Four decades after its creation, the Housing Choice Voucher Program is the largest low-income housing subsidy program managed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). This literature review covers what we know and don’t know about the Housing Choice Voucher Program.
Research shows that vouchers reduce the rent burdens of low-income households, allow them to live in less crowded homes, and help them to avoid homelessness. The program has been less successful, however, in getting recipients to better neighborhoods and schools, and perhaps the greatest disappointment of the program is its limited reach. Families wait for years in most places to receive a voucher, and only one in four households eligible for a voucher nationally receives any federal housing assistance. Further, a significant minority of households who receive vouchers never use them, in part because of the difficulty of finding willing landlords with acceptable units. Thus, as effective as the program is, there is still much to learn about its operation and how we might improve it.
This paper offers several hypotheses about which US higher-income households choose to move into low-income neighbourhoods and why. It first explores whether the probability that a household moves into a relatively low-income neighbourhood (an RLIN move) varies with predicted household and metropolitan area characteristics. Secondly, it estimates a residential choice model to examine the housing and neighbourhood preferences of the households making such moves. Thirdly, it explores responses to survey questions about residential choices. Evidence is found that, in the US, households who place less value on neighbourhood services and those who face greater constraints on their choices are more likely to make an RLIN move. No evidence is found that households making RLIN moves are choosing neighbourhoods that are more accessible to employment. Rather, it is found that households making RLIN moves appear to place less weight on neighbourhood amenities than other households and more weight on housing costs.
This paper by Ingrid Gould Ellen, Keren Mertens Horn, and Amy Ellen Schwartz, published in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, uses administrative data to explore why voucher households do not live near to better schools, as measured by school-level proficiency rates. It seeks to shed light on whether voucher households are more likely to move toward better schools when schools are most relevant, and how market conditions shape that response. The authors find that families with vouchers are more likely to move toward a better school in the year before their oldest child meets the eligibility cutoff for kindergarten. Further, the magnitude of the effect is larger in metropolitan areas with a relatively high share of affordable rental units located near high-performing schools and in neighborhoods in close proximity to higher-performing schools. Results suggest that, if given the appropriate information and opportunities, more voucher families would move to better schools when their children reach school age.