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Expanding Housing Choices for HUD-Assisted Families


Report Acceptance Date: March 1996

Posted Date: March 30, 1996

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The MTO demonstration provides an opportunity for residents of public and assisted housing projects to move to better neighborhoods. What types of families pursue such an opportunity? What motivates them to leave the subsidized projects in which they live? The average MTO applicant is an African American or Hispanic woman, 37 years old, with two children (see Exhibit 2). Almost one in five MTO families have some employment income, and two thirds receive Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC).

MTO applicants may be slightly older and appear somewhat more likely to be working than other families in the projects where they live, based on comparisons of Baltimore MTO applicants to other MTO-eligible residents of their projects. Preliminary data show that almost one in four MTO applicants in Baltimore was working, compared to only 13 percent of non-applicants. However, statistical analysis of these differences suggests that they are very weak predictors of who will choose to participate in MTO.

Although MTO applicants are very much like their neighbors in terms of demographic and socio-economic attributes, they do appear to differ in one important respect -- fear of crime. Baseline survey data indicate that crime victimization rates among MTO applicants are dramatically higher than among public housing residents generally. Nearly half of MTO applicants (47.8 percent) said that they had been a victim of crime within the last six months. In contrast, a recent HUD survey found that only 5.4 percent of residents in the largest PHAs reported being crime victims in the last six months. In New York City, only 5.9 percent of all public housing residents interviewed reported being crime victims in the last six months, compared to 47.7 percent of MTO applicants.

The fear of crime, and more significantly the experience of crime, appears to be a major factor in families' decisions to participate in the MTO demonstration. When asked why they wanted to move away from the projects in which they live, the vast majority of MTO applicants cited the fear of crime, gangs, and drugs. Exhibit 3 summarizes families' primary and secondary reasons for applying to participate in the MTO demonstration. More than half (54.8 percent) listed crime as their primary reason, and another 30.8 percent listed it as their secondary reason.

Better housing conditions and better schools are also important reasons why families choose to participate in the MTO demonstration. More than half of the applicants (57.3 percent) said that moving to a better house or apartment was either their first or second reason for applying, and 39.3 percent said that they wanted better schools for their children. Only 6.5 percent of MTO applicants said that a job-related concern was their primary or secondary reason for moving. Thus, the forces "pushing" families out of inner-city projects appear to be at least as important as the incentives "pulling" them toward low-poverty neighborhoods.

Fear of Crime is the Main Reason Families Apply to MTO

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