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Public Health and Public Housing

Following a discussion with some fellow community members, wondering whether or not a housing division was Section 8 or public housing, I decided to do some research on the subject. Having never used either public housing or Section 8 housing as an adult, I was only somewhat familiar with the criteria and how it worked.

What is Public Housing?

Public housing is a program designed for individuals of very low income.  Eligibility amounts are determined from state to state.  In Missouri, the very low-income limit for a household of three is $27,150, low income is $43,400, and 30% of the median is $18,100.  In the Kansas City metro, 30% median is $19,700.  That is, all sources of income for the home may not exceed $19,700 in that area for someone to qualify for low-income public housing.  For example, a retail employee who earns $9 per hour and works full time with two children in the home and who also receives $500 a month for child support would have an available income of $24,720 and would not be eligible for low-income housing.  Failing to report additional income could result in the housing development determining the individual should live in the private market.

How is Section 8 Housing Different?

Section 8 housing program is also designed for individuals of low income.  In Missouri, applicants need to have an income below 50% of the median income for that area.  Therefore, the individual listed in the above example of earning $24,720 per year in the Kansas City metro would qualify for a Section 8 voucher. An individual receiving a housing voucher under Section 8, may look anywhere in the state for reasonable housing.  The housing must be approved by Housing and Urban Development in their area within 60 days.  As long as the residence meets criteria, Section 8 vouchers may be used at many different rental locations throughout the state or community.  The individual is not limited to using Section 8 vouchers at public housing areas. The Public Housing Authority pays a portion of the individual's rent.  The individual may pay between $25 and 50% of the fair market rent for the area.  For example, in a community where the fair market rent for an apartment is $750 a month, the individual would pay up to $375 a month in rent.

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Low-Income Housing and Health
According to an article published in the American Journal of Public Health, individuals living in low-income housing self-report having poor health status.  The poor health status may be due to a combination of factors, as stated by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Commission to Build a Better America. The three issues in a housing area that affect health are conditions within the home, neighborhood conditions, and housing affordability. Issues that affect conditions within the home include water leaks, lead poisoning, radon gas emissions, very high or very low temperatures, or living in a crowded housing area that may result in a child being more distracted, feeling more aggressive, and having poorer cognition.  Also, because of the close proximity of others in crowded housing, risks of infectious disease are greater.  Second-hand smoke inhalation through vents may also affect the health of a housing area's residents. Neighborhoods that do not have a safe place for children to play and adults to exercise may adversely affect health. Neighborhoods with no yards at all or where children play in driving areas are not safe for children. Lack of available social and economic resources to individuals living in low-income neighborhoods may also adversely their health.  Grocery stores may not be accessible to individuals and may be a mile away In order for an area to be considered a food desert, there cannot be a grocery store within one mile of a housing development.  Thus, an area with a grocery store five blocks away would not be considered a food desert. Housing affordability also affects health. Individuals who rent in a more stable area with homeowners are more likely to have better social ties than individuals who rent in an area that has more transient tenants. An ability to find safe, affordable housing is necessary to promote healthy living standards. Low-income public housing and Section 8 attempt to address this problem.

Finally, to answer the curiosity of those in my community, the new housing development may qualify for section 8 vouchers.  However, that does not mean everyone living there qualifies for section 8. Other housing units, including homes that are rented, or even a fourplex, may qualify for section 8 housing.  In fact, your neighbor may have qualified for a section 8 voucher, and you would never know the difference. That is, one tenant may have received a section 8 voucher, and the tenant living directly next door to them does not qualify for a section 8 voucher.  That would be between the tenant, the landlord, and the Public Housing Authority.  In public housing, however, all individuals must meet the low income requirements in order to live in that area.

FY 2016 State Income Limit Reports found online at
Thirty Percent Income Limits by State found online at
HUD's Public Housing Program found online at
Applying for Section 8 in Missouri, found online at
Housing Choice Vouchers Fact Sheet found online at
Missouri's Guide to Housing Assistance Programs found online at
Adamkiewicz, G., et al, "Environmental Conditions in Low-Income Urban Housing: Clustering and Associations with Self Reported Health." American Journal of Public Health, v 104, issue 9, Sep 2014 found online at
USDA Definition of a Food Desert found online at
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Commission to Build a Better America. Issue Brief 2: Housing and Health. September 2008, found online at


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