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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.

Cityscape is published three times a year by the Office of Policy Development and Research (PD&R) of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

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

Aspects of the Housing Choice Voucher Program and the Impact of Small Area Fair Market Rents Ceilings: a British Perspective

Christine M. E. Whitehead
London School of Economics

This paper reviews three of the four symposium papers on the Small Area Fair Market Rents (SAFMRs) Demonstration Evaluation—those by Dastrup, Ellen, and Finkel; Geyer, Dastrup, and Finkel; and McClure and Schwartz. These are all based on the very detailed data made available by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to enable initial evaluation of this initiative. Together, these articles provide impressive, detailed approaches to different aspects of the program: the experience of family households in the areas where SAFMRs have been introduced as compared with metropolitan-wide fair market rents (FMRs); the importance of race in determining who may or may not be expected to benefit from the initiative; and the evidence on whether the introduction of SAFMR has affected how long people stay in the voucher programme. Taken together the findings reflect three main issues:

  1. how even extensive datasets, while producing interesting results, can only cover some aspects of a full evaluation;
  2. all the initial findings are mainly about what would normally be called outputs—that is, what has happened as a result of the initiative, rather than outcomes—which, to the extent that the objectives of the policy are clear, must be about the impact on the welfare of those affected, both in terms of housing and opportunity; and
  3. whether, especially given the extent of locational segregation (between income groups as well as race and other household attributes), such an approach can be expected to generate significant changes in household decisions and outcomes.

Importantly, there is also no discussion of value for money from the point of view of government, which is often (usually) a major objective of such evaluations. Rather, success appears to be based on ensuring the money made available is used and used for the intended purposes.

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