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Housing Mobility Demonstration Would Help Families Move to Opportunity

Amidst the country’s shortage of affordable homes, the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program offers support for low-income families to relocate to neighborhoods with lower poverty and greater access to high-quality schools, healthcare, jobs, and other resources. Yet, for a number of reasons, some households are unable to take advantage of this opportunity. The Housing Choice Voucher Mobility Demonstration proposed in H.R. 5793 by Reps. Sean Duffy (R-WI) and Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) and in S.2945 by Sens. Todd Young (R-IN) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), aims to address this issue. This post explores how the demonstration program would encourage public housing authorities (PHAs) to aid low-income households with moving to areas of greater opportunity, and, in doing so, promote improved life outcomes.

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Research shows the benefits of vouchers 

The Bipartisan Policy Center previously outlined the need for robust funding for housing assistance programs, given the extent of the nation’s affordable housing crisis, and the considerable evidence of its benefits. Research suggests that safe, adequate housing can enhance overall wellbeing, boost school performance, and improve mental and physical health outcomes.   

In a well-known study, researchers Raj Chetty, Nathaniel Hendren, and Lawrence Katz found that the benefits of relocating to areas of lower poverty were more beneficial for low-income families, particularly for children under 13, than previously believed. Specifically, the authors noted that young children who move to areas of greater opportunity are more likely to attend college, earn higher salaries, and live in higher opportunity areas as adults, and are less likely to become single parents. Furthermore, the authors found that the gains from relocation drop as children age. In other words, the longer a child is exposed to an opportunity-rich environment in their formative years, the greater the likelihood of that individual achieving positive long-term outcomes. The results of this study, as well as a considerable body of corroborative research, highlight the importance of offering avenues of mobility, such as housing vouchers, to low-income families with young children

BPC supports a mobility voucher program 

The proposed HCV mobility demonstration mirrors, in part, similar recommendations proposed by BPC. BPC’s report, Forging an Enduring Bipartisan Consensus on Affordable Rental Housing, proposed a new mobility housing voucher program?specifically, one to provide mobility housing services to help low-income families with young children relocate to areas of higher opportunity. With $3.9 billion over ten years in funding, such a program was projected to create 326,500 mobility vouchers each year to serve a total of 532,000 unique families, including 1.2 million children, over the entire period. BPC also emphasized the importance of incorporating a long-term evaluation component into the mobility housing voucher program. This would not only provide justification for the investment, but would demonstrate how impactful relocation can be on improving children’s overall wellbeing.

Reviewing the Proposed Demonstration 

Like BPC’s recommendation, the proposed HCV mobility demonstration would provide additional funding and services to support low-income families with children in relocating to areas of higher opportunity. Through a competitive process, the Department of Housing and Urban Development would pick which PHAs would participate in the program. These PHAs would then collaborate with partner service organizations to provide aid for families in the relocation process.   

Under the demonstration, PHAs could coordinate supplemental supportive services that: 

  • Help families locate to areas of higher opportunity which best suit their needs, such as neighborhoods with high-quality schools or medical services; 
  • Aid households in developing a strategic plan for moving to a new area, which could include financial planning assistance; 
  • Educate and recruit landlords to participate in the process; 
  • Assist households that cannot afford a security deposit; and  
  • Provide check-ins to support households after the transition to a new neighborhood.   

Often with limited resources, many PHAs are not incentivized to assist low-income residents in the relocation process, which in turn, makes mobility that much harder. In addition to extra funding for relocation services, the proposed demonstration aims to address this issue by introducing an evaluation component that tracks the most cost-effective and beneficial interventions for families. PHAs would, therefore, have a greater incentive to meet the demonstration’s intended goals. 

The benefits of relocating to areas of lower poverty were more beneficial for low-income families than previously believed.

While the HCV mobility demonstration provides much needed support to aid families with children, the proposal only funds an additional 2,000 vouchers. Although limited in scope, this demonstration could serve as a springboard for future growth of a mobility program. Considering the pilot’s built-in evaluation component, researchers can analyze the impact of the HCV mobility demonstration and, if successful, use this evidence to justify the program’s expansion to policymakers.  

A successful demonstration could also warrant further research into new methods to improve mobility. The research from Chetty, Hendren, and Katz suggests that mobility vouchers for low-income families could have tremendous downstream economic impacts. Specifically, analysis indicates that the children who relocate to areas of higher opportunity could earn a combined $4 billion per year in increased earnings as adults, which would generate about $500 million in new annual tax revenue. Such huge potential benefits?both for individuals and society?could lay the groundwork for future research into improving mobility. The proposed demonstration is just the first step.    

Bipartisan support is helping the demonstration through Congress

Recently, the House Financial Services Committee passed H.R. 5793, the HCV Mobility Demonstration Act, which now awaits approval by the House. In terms of funding, the House Appropriations Committee included $50 million for the pilot program in its Fiscal Year 2019 Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development Appropriations bill, $30 million of which would fund housing mobility services. The remaining $20 million will support the 2,000 additional vouchers for families with children. While it is unclear when the Senate will  consider S. 2945, the proposal clearly enjoys bipartisan support in both chambers, suggesting a positive outlook for the program moving forward.

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