Publications

  • What Do We Know About Housing Choice Vouchers?

    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.

  • Planning For An Uncertain Future: Can Multi-Criteria Analysis Support Better Decision-Making In Climate Planning?

    This paper by Ingrid Gould EllenJessica YagerMelinda Hanson, and Luke Bo'sher, published in the Journal of Planning Education and Research, examines how multicriteria analysis (MCA), a decision-making tool, compares to other commonly used tools for making decisions about climate-change planning. The authors find that MCA has the potential to perform better than cost benefit analysis and working group approaches in supporting decision making processes that are more participatory, transparent, comprehensive, rigorous, and scenario-driven (five principles of effective planning). The paper also explores the ways in which MCA might fall short of these principles in practice, including when planners have limited resources.

  • Why Don’t Housing Voucher Recipients Live Near Better Schools? Insights from Big Data

    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.

  • Desvinculado y Desigual: Is Segregation Harmful to Latinos?

    Despite the high levels of metropolitan area segregation experienced by Latinos, there is a lack of research examining the effects of segregation on Latino socio-economic outcomes and whether those effects differ from the negative effects documented for African Americans. The authors find that segregation is consistently associated with lower levels of educational attainment and labor market success for both African-American and Latino young adults compared to whites, with associations of similar magnitudes for both groups. One mechanism through which segregation may influence outcomes is the difference in the levels of neighborhood human capital to which whites, Latinos, and African Americans are exposed. The authors find that higher levels of segregation are associated with lower black and Latino neighborhood exposure to residents with college degrees, relative to whites. They also find support for other commonly-discussed mechanisms, such as exposure to neighborhood violent crime and the relative proficiency of the closest public school.

  • Utility Allowances in Federally Subsidized Multifamily Housing

    This paper provides an analysis of the statutes, regulations, and guidance that govern the treatment of utility costs in the four largest federal subsidized housing programs—Public Housing, Project-Based Section 8, Housing Choice Vouchers, and Low-Income Housing Tax Credits—and the incentives these rules create for the consumption of utilities. It finds that many of these programs are structured such that tenants and owners are either indifferent about utility costs or are rewarded for overconsumption. This paper makes several recommendation for how these programs can be restructured to incentivize lower utility consumption, which can reduce the environmental footprint of subsidized housing, improve the financial viability of existing subsidized properties, and free resources that can be repurposed for other HUD goals.

  • Low-Income Housing Policy

    The United States government devotes about $40 billion each year to means-tested housing programs, plus another $6 billion or so in tax expenditures on the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC). What exactly do we spend this money on, why, and what does it accomplish? The authors focus on these questions. They begin by reviewing the history of low-income housing programs in the U.S., and then summarize the characteristics of participants in means-tested housing programs and how programs have changed over time. The authors consider important conceptual issues surrounding the design of and rationale for means-tested housing programs in the U.S. and review existing empirical evidence, which is limited in important ways. Finally, we conclude with thoughts about the most pressing questions that might be addressed in future research in this area.

  • Race and Neighborhoods in the 21st Century: What Does Segregation Mean Today?

    Recent research has argued that racial segregation is no longer a concern in the 21st century. In response, this paper revisits these concerns about racial segregation and neighborhoods to assess their relevance today. This working paper finds that while segregation levels between blacks and whites have certainly declined, they remain quite high; Hispanic and Asian segregation have, meanwhile, remained unchanged. Further, this paper shows that the neighborhood environments of minorities continue to be highly unequal to those enjoyed by whites. Blacks and Hispanics continue to live among more disadvantaged neighbors, to have access to lower performing schools, and to be exposed to more violent crime. Further, these differences are amplified in more segregated metropolitan areas. See the Research Brief: Race and Neighborhoods in the 21st Century.

  • Do Homeowners Mark to Market? A Comparison of Self-reported and Estimated Market Home Values During the Housing Boom and Bust

    This paper examines homeowners’ self-reported values in the American Housing Survey and the Health and Retirement Study from the start of the recent housing price run-ups through recent price declines. It compares zip code level market-based estimates of housing prices to those derived from homeowners’ self-reported values. The paper shows that there are systematic differences which vary with market conditions and the amount of equity owners hold in their homes. When prices have fallen, homeowners systematically state that their homes are worth more than market estimates suggest, and homeowners with little or no equity in their homes state values above the market estimates to a greater degree. Over time, homeowners appear to adjust their assessments to be more in line with past market trends, but only slowly. The results suggest that underwater borrowers are likely to understate their losses and either may not be aware that their mortgages are underwater or underestimate the degree to which they are.

  • Do Housing Choice Voucher Holders Live Near Good Schools?

    The Housing Choice Voucher program was created, in part, to help low-income households reach a broader range of neighborhoods and schools. This study explores whether low-income households use the flexibility provided by vouchers to reach neighborhoods with high performing schools. "Do Housing Choice Voucher holders live near good schools?" was published in the Journal of Housing Economics in March 2014.

  • Maintenance and Investments in Small Rental Properties: Findings from New York City and Baltimore

    Nearly half of all poor, urban renters in the United States live in rental buildings of fewer than four units, and such buildings make up nearly half our nation’s rental housing stock. Yet small rental properties remain largely overlooked by researchers. We present two reports—from New York City and Baltimore—both providing suggestive evidence, drawn from a variety of sources, about the characteristics of small rental housing. We find that while small buildings offer lower rents and play a crucial role in housing low-income renters, these lower rents are largely explained by neighborhood location. Ownership matters, however. In New York, lower rents are associated with small buildings with resident landlords. Further, we also find better unit conditions in small rental buildings when compared to most larger properties, especially in small buildings with resident landlords. In Baltimore, we find that smaller-scale “mom-and-pop” owners dominate the small rental property market, but that the share of larger-scale owners increases in higher poverty areas of the city. The properties owned by these larger-scale owners receive fewer housing code violations and that these owners appear to invest more frequently in major improvements to their properties.