CURS researchers publish “Innovation in US public housing: a critique of the Moving to Work demonstration”

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Building on our report cataloging activities implemented by housing authorities participating in the Moving to Work demonstration (MTW), “Innovation in US public housing: a critique of the Moving to Work demonstration” summarizes both the policy context of Moving to Work and criticisms of the demonstration. It also sets an agenda for current debates about extending and expanding the program.

Enacted in 1996, MTW allows participating housing authorities two flexibilities. First, they may waive federal regulations, like how much to charge for rent. Second, they may combine various federal funding sources into a single, flexible fund. Currently, 39 housing authorities are participating in the program.

MTW emerged along with several other programs seeking market-based solutions to meet affordable housing needs. HOPE VI redeveloped dilapidated public housing developments into mixed-income communities. Moving to Opportunity relocated residents from distressed developments into low-poverty neighborhoods with housing vouchers.

Critics of MTW have argued that the program lacks oversight and has not been evaluated sufficiently. However, the most vocal critics believe that MTW diverts housing authorities’ attention from their core purpose:  providing safe and sanitary housing for low-income families. Instead, they have piloted programs like work requirements, alternative rent setting, and time limits. Without evaluation, the impacts of these programs are not known.

The article concludes by asking policy-makers to consider how MTW benefits housing authorities and how it can help other authorities. Many agencies believe that the single-fund flexibility is more important than the ability to waive regulations. This flexibility has allowed many agencies to shift funds from the Section 8 voucher program to other activities, like piloting innovative programs and maintaining their existing public housing stock.

For more information or to request a copy of the article, please contact Michael Webb at mdwebb@unc.edu.