Designed to Expand Resident Choice and Mobility in Minneapolis. Quadel Consulting and Training; Family Housing Fund. February 10, 2017.

[59] Ibid.

[60] Survey of Applicants to the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority Section 8 Waiting List. Minnesota Housing Partnership (MHP). November 2008.  

[61] Moylin, Martin. “Section 8 demand in Twin Cities overwhelms available waitlist spots.” Minnesota Public Radio. June 20 2019.

[62] MPHA 2019 Moving to Work Annual Report. Minneapolis Public Housing Authority. April 30, 2020.

[63] Enhancements and Best Practices Designed to Expand Resident Choice and Mobility in Minneapolis. Quadel Consulting and Training; Family Housing Fund. February 10, 2017

[64] The Twin Cities Metro Area Fair Housing Implementation Council (FHIC) is a cooperative of local governments and stakeholders focused on affirmatively furthering fair housing in the Twin Cities region. It prepares the Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice (AI) which both identifies barriers to fair housing and provides recommendations to remedy those barriers.

[65] Enhancements and Best Practices Designed to Expand Resident Choice and Mobility in Minneapolis. Quadel Consulting and Training; Family Housing Fund. February 10, 2017

[66] Survey of Applicants to the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority Section 8 Waiting List. Minnesota Housing Partnership (MHP). November 2008.  

[67] Lewis, Brittany. “The Illusion of Choice: Evictions and Profit in North Minneapolis.” University of Minnesota Center for Regional and Urban Affairs (CURA). 2019.

[68] Survey of Applicants to the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority Section 8 Waiting List. Minnesota Housing Partnership (MHP). November 2008.

[69] Lewis, Brittany. “The Illusion of Choice: Evictions and Profit in North Minneapolis.” University of Minnesota Center for Regional and Urban Affairs (CURA). 2019.

[70] The HCV Program commonly defines frequent movers as individuals who move at least once every two years while in the program.

[71] BCBW Project team was able to access these resources because the BCBW Project is a UMN sponsored project out of a university engagement center - CURA. Therefore the team could access this university service.

[72] There were 21 walk-ins, and 59 participants. However, 3 of the walk-ins did not fall under the parameters for frequent movers spelled out by the HCV Program. They did come to the data collection event with the solicitation letter; however, following the event we confirmed all walk-ins with our MPHA contact-person and three were not frequent movers. Though they were not a part of the sample population, they did desire to have their voices heard, and came out on a Tuesday evening and sat for hours before they were interviewed. There was a strong desire to have their experiences heard.

[73] Through conversations with HCV Program staff the BCBW Research Team learned that each voucher holder receives 4 months upfront to search for housing and the ability to receive 2 1-month extensions.

[74] Recertification appointment: This is an annual appointment between a voucher holder and their technician. During this appointment a voucher holder provides any updates regarding their income and family size, factors that impact the voucher they are eligible for.

[75] The project’s liaison shared that on average inspectors manage 300 to 400 cases per month.

[76] S.Riddick (personal communication, December 17, 2020).

[77] Manolis, Sophia M. “Interview with Miami-Dade Housing Authority Staff Member.” 10 Nov. 2020.

[78] Manolis, Sophia M. “Interview with Miami-Dade Housing Authority Staff Member.” 10 Nov. 2020.




[82] Mary Cunningham, Martha Galvez, Claudia Aranda, Robert Santos, Douglas Wissoker, Alyse Oneto, Rob Pitingolo, and James Crawford. 2018. "A Pilot Study of Landlord Acceptance of Housing Choice Vouchers," U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

[83] Philip Garboden, Eva Rosen, Meredith Greif, Stefanie DeLuca, and Kathryn Edin. 2018. "Urban Landlords and the Housing Choice Voucher Program: A Research Report," U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

[84] Credits & Deductions for Individuals | Internal Revenue Service. Accessed December 29, 2020. https://www.irs.gov/credits-deductions-for-individuals

[86] PHAs Encourage Landlord Participation With Incentives | HUD USER. Accessed December 19, 2020.https://www.huduser.gov/portal/periodicals/em/winter19/highlight3.html

[87]  PHAs Encourage Landlord Participation With Incentives | HUD USER. Accessed December 19, 2020.https://www.huduser.gov/portal/periodicals/em/winter19/highlight3.html

[88] 4d Affordable Housing Incentive Program. Accessed December 19, 2020. http://www2.minneapolismn.gov/cped/housing/WCMSP-214366

[89] Cunningham M. A Pilot Study of Landlord Acceptance of Housing Choice Vouchers. :196.

[90]  PHAs Encourage Landlord Participation With Incentives | HUD USER. Accessed December 19, 2020.https://www.huduser.gov/portal/periodicals/em/winter19/highlight3.html

[91] PHAs Encourage Landlord Participation With Incentives | HUD USER. Accessed December 19, 2020.https://www.huduser.gov/portal/periodicals/em/winter19/highlight3.html