Panel Paper: Advancing Choice in the Housing Choice Voucher Program: Source of Income Protections, Usage Rates, and Locational Outcomes

Thursday, November 8, 2018
Coolidge - Mezz Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Katherine O'Regan and Ingrid Gould Ellen, New York University

The Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program is the largest source of federal rental assistance in the country. One of the key aims of tenant-based vouchers is to expand the housing (and neighborhood) choices of recipients. Yet two key criticisms of the voucher program relate directly to choice—namely that a sizable share of voucher recipients fail to successfully lease housing with their voucher, and that those who do, tend to be concentrated in a limited number of neighborhoods that are highly disadvantaged. Source of Income (SOI) protection laws are often lauded as a possible solution, but the existing empirical evidence suggests their impacts may be limited (e.g., Freeman 2012). This paper improves on previous work by assessing a broader set of impacts and at a lower level of geography than prior work. Since 2006, approximately 35 jurisdictions and states have adopted new SOI laws. We employ a difference-in-difference approach, comparing outcomes for voucher recipients in jurisdictions before and after SOI protections are adopted to voucher outcomes for nearby public housing authorities (PHAs) but in jurisdictions without such protections.

We begin by looking at voucher usage, captured by both PHA utilization rates and, where data permit, success rates (or the share of voucher recipients who successfully lease up. We also examine changes in the composition of new voucher recipients. If some groups, such as larger families or people of color, are more likely to face SOI discrimination than others, we should see differences in the composition of new voucher recipients after protections are enacted. Those compositional changes have not been examined before, and are of policy interest on their own. Further, assessing any compositional changes permits us to control for composition in the last component of the work, which considers SOI impacts on locational outcomes and choice.

Our final aim is to examine the locations of new voucher recipients, and those of existing recipients who move, separately by race and family composition. In examining the neighborhoods where voucher holders reside (before and after adoption of SOI laws), we consider the poverty rate, racial and ethnic composition, the number of renters receiving subsidies, and the quality of nearby schools. For existing voucher recipients, we also test whether SOI protection changes the likelihood of moving, and the likelihood that moves are to ‘better neighborhoods.’ Finally, going to a finer grain of geography, we test whether SOI protections appear to expand the number of buildings that accept voucher households. We will conduct building-level analysis of voucher concentration, and assess changes in the rate at which new buildings enter the program.