Urban Research Monitor
Tenant-Based Mobility Programs

"Vouchering Out Distressed Subsidized Developments" analyzes tenant relocation behavior in connection with four federally funded housing developments closed by HUD in the mid-1990s. In each case, HUD gave the tenants vouchers they could use for new housing, with a goal of moving the tenants out of the properties and into better housing and neighborhood conditions as quickly and efficiently as possible. Unlike the Gautreaux program, no restrictions were placed on where tenants could relocate, nor was mobility counseling emphasized. Tenants were offered relocation counseling sessions but not required to take advantage of them. Voucher recipients also were expected to search for housing on their own.

Varady and Walker found that most of the voucher recipients made short-distance moves "within the predominantly black or racially changing corridors of their metro areas." The percentage of black population around the housing projects dropped only marginally after the vouchering out. Not surprisingly, housing supply influenced how far voucher recipients moved. For example, participants living in San Francisco—the tightest housing market—moved the farthest.

Despite the short distances involved in many of the moves, most voucher recipients said that moving had improved their situations. Voucher recipients not only were happier with their new homes but also felt much safer because of the more restricted entryways, more vigilant neighbors, and better police protection in their new neighborhoods.

The authors found, however, that the movers had weak attachments to their new homes—even among those who said they were satisfied. More than one-half reported that they would like to move again if they could. Some families said that they did not have enough time to find the "just right" unit and had to settle for something less. Others said that they want to conduct a more thorough housing search for a larger home, a single-family house, or a place with more amenities. This attitude, Varady and Walker conclude, did not represent a failure on the part of the vouchering-out process but rather illustrated that many voucher recipients viewed their new homes as stepping stones to something even better.

Varady and Walker questioned how short moves could improve housing conditions for so many of the movers. They found that consistently poor living conditions caused almost any move to be more desirable. In addition, the authors contend that demolishing the buildings improved the neighborhoods in which these families had lived. They also suggest that, although the developments were bad places in which to live, the surrounding neighborhoods were not uniformly as undesirable. Finally, staying near friends and relatives and close to good public transportation affected participants' moving decisions.

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