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State of the City 2023

The Use of Housing Choice Vouchers in New York City

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Tenant-based Housing Choice Vouchers play a crucial role in housing almost 100,00 of New York City’s most vulnerable households. With Housing Choice Vouchers, low-income households pay around 30 percent of their income in rent, and the voucher covers the remainder.

But due to limited supply, only a fraction of the many households that need vouchers get them.

The Housing Choice Voucher program serves an increasingly vulnerable population. Over the last decade, the gap in median income between voucher households and renters overall increased dramatically.

Vouchers greatly improve affordability, with nearly 90 percent of recipients facing no rent burden.

Voucher holders in New York City typically spend over 15 years in the program compared to 8 years in the rest of the country, and that gap grew over the past decade.

Voucher holders have lower eviction filing rates compared to other renter households living nearby.

A significant portion – 36 percent – of tenant-based vouchers are used in buildings that are also subsidized through another government-funded program, like the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit.

Households with vouchers live in neighborhoods that are similar to those of all poor renters.

Those neighborhoods have higher poverty, unemployment, and crime rates than the neighborhoods of renters overall.

Using a voucher to rent a home can be challenging. Only 53 percent of new NYCHA voucher recipients succeeded in using their voucher in 2022, a 13 percentage point decline from 2018.

I. Introduction

For more than 5 million people across the country, Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers are a lifeline providing a source of rental assistance every month. Vouchers subsidize housing costs of families with very low to extremely low incomes, covering the difference between their full rent and about 30 percent of their household income. 1 The Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program encompasses both vouchers attached to specific buildings (“project-based vouchers,” which can also help subsidize the development or rehabilitation of a property) and tenant-based vouchers, which tenants use to rent a home of their choosing, including their current unit (subject to restrictions outlined below). In total, close to 123,000 households use Housing Choice Vouchers in New York City, nearly 99,000 of whom use tenant-based vouchers. In this chapter, we look at the tenant-based voucher program and its use in New York City. 2

Both nationally and in New York, advocates and policymakers have increasingly turned their focus to expanding tenant-based subsidies as a way to improve housing affordability for low-income households. While the HCV program is the nation’s largest rental assistance program for low-income households, unlike other aspects of the social safety net, vouchers are not an entitlement and demand far outpaces their availability. Nationally, most income-eligible households never receive a voucher and applicants who do typically spend several years on waitlists before receipt. Yet research demonstrates that vouchers are a cost-effective policy, 3 that reduce rent burdens and improve a number of other housing outcomes for families, such as reducing crowding and decreasing the likelihood of homelessness. That said, HCVs have been found to face two challenges. The first is in expanding neighborhood choice, particularly to include higher-resourced neighborhoods, such as those with lower poverty rates and better schools. 4 The second is in the ability of voucher recipients to successfully use their voucher in any neighborhood. Across the country, only about two-thirds of households that received a voucher in 2019 were able to successfully lease a home, 5 due at least in part to the combined challenges of tight rental markets, source of income discrimination, and finding a unit that meets program quality specifications. When a household is ultimately unable to use a voucher, it is provided to another household.

In this chapter, we draw on detailed, household-level data from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to take a closer look at the experience of households with tenant-based HCVs in New York City, both recently and over the last decade. We begin with examining which households are able to access the critically important HCV program, and how they compare to all of the city’s renters and renters who are poor. We look at rent burdens and the amount of rent paid by a typical voucher holder to understand the role vouchers play in making housing affordable in New York City. We calculate the median length of time a participating household stays in the voucher program, noting that households are using their vouchers for longer periods than a decade ago. We also consider one measure of housing stability, examining eviction filing rates and executed warrants among voucher households. We find that, post-pandemic, eviction filing rates are lower for voucher households than for other renters in the same neighborhood.

We explore the quality and size of buildings in which voucher holders reside, as well as how supply-side housing policies such as project-level subsidies, tax exemptions, and rent regulation may work in tandem with vouchers to open up more and newer buildings for voucher holders. We take a close look at the neighborhoods where households with HCVs live, and find that, similar to national patterns, voucher holders in New York City do not typically live in higher resourced areas, as measured by factors like school performance and neighborhood poverty. Rather, they live in neighborhoods that look very similar to those of poor renters generally. We also find that the share of new voucher recipients successfully using the program to lease a home in New York City declined to just over 50 percent in 2022. Our findings speak to concerns about source of income and other forms of discrimination against tenants, as well as the simple challenge of finding a home renting within program parameters in the midst of an expensive and competitive housing market, with a vacancy rate of 1.4 percent. 6  

While New York City’s HCV programs are not immune to broader programmatic challenges, the housing policy community is engaging with tested reforms that show promise in overcoming these issues. For example, New York City recently started incorporating more localized rent caps in high-resource areas to unlock those neighborhoods. 7 Enforcement of the prohibition of housing discrimination based on source of income, and efforts to ease the unit inspections and the income certification processes are just a few other examples of approaches that target some of the concerning trends elevated by our analysis.

II. Contemporary Overview

A. Federal Vouchers (Housing Choice Vouchers)

HUD’s Housing Choice Voucher program provides funding to local Public Housing Agencies (PHAs), who administer the program. They manage the voucher waitlist, determine household eligibility, and provide the rent subsidy directly to participating landlords. The subsidy is a capped amount based on a portion of a tenant’s income, typically 30 percent but rising higher if the unit’s rent exceeds the local maximum payment standard. Payment standards are set between 90 and 110 percent of the Fair Market Rent (FMR) that HUD determines for each metropolitan and non metropolitan area. 8

New York City recently adopted a reform aimed at increasing voucher use in neighborhoods of opportunity. Specifically, in a set of higher opportunity areas, New York is now basing local payment standards on ZIP Code level rents, rather than metropolitan area-wide FMRs, which leave many higher rent neighborhoods out of reach. The change effectively increases the maximum rents for homes leased by voucher holders (and accordingly, increases the rental subsidy) based on market rents in ZIP Codes designated as higher opportunity. 9 Research on a HUD demonstration of using Small Area FMRs (SAFMRs) across all ZIP Codes in the metropolitan area shows that, by letting the cap on allowable rent levels for voucher households vary by ZIP Code rents, SAFMRs increase the share of voucher families renting homes in the top 25 percent of neighborhoods with the highest levels of opportunity by 11 percentage points. 10

In this chapter, we review programs run by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA)which administers the largest Housing Choice Voucher program in the country 11 and New York City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD). About three-quarters of the HCV vouchers in New York City covered in this chapter are administered by NYCHA. 

There are key differences between how HPD and NYCHA administer their tenant-based voucher programs. HPD strategically employs its voucher authority and preference categories to support its broader goals of affordable housing development and preservation. This approach often involves offering tenant-based Housing Choice Vouchers to households who are already housed and will likely stay in place but have the option to move. These developments are then more likely to receive separate affordable housing financing. It also can provide “Enhanced Vouchers” to preserve affordability on affordable housing preservation efforts. 12 These Housing Choice Vouchers are initially tied to specific units in buildings that receive separate affordable housing financing, but the current tenant can use the voucher to move after a year, if they choose. HPD also provides tenant-based vouchers to households for use in an independent housing search, similar to the way vouchers are typically employed by NYCHA and other agencies. On the whole, NYCHA’s voucher program is more representative of how tenant-based voucher programs are implemented across the country.

Voucher holders often struggle to find landlords that will accept the program, particularly in highly-resourced neighborhoods. In 2019, New York State adopted legislation that prohibits discrimination based on income (“source of income discrimination,” or SOID), making it illegal to refuse to rent to a household purely based on their use of a voucher. 13 SOID has been prohibited in New York City since 2008. 14 Recent research found that these laws do appear to open up a wider set of neighborhood options for voucher holders, increasing the likelihood that existing voucher households use their vouchers to move to neighborhoods with lower poverty rates and lower shares of voucher holders than where they started out. 15 The NYU Furman Center has a forthcoming paper that explores how SOID laws affect the rates of successful leasing for new voucher holders.

B. State Vouchers

In the last few New York legislative sessions, policymakers have debated the creation of a state housing voucher program, referred to as the Household Access Voucher Program (HAVP). While the details of the proposals have shifted over time, they have broadly mirrored the design of the HCV program. Tenant advocates have touted the value of HAVP as a way of stabilizing low-income renters, while detractors raise concerns about the program’s cost. 16

C. Local Vouchers (CityFHEPS/FHEPS)

CityFHEPS, formerly known as Family Eviction Prevention (FEPS), is a city- and state-funded housing voucher that is not included in this analysis. The housing supplement commits to providing rental support for up to five years. The program serves families earning up to 200 percent of the federal poverty line, and who are moving from homeless shelters to permanent housing or that are in danger of losing their current housing. FHEPS is another City program that operates similarly to CityFHEPS, although with different eligibility rules. 17

III. What are the demographics and characteristics of voucher holders, and to what extent do vouchers lower housing costs? 

A. What are the demographics of voucher households in New York City?

More than 90,000 HCV households live in New York City, making up about four percent of the renter population.        

The more than 90,000 tenant-based Housing Choice Voucher households that we review in this chapter (of the 99,000 total tenant-based HCV households in New York City 18 ) combine to make up 4 percent of the city’s renter households, roughly three-quarters of whom are using vouchers administered by NYCHA and the remaining quarter administered by HPD. While they make up a small percentage of renters, they are disproportionately impoverished (67% of households are poor) with a combined median income of $13,255. The HCV program is designed to target low-income households, including income-targeting requirements that 75 percent of vouchers go to households with income below 30 percent of Area Median Income. 19

Table 1:

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Over the last decade, the gap in real median income between all of the city’s renter households and voucher households increased. 

While the real median income for all renter households increased over the last decade, it declined for both HCV households and poor renter households, nationally and in New York City. 20 The median income of New York City’s renter households saw a notable increase between 2010 and 2020, particularly between 2015 and 2020, widening the gap between the city’s renters and those with vouchers. The income-restricted structure of the HCV and NYCHA public housing programs is in some ways driving the consistently low incomes observed among their participants, as shown in Figure 1. However, the growing divide between renter households and voucher households points to the increasingly challenging environment for households earning so little against a backdrop of rising incomes and costs.

Figure 1:

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The share of HCV heads of households that are younger than 50 years old declined nearly 18 percentage points between 2010 and 2020, a drop that was three times larger than for renters overall.

Between 2010 and 2020, the share of household heads younger than 50 years old dropped by close to six percentage points for all renter households and those in public housing (similar to the decline seen among all city household heads, at seven percentage points). The decline was twice as large for heads of poor renter households, and three times as large for HCV heads of households. While the share of all renter heads of households that were senior increased, HCV and especially poor renters saw the greatest rise in that share. Nationally, the share of HCV heads of households that are below 50 years old also declined, although to a lesser degree (12 percentage points over the same period). 

By using the dropdown menu on the upper left of figure 2, you can view the head of household composition by age in 2010 and 2020. If you are viewing this figure on a cellphone, you will need to use a desktop to view the 2010 and 2020 figures via the dropdown menu.

Figure 2:

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The increase in the share of senior heads of voucher households was mainly driven by the aging of existing households in the program.

Over the last decade, the rise in senior heads of households was mainly driven by heads of existing voucher households becoming seniors among both HPD and NYCHA households (a nine percentage point increase and an eight percentage point increase, respectively). Indeed, senior-headed households declined slightly among NYCHA’s new voucher recipients. Nationally, the increase in the share of senior heads of households over the last decade was driven both by an increase in seniors among new recipients and households with a voucher aging (rising by 4 and 6 percentage points, respectively). Both nationally and in New York City, the share of voucher households with children declined over the last decade (by 10 and 14 percentage points, respectively).

Figure 3

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Compared to renters overall, heads of poor renter households and particularly public housing and voucher households are much more likely to be BIPOC.

A much smaller share of heads of poor, public housing, and voucher households are white compared to renters overall, with the lowest share white in public housing (4 percent). Even relative to poor renters, heads of public housing and voucher households are more likely to be BIPOC.

The composition of the non-white heads of households within public housing and voucher households varies across programs. The share of heads of households that is Black is highest among the two more place-based subsidies (public housing and HPD vouchers). Among the three programs, the Asian and Pacific Islander share is the lowest, and the Hispanic share is the highest for NYCHA HCV holders. The share of HCV household heads that are non-white is higher in New York City than nationally (at 70 percent).

Figure 4:

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B. How much rent are voucher holders paying? How much voucher subsidy goes towards a typical home?

Voucher holders in NYC pay an average of $475 monthly toward the total average unit rent of $1,768. 

Once a voucher holder has successfully used their voucher to lease a home, the total rent is split between tenant payments and government subsidies. At NYCHA and HPD, the average tenant payment is close to $475 and the average government payments are $1,285 and $1,241, respectively. Both the tenant payments and government subsidies are higher than their respective national averages of $410 and $869. 21

Figure 5:

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Voucher holders have significantly lower rent burdens than other poor or very low-income NYC renters, with nearly 90 percent spending 30 percent or less of their income on rent. 

What is more important than the size of the rental payment is the share of a household’s income that goes towards rent, or their rent burden. Households are generally deemed to be rent burdened if they spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent, and severely burdened if they spend 50 percent or more. 

Voucher holders in NYCHA and HPD have average rent burdens of 30 percent and 32 percent respectively. 22 This is comparable to the national average rent burden for voucher holders, which is 32 percent. In spite of the higher rents in NYC, Housing Choice Vouchers are quite successful at lowering rent burdens of recipients. 

Nearly 90 percent of HCV households are not rent burdened, and those who are rent burdened are generally spending less than 40 percent of their income on rent. Only 1.8 percent of all HCV households pay 50 percent or more of their income on rent. By comparison, more than 80 percent of unassisted poor renter households in New York City are extremely rent burdened, spending more than 50 percent of their income on rent. 23

Figure 6:

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C. What is the typical length of time that a voucher household spends in the program?

Voucher holders in New York City typically spend over 15 years in the program compared to eight years in the rest of the country, and that gap grew over the past decade.

Households that receive a voucher can continue to use it for a long period, and this duration has only increased over time. Over the last decade (between 2010 and 2020), the median length of time in the program doubled for current voucher households in New York City, from seven to 15 years. The median length of time in the program increased more for NYCHA HCV households (from eight to 17 years) than for HPD HCV households (from six to 12 years). Nationally, the median length of program use of voucher households increased by just three years over the same period, from five to eight years. New York City’s increasingly tight housing market no doubt contributes to the long and increasing length of time in the program, and is an indicator of how valuable vouchers are to recipients. These longer lengths in the program contribute to the aging of NYC’s HCV population. Increasing length of use also means there are fewer vouchers turned over each year, the main source of vouchers for new recipients.

Figure 7:

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IV. What are the typical eviction filing and warrant rates for voucher holders?

The eviction filing rate for units with voucher households was higher than for other rental units in the same neighborhoods in 2019, but lower than other rental units in 2022. 

After serving notice of their intent to file, a landlord can file an eviction case in New York City Housing Court due to non-payment of rent (the vast majority of cases) or other reasons such as lease violations. Cases may be resolved between landlords and tenants outside of court or may proceed to a hearing, and there are many points at which a tenant may either move out or pay outstanding rent during the eviction process. But the filing itself is an important and visible step in the process. 24

Research has shown that eviction filing rates (the number of filings per 100 units) vary greatly across neighborhoods, driven in part by differences in demographics and market forces, as well as by landlord propensity to file for eviction. 25 To account for those differences, Figure 8 compares eviction filing rates for units with voucher households to filing rates of other rental units in the same census tracts. 26 In 2019, units with voucher households had higher filing rates than other rental units in the same census tracts (excluding public housing units 27 ).

In general, filing rates across New York City declined during the pandemic while pandemic-era eviction protections were in place. Rates have climbed again since the expiration of these protections in 2021, but have remained below pre-pandemic averages in general and for both groups in Figure 8. In 2022, voucher units had lower filing rates than other rental units in the same census tracts. One potential reason for this lower rate relative to other nearby renters is a housing court shift since the pandemic towards prioritizing filings against tenants with larger amounts of unpaid rent. Voucher households may owe less in unpaid rent compared to unsubsidized renters if at least a portion of the rent has been paid either by the tenant or by the government at the time of filing.

Figure 8:

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Most filings do not result in an executed warrant. Three percent of units with NYCHA voucher households and five percent of units with HPD voucher households had an ordered eviction warrant, and less than one percent had an executed eviction warrant.
 
If an eviction case proceeds through the formal court process and the judge rules against the tenant, the landlord can request that the judge order a warrant of eviction. It is still possible at this point for the tenant to pay outstanding rent and have the warrant stayed. But if not, the eviction can then be formally executed and the tenant must leave the unit. Note that some households may still move out after an eviction has been filed but before a formal judgment or warrant is ordered. To provide time for cases to fully resolve, here we focus on eviction filings in 2019 (Figure 9). 

Only a fraction of filings result in a warrant of eviction. 28 Across units with NYCHA voucher households, units with HPD voucher households, and other rental units in the same neighborhoods (excluding public housing units), the ordered warrant rate (ordered warrants per 100 units) was slightly less than half of the eviction filing rate in 2019. The executed warrant rate was even lower, with less than 1 percent of units across each of these groups receiving an executed warrant. Units with NYCHA voucher households had a slightly lower executed warrant rate than the other groups.

The figure also shows differences in filing rates between units with NYCHA and HPD voucher households. Filing rates were lower for units with NYCHA voucher households than HPD voucher households in 2019 (and in 2022 as well).

Figure 9:

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V. Where do voucher holders live?

A. To what extent do voucher holders live in subsidized properties? 

New York City’s subsidized housing stock is a critically important source of housing for voucher households. This is especially true for those with HPD vouchers. 

A substantial share of households with tenant-based vouchers live in privately-owned subsidized housing, but HPD voucher holders are more likely to do so. More than half of HPD HCV households live in subsidized housing, as do more than a quarter of NYCHA voucher holders. 29 The high share of HPD HCV holders in subsidized housing can be attributed to the way HPD has preference categories that prioritize use of its voucher authority with its affordable housing development and preservation work. 30 In contrast, NYCHA voucher holders are more likely to find housing in subsidized portfolios after searching for homes on the open market. They may be drawn to homes in subsidized properties, including via New York City’s Housing Connect lottery system, due to their regulated rent levels that in many cases align with the HCV program’s rent requirements. In addition, NYCHA voucher holders may be likely to find housing in subsidized properties because the mission-driven property owners may be more open to housing voucher holders than owners of non-subsidized housing. 

Voucher households are more likely to live in Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) housing than any other type of subsidized housing. 31 Reviewing the programs by administering agencies, a larger share of HPD than NYCHA voucher households live in almost all types of subsidized housing. Two notable exceptions are the J-51 and 421-a property tax programs. The former is an as-of-right tax exemption and abatement that funds rehabilitation or conversion to multifamily housing. J-51 houses about six percent of households in both the NYCHA and HPD HCV programs. The latter is a new construction tax exemption for new multifamily development that in more recent iterations of the program includes requirements for income-restricted housing. Between 3 to 4 percent of HCV households in each program reside in 421-a properties. When they are not coupled with other subsidy programs, both J-51 and 421-a properties are most likely to behave like typical rental housing on the open market, which may explain why NYCHA and HPD HCV households are equally likely to lease up in properties that use those programs. 

Table 2:

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Seven percent of renters in LIHTC financed buildings use vouchers.

Four percent of all renter households in the city use vouchers (see Table 1). However, voucher recipients make up seven percent of households who reside in LIHTC properties. Voucher holders are relatively underrepresented in properties with only the 421-a tax exemption (and no other subsidies) and so-called “80/20” buildings that combine both the 20-year 421-a exemption and LIHTC. This may be partially explained by the fact that both the 80/20 and the 421-a properties typically include about 20 to 30 percent affordable units (depending on the program version and era), while LIHTC properties typically feature a much higher share of affordable units that would rent at amounts accepted by the HCV program. It may also be explained in part by the fact that some 421-a and 80/20 properties included condo units, which would not generally be accessible to HCV holders.

Table 3:

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Close to 40 percent of HPD voucher households live in properties with 100 or more units, compared to less than 20 percent of NYCHA voucher households.

The large share of HPD voucher households living in large properties aligns with the previous finding that those households are also more likely to live in subsidized properties (affordable properties often leverage economies of scale, and the 421-a exemption was targeted to properties with six units or more). A substantial number of NYCHA voucher households also live in large properties, although they were most likely to live in buildings with between 10 and 49 units. Perhaps most unexpected is the relatively high share of voucher households in smaller properties. Close to a third of NYCHA voucher households and a fifth of HPD voucher households live in buildings with less than 10 units.

Figure 10:

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B. How do the buildings that voucher holders live in compare to the buildings that house all New York households? 

A voucher holder’s typical building is more than half rent stabilized, compared to 20 percent rent stabilized for all households.

Compared to all households, voucher households typically live in larger and slightly newer buildings. The average building housing voucher households is multiple times larger than the average residential building. 32 In addition, a voucher holder’s typical building is more than half rent stabilized, compared to 20 percent rent stabilized for all renters. That difference may be driven in part by the fact that many voucher holders live in subsidized buildings, which tend to be entirely stabilized. HPD voucher households are typically in buildings with almost 10 percent more rent stabilized units than NYCHA HCV households, which may point to the role of subsidized, rent regulated properties in HPD’s program.

Table 4:

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While voucher households are typically in larger and slightly newer buildings, almost 11 percent of HCV households live in one- and two-unit properties. Those households are fairly concentrated in a limited set of neighborhoods.

In New York City, nearly 10,000 HCV households live in properties with one or two units. NYCHA HCV households are twice as likely to live in single-family and duplex homes, compared to HPD HCV households (13% and 7% of households, respectively). This may point to the tenant-based nature of the NYCHA HCV program.

While renters in one- and two-unit properties live throughout the outer areas of the outer boroughs, HCV households in such properties are more concentrated in a few neighborhoods–to a striking extent–including the North Shore in Staten Island, East New York-Cypress Hills in Brooklyn, and Jamaica-St. Albans-Hollis in Queens.

Figure 11: Number of Households in One to Two Unit Properties, New York City (2022)

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Sources: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) administrative data on public and assisted housing programs (2022), U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey, New York City Department of City Planning, MapPLUTO 23v3.1, NYU Furman Center.

Voucher households living in 1-2 unit properties live in neighborhoods with lower crime rates compared to those in larger properties and even compared to all renters in larger properties.

The neighborhoods where 1-2 unit properties are located are generally safer than the neighborhoods around larger properties. Renters and voucher households in 1-2 unit properties live in neighborhoods with lower serious and violent crime rates than those of their respective counterparts in properties with 3 or more units. Indeed, the neighborhoods of voucher holders in 1-2 unit properties are as safe as (or safer than) the neighborhoods of renters overall in properties with 3 or more units. 

Table 5:

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Buildings with voucher households have much higher rates of open serious code violations compared to all renter households.

Voucher holders live in homes with high rates of serious code violations that were opened during 2022 and 2023 and not closed. Their heat and hot water violations and lead violations are at least twice that of the typical renter. 33 The stark difference in violations rates between voucher holders and renters overall points to a concerning disparity in building quality. Some of the difference in violations could be due to voucher households being more comfortable calling in complaints given previous experience with government agencies. For units leased with HPD vouchers, the difference may also be driven by the fact that the program’s required Housing Quality Standards are completed with Housing Maintenance Code Inspectors, typically occurring every two years.

Table 6:

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C. Which neighborhoods do voucher holders live in? 

Households with vouchers live in census tracts that are generally similar to those of poor renters, with higher poverty, unemployment, and crime rates than the neighborhoods of renters overall.

A household’s neighborhood can define their daily experience and opportunities, from access to schools to exposure to crime. Poor renters and public housing and voucher households typically live in neighborhoods (defined as census tracts for the analysis) with higher poverty rates, unemployment rates, and violent crime rates, and lower incomes and rents than the average renter (Table 2). 34 In addition, poor renters and public housing and voucher households live near schools with lower fourth-grade student proficiency rates in English Language Art and Math. 35

NYCHA public housing households live in the neighborhoods with the highest poverty and unemployment rates, and the lowest education attainment rate, median household income and gross rent. Because public housing developments can often make up most, if not all, of a census tract, some of the compositional differences in neighborhood characteristics of public housing residents could be driven primarily by public housing households themselves. 36

While the HCV program is intended to provide voucher households with more choices about where to live, households with vouchers generally live in census tracts that are quite similar to those of poor renters. Their neighborhoods have higher poverty, unemployment, and crime rates, and lower median income than the neighborhoods of renters overall. However, voucher households’ neighborhoods have similar shares of households living within a half-mile of a subway station compared to those of renters overall, a higher share than poor and public housing renters.

Table 7:

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Public housing and voucher households live in neighborhoods that are less safe than poor renter households overall. 

The typical census tract of a poor renter household is safer compared to that of public housing and voucher households overall. However, of the public housing and voucher household groups, NYCHA voucher holders reside in slightly safer neighborhoods, with violent crime rates just slightly higher than that of poor renters overall. This may be related to the comparative mobility of the NYCHA voucher program–compared to public housing and HPD’s programmatic priorities described above–as households may prioritize living in safer neighborhoods when possible.

Figure 12:

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Voucher households with children live in somewhat less-resourced neighborhoods than voucher households without children, with lower shares of adults with college degrees, higher poverty rates, and slightly higher violent crime rates. 

Neighborhood services and conditions are of particular importance for children, yet along several dimensions, voucher households with children are living in somewhat less-resourced neighborhoods. For example, neighborhoods where typical voucher households with children live have a poverty rate of 27 percent, two percentage points higher than where voucher holders without children reside. Additionally, voucher holders with children live in neighborhoods with a five percentage point lower share of the population with a college degree than their counterparts without children. Voucher households with children live in neighborhoods with a slightly higher violent crime rate than their counterparts without children, and with a lower share of households within a half-mile of the subway station.

Table 8:

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Voucher holders are more likely to live in the Bronx, as well as areas of Brooklyn and Upper Manhattan. 

The count of voucher holders is highest in areas of the Bronx, including the Fordham-Bedford Park-Norwood, Morris Heights-Mount Hope, and Highbridge-Concourse neighborhoods. Outside of the Bronx, the highest counts of voucher households are in East New York-Cypress Hills in Brooklyn and Washington Heights-Inwood in Manhattan. Additionally, there are high numbers of voucher holders in Greenpoint-Williamsburg and some areas in southern Brooklyn (Coney Island-Brighton Beach and Borough Park-Kensington). The two neighborhoods with the highest number of voucher holders are home to more than 5,000 of those households. In contrast, some areas of the city, such as Greenwich Village-SoHo in Manhattan and Auburndale/Bayside/Douglaston in Queens, have fewer than 50 voucher households.

Figure 13: Number of Voucher Holders, New York City (2022)
 

 

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Sources: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) administrative data on public and assisted housing programs (2022), U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey, New York City Department of City Planning, MapPLUTO 23v3.1, NYU Furman Center.

About one percent of households in the typical census tract use vouchers.

When we zoom into a more granular geography to understand the spatial distribution of voucher holders, the majority of census tracts in NYC have a relatively low share of households with vouchers, one percent of households or less. But 10 percent of the census tracts have voucher household shares of over eight percent (eight times the citywide median). 

Figure 14:

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Voucher holders are more spatially concentrated than are poor renters, with a third of voucher households living in just five percent of New York City’s census tracts. 

The five percent of census tracts containing the largest number of voucher holders account for 34 percent of total HPD and NYCHA voucher holders. Voucher holders compose nearly a ninth of the all households in these census tracts, dramatically higher than the citywide median share of one percent. By comparison, poor renter households are slightly more spread out in the city, but still fairly concentrated. Twenty-eight percent of poor renter households (which include HCV households below the poverty line) live in the top five percent of census tracts in New York City with the highest concentration of these households. 37 This may reflect that lower-rent units are themselves concentrated and difficult to find throughout the city. The somewhat greater concentration of voucher holders may point to additional challenges in finding low-rent units on the open market in other neighborhoods within HCV programmatic requirements. 

Figure 15:

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VI. How many voucher recipients can use their vouchers?

How many voucher recipients are able to successfully use their voucher? How long do those households typically search before leasing homes with their voucher? 

Only 53 percent of NYCHA voucher recipients succeeded in using their voucher to lease a home in 2022, a 13 percentage point decline from 2018. Those that successfully used vouchers typically searched for more than 170 days. 

In order to successfully enroll in the HCV program, voucher holders must find and lease a home on the private rental market. Because HPD voucher recipients are not necessarily searching for homes on the private rental market, this section focuses only on NYCHA voucher holders. 

In 2018, the share of new recipients of NYCHA vouchers successfully using their vouchers within a year (called a ‘success rate’) was 66 percent, about equal to the national average (65 percent). It took the median recipient 136 days to find and lease a home with their NYCHA voucher - more than double the national median of 58 days. 38 In 2022, NYCHA’s success rate fell to 53 percent, and the median search time increased to 171 days. The national success rate was only very slightly higher (55%) while the national search time also increased to 71 days – still less than half that of New York City.

It is worth noting that in 2022, Emergency Housing Vouchers (EHVs) make-up over three-quarters of NYCHA’s new voucher issuances. EHVs are meant to serve particularly vulnerable populations, including those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, and victims of domestic abuse; EHVs also come with additional support for search. 39 Nearly two-thirds of the increased search time between 2018 and 2022 is due to EHVs. However, EHVs do not drive the decline in success rates, which would be two percentage points larger if EHVs were excluded from the analysis.

Figure 16:

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Figure 17:

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The recent decline in success rates was largest for families with children, who experienced a 15 percentage point decrease between 2018 and 2022.

The drop in success rates was particularly salient for voucher households with children, 40 who experienced a decline in success rates that was more than double that of households without children (15 percentage points compared to 6 percentage points). This drop is not due to EHVs. When EHVs are excluded, the drop in success rates is even larger for families with children such that their 2022 success rate is lower than that of families without children. 

Figure 18:

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Figure 19:

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VI. Conclusion

The Housing Choice Voucher program is a critical subsidy program for very low-income renters across the country. Voucher programs like HCV assist some of the most vulnerable in our society, and they deliver strong results. In New York City, the tenant-based program serves about four percent of renters, mainly households in deep poverty and often (and increasingly) households headed by seniors. After the program subsidy, those households typically pay just over 30 percent of their income towards rent, an average of about $475 per month. Without vouchers it would be extremely challenging, if not impossible, for many voucher holders to afford a home on the open market. 

The value of a housing choice voucher, particularly in a city with as tight a housing market as New York, is underscored by the increasing length of tenure in the program for voucher holders. The median voucher household spends 15 years in the program in New York City, a length that doubled over the past decade and is almost twice as long as the national median. Households with vouchers appear to benefit from additional stability; voucher households have lower eviction filing rates compared to other households nearby, and executed warrant rates are very low among both voucher households and their neighbors.

Still, our analysis sheds light on other challenges faced by voucher holders, including accessing well-resourced neighborhoods and using their voucher to lease homes in the first place. Participants live in neighborhoods that are similar to those of other poor renters, with high levels of poverty, unemployment, and crime rates, and lower median incomes than renters overall. In fact, their neighborhoods have higher serious and violent crime rates than those of poor renters. Neighborhood resources are particularly important for children, but among voucher households, those with children live in neighborhoods with slightly lower-performing schools, higher poverty rates, and slightly higher violent crime rates compared to those without children.

Even more fundamentally, nearly half of new NYCHA voucher recipients seeking a home are ultimately unable to use their voucher, and those that succeed typically have to search for more than 170 days. Some of these challenges are no doubt shared by other renters with extremely low incomes, in an increasingly tight and competitive housing market. But given the critical role that vouchers can play in making housing truly affordable, the findings underscore the importance of addressing programmatic challenges. Beyond SOID laws (and their enforcement), programmatic solutions exist that could address both landlord and tenant needs. For example, the City recently began adjusting allowable rents to better reflect neighborhood markets in areas of high opportunity. Other potential solutions to increase landlord participation include financial incentives and reforms to lower administrative burden – most notably with respect to inspections and unit hold fees that address lost rent during the lease processing period. These should enable voucher holders to better compete with other renters. And on the voucher recipient side, there is promise in efforts to provide housing search support, such as directing voucher holders to pre-inspected units, covering security deposits, and providing financial support for broker fees. 46

Increasing housing supply, with set-asides for lower-income households, can also help voucher households find units. Indirectly, new housing supply should make the rental market work in better favor of all renters, 47 which should theoretically help households searching for housing with a voucher. Directly, the new version of a multifamily property tax incentive, the 485-x tax exemption program, includes requirements for income-restricted units that appear to be at, or around, the FMR. This should translate into more units that meet the HCV program’s rent requirements. In the case of many developments, the tax exemption will pair with existing (and potentially new) zoning requirements that set aside a portion of new housing supply as affordable, and that will be accessible to voucher holders. In addition to these new homes, the City will continue to finance new income-restricted housing via the Low Income Housing Tax Credit. 

Housing Choice Vouchers play a critical role in lowering the cost of a home for a large number of New York City households. Policymakers and community advocates are actively engaged in the important work of addressing some of the challenges that our work highlights and improving upon a program that acts as an essential lifeline for the households that are fortunate enough to access it.

Technical Appendix

Throughout this chapter, we use detailed data from HUD on tenant-based households with HCV’s administered by NYCHA and HPD (excluding project-based vouchers, as well as tenant-based vouchers administered by DHCR). We exclude households that left the program over the course of the year in the observations for that year. We also exclude from the analysis households without any action codes in the given year of the data. Table 1 below shows counts of HCV households by administering agency and voucher type. Discrepancies between the table and internal agency data may exist due to differences in operational data versus data reported to HUD, lags in timing, and the data cleaning methodology we used, as described above.

Table 1:

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For analyses at the building and unit level (Sections IV and V), we use data on HCV households that have been geocoded using their street address. Issues with the availability and structure of street address data make it impossible to successfully geocode all of the HCV households. Table 2 provides a count of all the households included in our geocoded analyses and the total household count used in the rest of the chapter.

Table 2:

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Income, rents and home values are adjusted to 2023 dollars throughout the chapter.

The neighborhood characteristics analysis drops census tracts with fewer than 200 people.

This paper was produced in partnership with HUD via cooperative agreements RP-21-NY004 and H-21742CA.

  1. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. (2021). Policy Basics: The Housing Choice Voucher Program. Retrieved from https://www.cbpp.org/research/policy-basics-the-housing-choice-voucher-program
  2. We look at tenant-based vouchers administered by NYCHA and HPD, and exclude the more than 7,000 vouchers administered by DHCR. For more detail on the number of vouchers by type and administering agency, please see Table 1 in the appendix.
  3. See Olsen, Edgar O. (2003). “Housing Programs for Low-Income Households.” In Means-Tested Transfer Programs in the United States. Ed. Robert A. Moffitt. U. Chicago Press. 365-442; DiPasquale, Denise, Dennis Fricke, and Daniel Garcia-Diaz (2003). “Comparing the Costs of Federal Housing Assistance Programs.” Economic Policy Review 9(2); U.S. General Accounting Office, “Federal Housing Assistance: Comparing the Characteristics and Costs of Housing Programs,” January 2002, https://www.gao.gov/assets/240/233652.pdf.
  4. Furman Center for Real Estate & Urban Policy. (2017). Fact Sheet: Housing Choice Vouchers. Retrieved from https://furmancenter.org/files/fact-sheets/HousingChoiceVouchers_ige.pdf.
  5. Ellen, I.G., O’Regan, K. and Strochak, S. (2021). Using HUD Administrative Data to Estimate Success Rates and Search Durations for New Voucher Recipients. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Retrieved from https://www.huduser.gov/portal/sites/default/files/pdf/Voucher-Success_Rates.pdf, note that allowable search durations vary by PHA and this finding is based on a 240-day search window.
  6. Gaumer, E. The 2023 New York City Housing and Vacancy Survey: Selected Initial Findings. New York, NY: New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development; 2024.
  7. Dastrup, S., Finkel, M., Ellen, I.G. (2019). The Effects of Small Area Fair Market Rents on the Neighborhood Choices of Families with Children. Cityscape. 21(3) 19-48. https://www.huduser.gov/portal/periodicals/cityscpe/vol21num3/ch1.pdf; Reina, V., Acolin, A., & Bostic, R. W. (2019). Section 8 Vouchers and Rent Limits: Do Small Area Fair Market Rent Limits Increase Access to Opportunity Neighborhoods? An Early Evaluation. Housing Policy Debate, 29(1), 44–61. https://doi.org/10.1080/10511482.2018.1476897.
  8. Furman Center for Real Estate & Urban Policy. (2017). Fact Sheet: Housing Choice Vouchers. Retrieved from https://furmancenter.org/files/fact-sheets/HousingChoiceVouchers_ige.pdf
  9. New York City Housing Authority. (2024). Voucher Payment Standards (VPS) & Utility Allowance Schedule. Retrieved from https://www.nyc.gov/site/nycha/section-8/voucher-payment-standards-vps-utility-allowance-schedule.page, New York City Department of Housing Preservation & Development. (n.d.). Housing Choice Vouchers. Retrieved from https://www.nyc.gov/site/hpd/services-and-information/housing-choice.page
  10. Furman Center for Real Estate & Urban Policy. (2019). The Effects of Small Area Fair Market Rents on the Neighborhood Choices of Families with Children. Retrieved from https://furmancenter.org/files/The_Effects_of_Small_Area_Fair_Market_Rents_on_the_Neighborhood_Choices_of_Families_with_Children.pdf
  11. New York City Housing Authority. (n.d.). Guide for Applicants and Tenants. Retrieved from https://www.nyc.gov/site/nycha/section-8/guide-for-applicants-and-tenants.page
  12. New York City Department of Housing Preservation & Development. (n.d.). Section 8 Voucher Types. Retrieved from https://www.nyc.gov/site/hpd/services-and-information/section-8-voucher-types.page. In this analysis, 2 percent of the NYCHA vouchers and 17 percent of the HPD vouchers we review are Enhanced Vouchers.
  13. New York State Division of Human Rights. (2020). Guidance On Protections From Source Of Income Discrimination In Housing Under The New York State Human Rights Law. Retrieved from https://dhr.ny.gov/system/files/documents/2022/05/nysdhr-soi-guidance-2020.pdf
  14. New York City Commission on Human Rights. (n.d.). Source of Income. Retrieved from https://www.nyc.gov/site/cchr/media/source-of-income.page
  15. Ellen, I. G., O’Regan, K. M., & Harwood, K. W. H. (2023). Advancing Choice in the Housing Choice Voucher Program: Source of Income Protections and Locational Outcomes. Housing Policy Debate, 33(4), 941–962. https://doi.org/10.1080/10511482.2022.2089196
  16. Furman Center for Real Estate & Urban Policy. (2018). A State-Level Rent Voucher Program. Retrieved from https://furmancenter.org/files/publications/2_A_State-Level_Rent_Voucher_Program_Final.pdf
  17. Peña, Yvonne. (2023). Increase in CityFHEPS and FHEPS Rental Assistance. Community Service Society. Retrieved from https://bplc.cssny.org/blog/increase-in-cityfheps-and-fheps-rental-assistance
  18. In this chapter, we rely on highly detailed data on voucher holders that is not publicly available. Our count of Housing Choice Voucher households is lower than the count in the publicly available Picture of Subsidized Housing data for 2022. In the publicly available data, the total count of vouchers includes both tenant- and project-based vouchers. In addition, here we look at tenant-based vouchers administered by NYCHA and HPD, and exclude the more than 7,000 vouchers administered by DHCR. For more detail on the number of vouchers by type and administering agency, please see Table 1 in the appendix.
  19. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. (n.d.). Housing Choice Vouchers Fact Sheet. Retrieved from: https://www.hud.gov/topics/housing_choice_voucher_program_section_8.
  20. Nationally, the real median income of voucher households declined over the same period from $14,505 to $13,746.
  21. Due to data limitations, the national averages for tenant payments and government subsidies exclude voucher holders in PHAs participating in Moving to Work demonstrations. This is about 12.6% of voucher holders nationwide.
  22. We calculate rent burdens based on a household’s total income. HUD makes some adjustments to gross income in setting each household’s rent payment.
  23. Furman Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau Housing Vacancy Survey, (2021).
  24. Rosen, E., Garboden, P. M. E., & Cossyleon, J. E. (2021). Racial Discrimination in Housing: How Landlords Use Algorithms and Home Visits to Screen Tenants. American Sociological Review, 86(5), 787-822. https://doi.org/10.1177/00031224211029618
  25. Desmond, M., & Gershenson, C. (2016). Who Gets Evicted? Assessing Individual, Neighborhood, and Network Factors. Social Science Research, 57, 274-286. Retrieved from https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/mdesmond/files/desmondgershenson.ssr_.2016.pdf
  26. The filing rate for HPD or NYCHA voucher units is calculated as total filings against HPD or NYCHA voucher households in 2022 divided by total units occupied by an HPD or NYCHA voucher household for at least one day in 2022. The filing rate for other rental units is calculated as [total filings - public housing filings - HPD and NYCHA voucher filings] / [total rental units (non-single family, non- co-op/condo, non-public housing) - total HPD and NYCHA voucher occupied units].
  27. Further analysis of eviction filing rates in public housing available here: Ellen, I. G., Lochhead, E., & O’Regan, K. (2024). Eviction Practices in Subsidized Housing: Evidence From New York State. Cityscape, 26(1), 261-285. Retrieved from https://www.huduser.gov/portal/periodicals/cityscape/vol26num1/article13.html
  28. Eviction cases can take months to reach the stage where a warrant is ordered, and considerably longer since the pandemic. For this reason, we estimate these rates in 2019 (prior to the pandemic) to allow enough time after the filing to observe any ordered or executed warrants. We calculate warrant rates by the year the eviction case was originally filed, even if the warrant was not ultimately ordered or executed until a later year.
  29. 1.3 percent of the HCV households in our analysis live in NYCHA public housing that went through a mixed financing “federalization” process in 2010. Federalization involved NYCHA transferring ownership of 21 public housing developments to limited liability companies, where NYCHA remained the managing member, to qualify these developments for federal subsidies. This move, enabled by the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009, aimed to secure over $400 million in funding for renovations while ensuring the properties remained public housing with all tenant rights and protections preserved. Because they still operate mostly as public housing, these households are dropped from the analysis in Sections C and D. For more information on federalization developments, see https://www.nyc.gov/assets/nycha/downloads/pdf/j10mare.pdf and https://www.nyc.gov/site/nycha/about/press/pr-2012/nycha-announces-receipt-of-44-million-in-low-income-housing-tax-cr-equity.page.
  30. New York City Department of Housing Preservation & Development. (n.d.). Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program Administrative Plan. Retrieved from https://www.nyc.gov/assets/hpd/downloads/pdfs/services/administrative-plan.pdf
  31. Tables 3 and 4 categorize properties into exclusive categories based on their subsidies. Properties that fall into multiple categories are placed into the category listed highest in the table.
  32. While the median property sizes are smaller, the scale of difference between all properties and HPD voucher holders only widens (median size for all properties: 3.5 units, for HPD: 21.5 units, and for NYCHA: 11.5 units).
  33. In an effort to understand differences in newer housing code violation counts, we examined the annualized rate of new serious code violations in 2022 and 2023. Unfortunately, our data does not include violations that were opened and then closed in 2022 and 2023.
  34. Note: voucher households with incorrect addresses are removed from the analysis sections B and D.
  35. Tract-level school proficiency rates are calculated using the estimated number of students who are proficient divided by the estimated number of students tested in each census tract. This estimation is based on the share of the school attendance district's land area that falls within the census tracts.
  36. NYCHA public housing households are very spatially concentrated because of the nature of the place-based subsidy and the size of the developments. 82 percent of the total public housing households live in five percent of the tracts with the most public housing households. In 49 census tracts (roughly 2.1 percent of the tracts in NYC) more than half of the households are public housing households.
  37. In this section, the poverty definition used in the analysis is different from the one in the last section because of data availability. In the previous section, the analysis uses the Federal Poverty Line as the measurement for each household, and this section uses the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS): Poverty Status in the Past 12 Months of Families by Household Type by Tenure indicators to proxy poor renter households at the neighborhood level. For more information about the poverty status determination in the ACS data products, please see: U.S. Census Bureau. (n.d.). How the Census Bureau Measures Poverty. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/topics/income-poverty/poverty/guidance/poverty-measures.html
  38. For more information on how success rates and search times are calculated, please see U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. (2023). Using HUD Administrative Data to Estimate Success Rates and Search Durations for New Voucher Recipients. Retrieved from https://www.huduser.gov/portal/publications/Using-HUD-Administrative-Data-to-Estimate-Success-Rates.html
  39. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. (n.d.) Emergency Housing Vouchers. Retrieved from https://www.hud.gov/ehv
  40. The number of households with children is imputed with household size and gender of household head. We consider households with more than 2 members or 2 person households with a female head to be households with children.
  41. Anthos. (n.d.). About Page. Retrieved from https://www.anthoshome.org/about
  42. Fair Housing Justice Center. (n.d.) Our Work. Retrieved from https://fairhousingjustice.org/our-work/fair-housing-testing-investigations/
  43. New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development. (n.d.). Housing Choice. Retrieved from https://www.nyc.gov/site/hpd/services-and-information/housing-choice.page.
  44. Housing Rights Initiative. (n.d.). Fair Housing in the United States. Retrieved from https://www.housingrightsus.org/fair-housing
  45. Unlock NYC. (n.d.). Unlock Your Next Home. Retrieved from https://weunlock.nyc/
  46. In its 2025 funding request, HUD requested permission to allow PHAs to devote more funds towards housing search assistance. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. (n.d.). 2025 Budget in Brief. Retrieved from: https://www.hud.gov/sites/dfiles/CFO/documents/2025_Budget_in_Brief_Final_v3_3-8-24.pdf.
  47. Been, Vicki and Ellen, Ingrid Gould and O'Regan, Katherine M., Supply Skepticism Revisited (November 10, 2023). NYU Law and Economics Research Paper No. 24-12, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4629628 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4629628