Housing a Nation: Housing Choice Vouchers

Research & Policy | August 24th 2017

City Street with text Policy Minute


The Housing a Nation Policy Minute series summarizes timely research on the largest federal subsidies for the development and preservation of affordable housing. This series sheds light on how these subsidies operate in jurisdictions across the U.S. This week we focus on the nation’s Housing Choice Voucher program, a rental subsidy that expands the rental options of low-income families by providing the opportunity to access market-rate units in a broad range of neighborhoods.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued a notification that it is suspending mandatory implementation of the Small Area Fair Market Rents (SAFMRs). Read HUD's letter >>



If empowered with the appropriate information and opportunities, more voucher families would move to better schools when their children reach school age. Why Don’t Housing Voucher Recipients Live Near Better Schools? Insights from Big Data, by Ingrid Gould Ellen, Keren Mertens Horn, and Amy Ellen Schwartz, uses administrative data from 15 states to explore why voucher households are not reaching higher-performing neighborhood schools than other households with similar incomes. They find that voucher holders do move towards better schools, when those schools become salient to them. In particular, families are more likely to move closer to 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 in the same neighborhood, or in close proximity, to high-performing schools. Read more >>

Small Area Fair Market Rents (SAFMRs) allow voucher recipients to live in higher quality housing and neighborhoods with less poverty and crime. How Do Changes In Housing Voucher Design Affect Rent and Neighborhood Quality, by Robert A. Collinson and Peter Ganong, uses administrative data from housing authorities in Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas, to study how changes in voucher payment standards affect neighborhood poverty, unit quality, and rents. The authors first examine a policy that made vouchers more generous across a metro area, and found that “[t]his policy had no impact on neighborhood poverty, little impact on observed quality, and increased rents.” Second, the authors examine a policy that indexed rent ceilings to neighborhood rents. This policy led voucher recipients to move to higher quality neighborhoods with lower crime, poverty, and unemployment, at no additional cost to the government. Read more >>

An increase in households with vouchers does not cause an increase in crime. The NYU Furman Center’s policy brief released in March 2013, titled Investigating the Relationship Between Housing Voucher Use and Crime, examined a common assumption about the relationship between an influx of families with Housing Choice Vouchers (HCV) and neighborhood crime by examining neighborhood-level data on crime and voucher use in ten cities. This study finds “no evidence that an increase in households using vouchers results in increased crime in a neighborhood.” Instead, households with vouchers appear to settle in areas that already have high crime rates. Read more >>


The adoption of Small Area Fair Market Rents allows more voucher holders to move to higher-rent and higher-opportunity zip codes. In August 2017, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released the Small Area Fair Market Rent Demonstration Evaluation Interim Report (PDF), which highlights early findings from the SAFMR demonstration that included five public housing authorities (PHAs) in the states of Texas, New York, Tennessee, Illinois, and California. For the rental markets included in this study, SAFMRs reduced the absolute number of units available to voucher holders, but led to a more even distribution of rental options across high-rent and low-rent areas. Evaluators also found that among voucher holders who moved between 2010 and 2015, the share moving to higher-rent and higher-opportunity neighborhoods increased from 18 to 28 percent. Read more >>

The voucher program is fulfilling its primary purpose: to enable eligible individuals and families to afford decent, safe, and sanitary housing. Housing affordability and family well-being: Results from the housing choice voucher evaluation, by Michelle Wood, Jennifer Turnham, and Gregory Mills, summarizes the findings from “an experimental evaluation that examined the effects of housing assistance on low-income families eligible for or receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).” This analysis was based on a sample from six study sites in the states of Georgia, California, Texas, and Washington. The results suggest that housing vouchers significantly reduce homelessness and overcrowding. In addition, voucher households have higher rates of mobility and experience small improvements in neighborhood quality. Read more >>

Housing vouchers reduce labor supply to some degree in the short-run. The Effects of Housing Assistance on Labor Supply: Evidence from a Voucher Lottery, by Brian A. Jacob and Jens Ludwig, “estimates the effects of means-tested housing programs on labor supply using data from a randomized housing voucher wait-list lottery in Chicago.” The study finds that housing vouchers reduce labor force participation among working-age, able-bodied adults. Further, the authors find no empirical support that factors believed to promote work—such as neighborhood quality or residential stability—are important. Read more >>



The Dream Revisited: Making Vouchers More Mobile is the twentieth discussion in the NYU Furman Center's debate series on issues related to racial and economic segregation in neighborhoods and schools. The discussion examines the “benefits of defining fair market rents by zip code, to make it easier for families to move to higher-opportunity neighborhoods, and weighs potential unintended costs.” Read more >>
The Dream Revisited: Neighborhoods, Opportunities, and the Housing Choice Voucher Program, the eighth discussion in the series, explores “how the federal Housing Choice Voucher program can most effectively improve social, educational, and economic opportunities for voucher recipients.” Read more >>


READ: Housing Vouchers Work - A Blog Series That Provides the Latest Facts and Figures About The Housing Choice Voucher Program (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)

READ: What Do We Know About Housing Choice Vouchers? (Ingrid Gould Ellen)


THIS WEEK:  U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) suspends mandatory implementation of Small Area Fair Market Rents (FMRs) (National Low Income Housing Coalition, August 11, 2017)

LISTEN: Section 8 Vouchers Help The Poor – But Only If Housing Is Available (Laura Sullivan and Meg Anderson; NPR.org; May 2017)

LISTEN: Section 8 Housing: ‘We All Deserve the Right Thing’ (Cindy Rodriguez and the WNYC Data News Team, WNYC.org; May 16, 2016)

READ: The Big Change That Could Help Poor People Afford Wealthier Neighborhoods (Emily Badger; The Washington Post; June 17, 2016)

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