Panel: Building Opportunity: Designing and Learning from the Creating Moves to Opportunity Experience
(Housing, Community Development, and Urban Policy)

Thursday, November 7, 2019: 10:15 AM-11:45 AM
I.M Pei Tower: 2nd Floor, Tower Court B (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Organizer:  Nandita Verma, MDRC
Panel Chair:  Nandita Verma, MDRC
Discussants:  Todd M. Richardson, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and Doug Rice, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

In regions throughout the nation, communities that hold greater opportunity for children are less accessible to families using Housing Choice Vouchers. Expanding residential choice via targeted mobility programs may not only benefit current voucher holders but has the potential to end intergenerational poverty patterns and to reverse residential segregation. 

Creating Moves to Opportunity (CMTO) is designed to promote equity by helping low-income families with rental subsidies from the federal Housing Choice Voucher program move to and thrive in communities that offer them better opportunities for economic mobility. It grew out of initial discussions among researchers, housing administrators, and foundation officials following the influential studies suggesting the promise of “opportunity moves.” As is now widely known, Chetty, Hendren, and Katz found positive long-term effects on economic outcomes for young adults who, when children, were part of the original Moving to Opportunity (MTO) demonstration, which helped public housing families move to low-poverty neighborhoods using special housing vouchers. In a separate study using national data, the researchers found corroborating evidence that low-income children who moved to high opportunity areas when they were young experienced greater upward economic mobility in adulthood than similar children who did not make such moves.  

These findings have sparked interest in testing new and varied mobility initiatives that apply the lessons of earlier approaches and improve upon those models. Identifying better approaches to supporting families in making opportunity moves is essential, because the original MTO research found that many families who were offered vouchers to be used in low-poverty communities did not move to or remain in those neighborhoods. This presentation will focus on emerging models and evidence resulting from a next generation of mobility experiments. Drawing on the CMTO demonstration, underway in the Seattle and King County region in Washington state, the panelists will describe the intervention model, implementation experience, and impacts. In the first presentation, housing agency administrators will describe the structure and design of the CMTO model, and the choices and tradeoffs they had to contend with in framing the intervention. The second presentation will report on staff perspectives in implementing the model, what it took to operationalize the intervention’s components, and their interactions with landlords and families. The final presentation will share the results from Phase 1 of the demonstration and what the findings tell us about the effects of the intervention in helping families move to higher opportunity neighborhoods.  


Two discussants, both with deep expertise in federal housing programs, will reflect on emerging models and findings and comment on their policy relevance. In particular, the discussants will draw lessons from the CMTO experience for similar efforts around the country and the Congressionally mandated national mobility demonstration.

Designing a Program to Help Families Move to Opportunity Neighborhoods
Andria Lazaga, Seattle Housing Authority and Sarah Oppenheimer, King County Housing Authority

Achieving Opportunity Moves: Early Evidence of Program Effects
Kristen D. Watkins, Opportunity Insights