Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: Do Housing Vouchers Improve Academic Performance? Evidence from New York City

Friday, November 13, 2015 : 2:30 PM
Ibis (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Amy Ellen Schwartz1, Ingrid Gould Ellen2, Keren Horn3 and Sarah Cordes2, (1)Syracuse University, (2)New York University, (3)University of Massachusetts, Boston
Historically, housing and education have been inextricably linked in the United States, with access to high quality schools often limited to middle and upper income families while poor children and households are “stuck” living in poor neighborhoods with low quality schools. Housing subsidies potentially play an important role in addressing this inequality. Specifically, the Housing Choice Voucher program, which allows low-income families to choose and lease units in neighborhoods they otherwise might not be able to afford, currently serves over 2 million households, and over 2.5 million children under the age of eighteen. In this paper we seek to shed light on whether – and to what extent -- this large national program improves educational outcomes for children whose families receive housing vouchers. 

There are several reasons to believe that housing vouchers will improve educational outcomes. First, because vouchers are portable housing subsidies, they may provide poor children with access to safer neighborhoods and higher performing schools.  Second, they may provide children with access to higher-quality and less crowded homes.  Third, because the primary feature of the housing voucher program is that it caps individual rent payments, households receiving these subsidies may pay less in rent and enjoy an effective increase in income.  As a result, parents in voucher households may have more income to spend on items such as school supplies and books, thereby improving student performance.  Alternatively, parents may work less, increasing time they spend with their children or resulting in lower levels of stress.  Finally, housing subsidies might increase housing stability over the longer run, helping families and children avoid potential disruptive effects of moving to new schools and communities. 

Using data on the largest school district in the country, New York City, we match over 88,000 voucher families to public school records and follow their schooling and residential experiences. To identify the causal effects of vouchers, we use a difference-in-differences strategy, exploiting the random timing of voucher receipt to compare changes in outcomes of students whose families receive a housing voucher to changes in outcomes of students whose families will receive one in the future. We then compare changes in outcomes among children whose families receive vouchers to changes experienced by children whose families receive other forms of housing assistance, specifically those who live in public housing.  Preliminary results suggest that students in voucher households perform slightly better in both ELA and math in the years that they are in the program. We also find that students in voucher households perform better than their peers in public housing, suggesting that portable subsidies, such as vouchers, may be more effective at improving outcomes for children than place-based subsidies such as public housing.