Panel: The Housing Subsidy Platform and Beneficiary Outcomes: Strategies, Innovation, and Evidence
(Housing and Community Development)

Saturday, November 8, 2014: 10:15 AM-11:45 AM
Tesuque (Convention Center)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Panel Organizers:  Nandita Verma, MDRC
Panel Chairs:  Kate Dempsey, NYC Center for Economic Opportunity
Discussants:  Martha Galvez, The Urban Institute

Lists and Lotteries: Rationing in the Housing Choice Voucher Program
M. Kathleen Moore, University of Washington

Housing Vouchers As Instruments of Public School Choice: Evidence from Wisconsin
Deven Carlson1, Barbara Wolfe2, Thomas Kaplan3 and Robert Haveman2, (1)University of Oklahoma, (2)University of Wisconsin – Madison, (3)University of Wisconsin, Madison

A broad public policy interest exists in finding more effective ways to use the housing subsidy system as a “platform” for helping its current beneficiaries make big strides toward self-sufficiency and family well-being, freeing up non-entitlement housing subsidy resources for other high-need families, and reducing multi-year per-person safety net costs overall. Recipients of housing assistance, however, typically struggle in the labor market. Their employment challenges partly reflect their human capital limitations, situational problems, and other impediments to work. In addition, many experts believe that the rules that determine tenants’ rents and, consequently, their subsidies, discourage them from working or advancing as much as they could, out of fear of losing their subsidies entirely or having them reduced if their incomes were to grow. For Housing Voucher Recipients, HUD’s Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program is the main tool to promote work and economic self-sufficiency. It combines case management with an “escrow savings” feature, in part, to counter the potential disincentive to work. FSS operates within the existing rent structure but another strategy would be to directly alter rent rules to test whether different rules yield better results. Until recently this has not been tested. The panel proposed here will examine the housing platform from a few different but related perspectives. It will describe the educational benefits for children in households receiving housing vouchers, underscoring the value of its “mobility” dimension. The paper will present evidence that the receipt of a housing voucher leads to movement into areas with higher quality public schools and promotes longer-term residential stability, both potentially benefiting children in the household. It then turns to the question of how to more efficiently distribute that aid to needy families. The paper by Kathleen Moore examines the processes by which housing choice vouchers are initially allocated using insights from queuing theory to evaluate them. This analysis may contribute to a more efficient and equitable allocation process. The third paper will present longer-term results from Opportunity NYC-Work Rewards, the first random assignment test of FSS. The paper will update early findings and also show results from a more comprehensive assessment of FSS’ effects on earnings, employment, and dimensions of family well-being. This paper will also discuss the newly launched national FSS evaluation. Finally, it will describe the newly commissioned, HUD-funded, randomized controlled study testing the effectiveness of an alternative rent policy on voucher holders’ employment, earnings and other outcomes. The paper will describe the alternative rent policy and the key policy goals, which include features to that may help tenants increase their earnings and become self-sufficient more quickly and by reduce administrative costs for public housing authorities, thus freeing up resources for additional vouchers. The study discussants (confirmation pending) will critique the studies and their findings and comment on their policy relevance. In particular, they will draw lessons for strengthening federal interventions in the future, and for other policy reforms that might improve self-sufficiency outcomes for voucher holders.
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