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HUD’s Housing Choice Voucher Administrative Fee Study: A Study in Collaboration

Message From PD&R Senior Leadership
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HUD’s Housing Choice Voucher Administrative Fee Study: A Study in Collaboration

To support the Housing Choice Voucher Administrative Fee Study, PD&R economists provided critical data and feedback on implementation, and policy development staff offered guidance on important policy considerations.
Pictured from left to right: Mark D. Shroder, Associate Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Research, Evaluation, and Monitoring, Todd M. Richardson, Associate Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Policy Development, and Kurt G. Usowski, Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Economic Affairs.

The best research, and the best policy, happens when the researchers, policymakers, and practitioners talk to each other. HUD’s recently released Housing Choice Voucher Program Administrative Fee Study is an incredibly rich example of just this type of quality research.

The study asks and answers two questions we have had since the mid-1970s: how much should HUD be compensating the more than 2,300 public housing agencies (PHAs) to administer 2.1 million housing choice vouchers, and what are the cost drivers that HUD should use in a formula to fairly distribute those resources?

The study provides rich data that will be useful for years. In addition to answering the big questions noted above, it has other powerful data, including random motion sampling data that captured how much time line staff at 60 PHAs spent on different activities, such as conducting housing quality inspections or recertifying a tenant’s income. The study also has a survey of small PHAs to understand exactly how they can operate with relatively little funding, and it looks at PHA costs to run Family Self-Sufficiency programs.

Lifting the hood on this study to see how it came to be reveals a rich collaboration:

  1. A program office with an important policy question. The study was initiated when the Office of Public and Indian Housing (PIH) asked the Office of Policy Development and Research (PD&R) to do this study in 2008. PIH provided funding to start the research. Thus was born an 8-year partnership on this research project. Throughout the study — from design and implementation to the final report and policy development — PIH has been in the conversation about the study. No one has been more important than the staff who manage the daily work of the program, serving as critical, and frequent, resources as we worked through the complexities of a national program that is more than 40 years old.

  2. A Congress skeptical of HUD’s current policy and very supportive of the research. The old formula has not been fully funded for many years. Budget pressures are certainly a contributor, but congressional staff have been clear that a lack of evidence on how much it truly costs to run the program has also impacted funding levels. In its 2014 appropriation report language, Congress explicitly requested that preliminary results be reported before the study was complete.

  3. A research and policy office willing to experiment with different methods to find the best method to answer the question. Within PD&R, this study reflected collaboration among research staff, economists, and policy development staff. Each office worked with HUD’s project lead, Marina Myhre, and the research contractor, providing their expertise every step of the way. The PD&R research staff managed the contract and enforced the need for study rigor, the economists provided critical data and feedback on implementation, and policy development staff offered guidance on important policy issues to be considered and discussed in the research.

  4. An industry — including PHAs, advocates for PHAs, and advocates for low-income housing — willing to help provide critical feedback. The study had an Expert and Industry Technical Review Group, including representatives from the three major PHA advocacy groups and a diverse set of PHA leaders, who agreed to maintain study confidentiality in order to provide critical feedback throughout the study, challenging the research team’s assumptions and reminding the team about program rules and outside factors that would impact the research.

  5. A research team that is both (i) deeply knowledgeable about how housing vouchers are administered and (ii) committed to study rigor. This depth of knowledge and commitment to rigor by the Abt Associates team – a team that included Phineas Consulting, Urlaub Consulting, RSG, and Quadel Consulting - was essential to making the rest of the collaboration effective. It allowed the research team to confidently listen to critical feedback, take the comments that made the study a better study, while rejecting those that were not supported by the research.

  6. PHAs and PHA staff willing to participate in the study. Few research studies are possible without the active cooperation of those being studied. And this study demanded a lot. We asked PHA staff to respond to a buzzing smartphone at random points during their workday over an 8-week period to tell us what they were doing. At the 60 PHAs, 909 staff responded to 581,000 notification requests. The 60 PHAs also provided the research team with extensive financial records detailing their back-office administrative costs. In addition, 130 small PHAs with less than 250 vouchers under lease were surveyed about their administrative costs.

The research is done, but the policy work is just beginning. And our policy approach, like the research approach, is one of collaboration. PIH and PD&R are requesting comment on the research study and policy recommendations through a Notice for Information. We are also providing a tool so PHAs and others can see the impact of the recommended policy change on individual PHA funding levels, including the data that the study used to calculate the proposed funding levels. We look forward to the comments from industry, PHAs, and the public as we move this terrific research toward a workable policy.

The focus throughout is on 9 percent credits, which are allocated competitively.



See citations in "The Effect of QAP Incentives on the Location of LIHTC Properties."


There has been limited work that examines siting and the QCT basis boost, but not priorities for QCTs.