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Evaluating Post-Exit Outcomes for HUD-Assisted Households


Keywords: Research, Data, HUD-assisted households, Public Housing, Project-based vouchers, Housing Choice Voucher, HUD HEARS Study, Youth, Homelessness, Demographics

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Evaluating Post-Exit Outcomes for HUD-Assisted Households

Housing and Urban Development Health, Economic, and Residential Stability (HUD HEARS) Study

HUD provides housing for low- and moderate-income residents through programs such as public housing, project-based vouchers (PBVs), and housing choice vouchers (HCVs). A study published in Cityscape in 2018, found that, between 1995 and 2015, an average of 14 to 18 percent of households left these three programs each year. Residents move out of their HUD-assisted homes for both positive reasons (such as earning enough to purchase a home) and negative reasons (such as being evicted for lease violations). Regardless of the reason these families leave assisted housing, limited research exists on the long-term outcomes of these “exiters” after they leave.

In 2020, HUD’s Office of Policy Development and Research (PD&R) announced funding for research examining how households fare after exiting a HUD program. This research was intended to help HUD and housing providers identify ways to support those who exit for positive reasons and improve households’ long-term outcomes after they exit. The Housing and Urban Development Health, Economic, and Residential Stability (HUD HEARS) Study, which released its final report in January 2024, explored why people exit, what factors are associated with exiting, and what happens to families after they exit. The second study, Examining the Housing and Neighborhood Trajectories for Former HUD-Assisted Households With Children, which released a report the following month, examined housing stability and neighborhood attainment among exiters in the public housing and HCV programs.


The HUD HEARS Study, conducted by the Seattle-King County Department of Health in collaboration with the Seattle Housing Authority and the King County Housing Authority, studied the factors leading up to HUD exits and the outcomes associated with those exits. Specifically, the study sought to answer three questions:

  • What constitutes a positive or negative exit from HUD-assisted housing?

  • What factors contribute to positive, negative, and neutral exits from HUD-assisted housing?

  • Is a positive exit associated with better post-exit outcomes than a negative exit?

The research team classified households by the reason for the exit. Buying a home, moving to nonsubsidized rentals, or increasing household income were considered positive reasons for exits, whereas exits because of evictions, lease violations, or criminal activity were considered negative reasons. Reasons for exiting subsidized housing that could not be easily categorized, such as moving in with a family or friend, were considered neutral. In their survey of nearly 8,300 heads of households that exited HUD-assisted housing in King County, the researchers classified 13.5 percent of exits as positive, 31.6 percent as negative, and 54.9 percent as neutral.

The researchers analyzed demographic and other factors associated with households exiting HUD-assisted housing. Households living in units supported by PBVs were more likely to leave HUD-assisted housing than those receiving HCVs or living in public housing. Male-headed households were slightly more likely to exit than female-headed households. Having recently experienced homelessness or a behavioral health crisis was also associated with increased odds of exit. Conversely, households with a single caregiver or a resident with a disability were less likely to leave HUD-assisted housing. In addition, Black, Hispanic, and Native American households were more likely to have a negative exit than White and Asian households, although less racial differentiation existed for positive exits. Meanwhile, single-caregiver households and those headed by individuals who have a disability or recently visited the emergency room were more likely to have a negative exit than other HUD-assisted households.

Examining the Housing and Neighborhood Trajectories for Former HUD-Assisted Households with Children

The researchers then examined the outcomes within a year after exit of households by exit type. Approximately 3 percent of people with positive exits had experienced homelessness, compared with approximately 14 percent of those with neutral exits and approximately 25 percent of those with negative exits. After controlling for demographic variables, the study concluded that people with positive exits were 82 percent less likely to experience homelessness than those with neutral exits, whereas people with negative exits were 74 percent more likely to experience homelessness than those with neutral exits. The researchers also found that people with positive exits were 26 percent less likely to have one or more emergency room visits than those with negative or neutral exits. Those with negative exits also were 110 percent more likely to experience a behavioral health crisis. The researchers did not find that exit type had a significant impact on hospitalizations. Furthermore, those experiencing positive exits from assisted housing had significantly higher median wage earnings than those experiencing negative exits.

The report emphasized the importance of supporting positive exits, because they result in significantly better outcomes than negative or even neutral exits. Because the research shows that having experienced previous episodes of homelessness is a risk factor for negative exits, the researchers underscored the importance of programs that support families transitioning out of homelessness. They also concluded that those experiencing negative exits need additional wraparound services to reduce their risk of experiencing homelessness. Meanwhile, the researchers suggested that households experiencing positive exits might still require support services. Although median wages increased among positive exiters, the increase was insufficient to afford the average rent in the Seattle area.

Housing and Neighborhood Trajectories for Former HUD-Assisted Households With Children

Like the King County study, this University of California, Berkeley report studied the outcomes of households who leave HUD-assisted housing, focusing on families with children. Unlike the HUD HEARS Study, however, this study compared outcomes for those living in traditional public housing with those using HCVs and excludes households participating in other programs such as the PBV program. The study explored three questions:

  • How do neighborhood attainment trajectories compare for households that remain in HUD-assisted housing and those that exited?

  • What are the odds that a household will transition to homeownership after exiting HUD-assisted housing?

  • What household characteristics are associated with increased stability for households that exit HUD-assisted housing?

Taking advantage of a unique dataset that matches HUD administrative data on households with a longitudinal sample of household residential addresses from the consumer data provider Data Axle, the researchers were able to study the moves of HUD-assisted houses after they left the program. The researchers matched data for nearly 44,000 households across 14 metropolitan areas.

Noting that previous research shows that moving to lower-poverty neighborhoods has measurable benefits for residents, particularly children, the report examined the characteristics of the neighborhoods where exiters moved. The research team used American Community Survey 5-Year estimates to compare the neighborhood poverty rates of those who left HUD-assisted housing with those who remained. The study found that, on average, those who left public housing moved to neighborhoods with lower poverty rates, and those who left the HCV program saw no noticeable reduction in the poverty rates of their new neighborhoods. However, because people with HCVs have more flexibility in where they live, they generally started in neighborhoods with lower poverty rates than those of people living in public housing; more than half of public housing residents lived in neighborhoods with a poverty rate of at least 30 percent. Although Black and Hispanic households exiting public housing experienced significant reductions in neighborhood poverty rates, they were more likely than White and Asian households to move to higher-poverty neighborhoods. On average, households headed by someone who is Black, Hispanic, or over age 50 as well as those with at least one member with a disability moved to a higher-poverty neighborhood than comparison groups regardless of program type. Moving to another metropolitan area was associated with significant reductions in neighborhood poverty rates.

The study also examined the likelihood that households exiting became homeowners. Approximately one in five of those sampled became homeowners in the year after exiting HUD-assisted housing, although the homeownership rate was slightly higher among those receiving HCVs than among those living in public housing. The researchers found that White and Asian households were more likely to become homeowners than Black or Hispanic households.

In addition, the researchers analyzed residential stability among exiters, noting that residential stability can have a notable influence on residents' physical and economic health and educational attainment. The study found that after exiting assisted housing, public housing residents were less likely to move than HCV residents. Households with higher incomes and longer tenures in HUD programs also were less likely to subsequently move.

These findings suggest that, compared with traditional public housing developments, which tend to be concentrated in lower-opportunity neighborhoods, HCVs are relatively successful at limiting residents' exposure to areas of extreme poverty, even if HCV recipients often do not settle in low-poverty neighborhoods. However, the small difference in neighborhood poverty rates between those exiting the HCV program and those remaining in it, coupled with the greater reductions in area poverty for exiters who left the metropolitan area, suggest that the rental market plays a vital role in shaping neighborhood outcomes for those with and without vouchers. The researchers indicated that this study suggests a need for greater financial or technical support for HCV recipients seeking to move to higher-opportunity areas. They also noted that reducing zoning restrictions on multifamily housing and strengthening enforcement of fair housing laws can make housing in higher-opportunity neighborhoods more attainable, especially considering the persistent disparities by race and other factors that the researchers observed. At the same time, the report's authors suggested that mobility strategies are neither practical nor preferable for all residents and that policymakers should encourage more place-based investments near public housing developments, which disproportionately are in neighborhoods with high concentrations of poverty.

Limitations and Areas for Future Research

The authors of both reports pointed out limitations to these studies and potential areas for further research. One limitation for both studies is that residents' moves often are not recorded in the year in which they happened, resulting in potentially inaccurate data. In addition, data mismatches, such as when trying to match similar names between databases, can occur. The researchers suggested that future studies should focus more on establishing linkages with administrative data than with proprietary consumer reference data and on using Social Security numbers to match datasets. They also suggested that additional linkages with Internal Revenue Service or Medicaid data might allow researchers to observe changes in income or household composition over time. To better facilitate further research, the reports' authors recommended creating a more standardized and comprehensive process for collecting exit information across public housing agencies (PHAs). HUD potentially could require PHAs to post the reason for a household's exit to help researchers differentiate between voluntary and involuntary moves. Working with select PHAs to collect longitudinal survey data would also allow for a richer analysis of voluntary and involuntary exiters. Future research could also further differentiate between local moves and regional moves and help researchers better understand whether residents moved to an adjacent census tract or relocated further away to escape poverty or pursue better job opportunities.

Filling a Research Gap

These reports help fill the gap in research that examines outcomes of assisted residents who leave HUD programs. By obtaining greater insight into the social and economic outcomes of exiters and their neighborhoods as well as the factors associated with certain outcomes, policymakers and PHAs will be better equipped to help support positive exits from assisted housing and reduce the risk of negative exits. Comparing resident outcomes by program also has broader implications for the design of HUD programs.

Published Date: 30 April 2024

This article was written by Sage Computing Inc, under contract with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The contents of this article are the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or the U.S. Government.