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The goal of Cityscape is to bring high-quality original research on housing and community development issues to scholars, government officials, and practitioners. Cityscape is open to all relevant disciplines, including architecture, consumer research, demography, economics, engineering, ethnography, finance, geography, law, planning, political science, public policy, regional science, sociology, statistics, and urban studies.

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  • Small Area Fair Market Rents
  • Volume 21 Number 3
  • Managing Editor: Mark D. Shroder
  • Associate Editor: Michelle P. Matuga

Does HUD Overpay for Voucher Units, and Will SAFMRs Reduce the Overpayment?

Edgar O. Olsen
University of Virginia

One argument for Small Area Fair Market Rents (SAFMRs) is that they would reduce overpayment for voucher units in low-rent neighborhoods. This leads to the belief that the benefits of SAFMRs can be funded largely by reductions in landlord profits rather than by losses to voucher recipients who remain in low-rent areas. The usual theoretical argument that has led many to believe that voucher units are overpriced focuses on one implication of one feature of the Housing Choice Voucher program. This article provides a more comprehensive theoretical analysis that leads to the conclusion that the worst voucher units and those in the worst neighborhoods will usually rent for more than the mean market rent of identical units, and the best units in the best neighborhoods will rent for less than this amount. The debate over this matter has ignored the bulk of the available evidence. This article summarizes and assesses the data, methods, and results of the major studies. The evidence is consistent with the general pattern predicted by the comprehensive theoretical analysis but also with an alternative explanation that challenges its interpretation of overpayments and underpayments for voucher units. The mix of units with estimated overpayments and underpayments varies across studies, but the weight of the evidence is that the aggregate differences are modest. Finally, the evidence available indicates that SAFMRs will decrease the rents paid for voucher units with any specified set of characteristics in the worst neighborhoods and will increase the rents of such units in the best neighborhoods.

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