Panel Paper: Do Housing Vouchers Break the Link Between Poverty and Poor Schools?

Thursday, November 8, 2012 : 3:00 PM
Pratt A (Sheraton Baltimore City Center Hotel)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Ingrid Gould Ellen, Keren Horn and Amy Schwartz, New York University

The housing voucher program was created, in part, to help low income households reach a broader range of neighborhoods and schools.  Rather than concentrating low income households in poor neighborhoods, as has been the case historically with Public Housing, housing vouchers allow families to choose where they want to utilize the subsidy, and therefore may enable low income families to find neighborhoods with better performing schools.  The hope is that better schools and neighborhoods will ultimately lead to improved educational outcomes for children, potentially providing a pathway out of poverty.  In this project we explore whether low income households use housing vouchers in neighborhoods with higher performing schools.  Unlike previous experimental work, which has focused on a small sample of housing voucher holders, we take a broad, national look at this question.  First we examine whether children of voucher holders live near better schools than do other low income households.  Relying on the internal HUD Assisted Households database, we link each housing voucher holder to the closest elementary school within its school district, through point-to-point distance measurement.  We focus on elementary schools, as households are typically able to send children to their zoned elementary school, whereas they can often choose from a wider range of public middle and high schools, particularly in urban school districts.  We compare the quality of the schools that housing voucher holders are likely to attend to the quality of those accessible to other households receiving place based housing subsidies and other similar households within the same state or metropolitan area.  These comparisons provide us with some sense of the schools that children might have attended absent HUD assistance.  To further test whether housing vouchers have the potential to break the link between poverty and poor schools, we examine whether metropolitan areas where housing vouchers have greater penetration also exhibit a weaker link between poverty and low performing schools.