Only about 25% of those households that are eligible for a section 8 housing choice voucher currently receive one according to the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as well as census data. There are about 2.2 million households enrolled (made up of over 5 million individuals) and in total about 8 million households (or 20 million individuals) are eligible.
Now while there are about 8 million households that are eligible as on early 2018 based on their household income, there is no official data on how many have applied. Section 8 is administered by about 3,200 local public housing authorities (PHA), and each and every one of them has their own lists of who applies, how long the backlog is and they track all of the programs data locally. So it is hard to determine exactly what is going on and there is no one source of information. If you need more information on this benefit, find details on HUD section 8 housing vouchers.
What we do know from HUD data is that almost every single part of the country has a wait list for a section 8 housing choice voucher. Many of the waiting lists only “open” occasionally and may take years to clear. As an example of this, the city of Los Angeles just recently opened their section 8 program in late 2017, and they took new applicants for the first time in the last 13 years. Even then the demand far exceeded the supply, so the city created a lottery that people needed to enroll into in order to get a housing choice voucher. Now while that is an extreme example, it is common for a city or county to have a multiple year waiting list.
Reasons households are not enrolled
They are probably many. The fact is that many of those 8 million households may have applied and they are on some waiting list. Other low income households may not even know they are eligible for a HUD section 8 voucher so of course those people would not have applied. Or they may have heard such bad things about the program (long wait lists, shortage of safe housing, government work requirements being rolled out in 2018, etc.) that they made a pro-active decision to not apply. There is no official data that shows what the status of the 8 million low income households is and why they have or have not applied for the program.
What we can say is that anyone that is enrolled as of 2018, and who is on some wait list, should be skeptical about every receiving a voucher as Section 8 is on the government chopping block. This is not only due to the long waiting lists, but in addition to that barrier, the federal government, and states that are led by Republicans, have targeted HUD for a reduction in funding. If/when that takes place there will be even fewer section 8 vouchers to go around, which means the wait lists will get even longer and even fewer people will be able to received a rent subsidized home. So if the lists are long now in 2018, they may even get longer in the future.