June 2, 2015
A recent Harvard study examining the long-term impact of moving families in public housing to better neighborhoods with Housing Choice Vouchers (HCVs)—which subsidize households’ rent in private-market apartments—found that children who moved under this program had improved chances of achieving upward economic mobility. The research generated significant media coverage, including this interactive feature in the New York Times, in part because previous studies of this program—known as Moving to Opportunity—indicated that relocation with HCVs had not significantly improved the lives of recipients.
Researchers at the Center for Urban and Regional Studies (CURS) recently published their own report on housing voucher recipients in Charlotte (Mecklenburg County, NC) that assessed measures of well-being, such as health, work, and self-sufficiency outcomes. While the research team, led by CURS Director Bill Rohe, found HCV holders had high levels of satisfaction with their housing units and neighborhoods, voucher holders were found to have high levels of physical and mental health problems. The research also showed HCV recipients in Charlotte tend to live in neighborhoods with higher high school dropout rates (see map). This trend may be caused by limitations on the amount of rental subsidy HUD allows for voucher holders, and by landlords’ willingness to participate in the voucher program.
Given the benefits of relocation suggested by the Harvard study, policymakers should explore ways to allow and encourage voucher holders to move to higher-quality neighborhoods. Such programs might include expanded housing quality, increasing voucher subsidies, or enacting laws that prohibit landlords from discriminating against voucher holders.
This research was conducted under a contract with the Charlotte Housing Authority.