Panel Paper: The Housing Choice Voucher Program and Proximity to Jobs

Thursday, November 2, 2017
Wright (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Michael Lens, University of California, Los Angeles, Kirk McClure, University of Kansas and Brent Mast, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

The Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program is the primary way that United States governments deliver housing subsidies to very low-income renters in the United States, serving over 2 million families per year. Given the high levels of segregation by income and race in U.S. metropolitan areas, a goal of the voucher program is to improve neighborhood opportunity for participants through the enhanced choice that households are able to make. This paper focuses in-depth on spatial mismatch among HCV recipients, using a confidential, longitudinal, household-level dataset from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). These data permit examination of HCV households in and out of the workforce and comparisons between those who are and are not employed.

We append these data to block group-level information on jobs and calculate job accessibility estimates for block groups using a distance decay function. Using these data, we ask: when households receive vouchers, do they use the voucher to move to more job accessible areas? If so, are such locations associated with an increased probability of working? We also compare job proximity and employment outcomes based on the race and gender of the household head, and compare households with and without children, to better understand the importance of these household characteristics.

Our preliminary analyses suggest that employed HCV households are only slightly more likely to live in closer proximity to job opportunities. They are, however, less concentrated among the low-skilled unemployed that serve as their competition for work. This is evidence that employed HCV make trade-offs – they use their earned income to live in areas with fewer unemployed households rather than live closer to employment.

The bigger differences are demographic – whites are less proximate to jobs, but black and Hispanic households are more concentrated among the low-skilled unemployed. Male-headed households are more spatially proximate to job opportunities than female-headed households. These preliminary findings suggest that much more can be done to assist HCV households in the workforce to locate closer to employment.