Panel Paper: Would You Accept My Voucher? Landlords’ Opinions and Strategies Toward Housing Vouchers

Saturday, November 9, 2019
I.M Pei Tower: Terrace Level, Columbine (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Seongkyung Cho, Arizona State University

Source of Income (SOI) discrimination, or discrimination against housing vouchers, is a barrier for voucher families to move to opportunity neighborhoods. Given that the Housing Choice Voucher Program (HCVP) aims to help voucher families access private rental housing markets, the insufficient number of landlords willing to participate in the program becomes a serious impediment to achieving the policy goals. Although recent studies have paid attention to SOI antidiscrimination laws, which illegalize such discriminatory practices, the literature has not yet reached a consensus regarding the laws’ effectiveness for facilitating better locational outcomes among housing voucher holders (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 2018). Since the vouchers’ high demand for rental housing units in opportunity neighborhoods cannot be met without landlords’ participation to the HCVP, understanding thoughts and reactions of landlords is a key to solve this puzzle. With a few exceptions (e.g., Garboden et al., 2018; Greenlee, 2014; Phillips, 2017; Rosen, 2014), however, landlords have been an important but largely neglected actor in the current literature.

This study aims to fill this gap by examining landlords’ blunt conversations. How do landlords perceive the HCVP and voucher recipients? What are the reasons that landlords refuse to accept voucher families? What are landlords’ strategies to avoid accepting voucher tenants? This study answers these questions based on idiosyncratic text data scrapped from five U.S. landlords’ forums. Both quantitative and qualitative text analysis techniques are employed to analyze more than thousands of threads and posts containing housing voucher-related keywords (e.g., section 8, voucher). The results reveal the honest reasons for private landlords’ reluctance to accept housing vouchers and document that the landlords utilize various strategies to directly and indirectly discriminate against voucher recipients. Moreover, I demonstrate different kinds of strategies that landlords deploy, depending on the existence of their jurisdictions’ SOI antidiscrimination laws, to exclude voucher holders.

Despite its 40-year-long history and the scale of the program, housing advocates and scholars point out that the impacts of the HCVP are still unsatisfactory. Findings of this study shed light on comprehending behaviors and reactions of landlords, who take a large part of the HCVP. I explain why the current policy efforts to facilitate voucher families’ moving to opportunity neighborhoods are not more successful and suggest future directions for further developing the HCVP as well as the SOI protections in a practical manner. Considering that online forums have been increasingly analyzed in some fields (e.g., psychology, health studies) to capture human thoughts and true opinions with few social constraints but have rarely been examined in policy studies (Holtz et al., 2012; Im & Chee, 2006; Yesha & Gangopadhyay, 2015; Wu, 2017), the use of the data and methods of this paper will be a novel attempt to understand policy actors within the context of housing policy.