Panel Paper: Navigating Administrative Burdens: Federal Rules and Local Discretion in Administering the Housing Choice Voucher Program

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

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Brian McCabe, Georgetown University and M Kathleen Moore, University of Washington

Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) across the United States have substantial discretion over the administration of the Housing Choice Voucher program (HCV). Within federal guidelines (c.f., HUD 2001; 24 CFR 982), PHAs are able to customize many aspects of their local programs: the timing and design of the opening (and closing) of waitlists; the prioritization scheme for selecting eligible households; the conditions of voucher extension and expiration during prolonged rental market searches; landlord outreach, engagement, and incentives; and the terms under which voucher holders can move in and out of a PHA’s service area. While the existence of PHA discretion is well-known, the breadth of choices made by PHAs – and the reasons behind those choices – have received little attention. In this paper, we ask about the factors that influence programmatic decision-making at the local level. For example, how do housing authorities balance the need to maximize voucher usage while also serving the neediest households? How sensitive are administrative decisions to local housing market conditions? In what ways do HUD regulations and reporting requirements shape program implementation? To answer these questions, we draw on in-depth interviews with HCV program administrators at more than forty public housing authorities across the United States. Our research reveals the complex – and often competing – inputs that influence how voucher programs are administered, including the priorities of local political actors and community agencies; the tightness of housing markets; and the administrative burdens imposed by programmatic choices.