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Promoting Housing Choice in HUD's Rental Assistance Programs, 1995


Report Acceptance Date: April 1995 (99 pages)

Posted Date: May 20, 1995

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For some poor families, the most promising path toward economic self-sufficiency is to move from distressed, high-poverty neighborhoods to areas that offer better educational and employment opportunities. Promoting Housing Choice in HUD's Rental Assistance Programs, a new report from HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research, explores evidence concerning the extent to which this path to opportunity is open to families that receive tenant-based Section 8 certificates and vouchers. It also examines the performance and potential of residential mobility programs in helping rental assistance recipients overcome barriers to housing choice.

Promoting Housing Choice provides the first empirical evidence that Section 8 recipients are less likely than public housing residents to be concentrated in distressed urban neighborhoods. However, HUD's analysis of tract-level data from four metropolitan areas (Seattle, Oklahoma City, Washington, D.C., and Wilmington, Delaware) also suggests that many rental assistance beneficiaries -- particularly African Americans -- remain concentrated in relatively poor and/or racially segregated areas. The report reviews the limited research literature on three categories of potential impediments to greater dispersion of rental assistance households. These impediments are related to:

  • Operation of the metropolitan housing market.

  • Accessibility of and information about rental housing opportunities.

  • Structure and administration of rental assistance programs within metropolitan areas.

One promising strategy for overcoming such barriers is found in the residential mobility programs implemented in several metropolitan areas over the past two decades, usually as part of a court-ordered public housing desegregation remedy. Mobility programs supplement tenant-based rental assistance with a variety of additional services, which typically include outreach to landlords in nontraditional markets, housing search counseling, and employment and transportation assistance.

Promoting Housing Choice presents information on the history, design, procedures, and results of mobility programs in Chicago, Boston, Cincinnati, Dallas, Memphis, Las Vegas, Hartford, and Yonkers, New York. Using locally available data, it finds that mobility programs have enjoyed considerable success in enabling recipients to move to less segregated areas, although it is not yet possible to determine which program elements are most critical to this success. For example, existing data do not yet make it possible to distinguish the effects of housing counseling and landlord outreach from the underlying restrictions many programs place on the use of rental assistance in high-minority neighborhoods.

The report probes the impacts of integrative moves on low-income rental assistance recipients through a discussion of research conducted on well-established mobility programs in Chicago and Cincinnati. Chicago's Gautreaux program, which has accounted for approximately half of the 11,000 households already assisted through mobility programs nationwide, has provided the most insight into the efficacy of the housing mobility concept to date. Research conducted by Professor James Rosenbaum and his colleagues has found that:

  • Rental assistance recipients who moved to suburban areas had somewhat higher employment rates than adults who moved to other urban locations.

  • Children of families that moved to the suburbs were more likely than children of city movers to succeed in school, go to college, or find full-time jobs after graduating from high school.

  • Families moving to suburban locations reported surprisingly few incidents of racial harassment and a high overall level of satisfaction with their new environments.


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