More About Barbara Sard

Barbara Sard

Sard rejoined the Center as Vice President for Housing Policy in 2011 after 18 months as Senior Advisor on Rental Assistance to HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan.

Full bio and recent public appearances | Research archive at

Housing Vouchers Help Families Live in Better Neighborhoods — But They Can Do More

October 17, 2014 at 2:35 pm

Policymakers over the last several decades have tried to improve low-income families’ access to low-poverty, higher-opportunity neighborhoods.  With this goal in mind, they’ve relied increasingly on housing vouchers so that families can choose where to live rather than be limited to government-funded projects that often are in very poor, segregated neighborhoods.  Despite these efforts, the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program falls short of its potential to expand children’s access to good schools in safe neighborhoods, as we explain in our new paper.

On the plus side, families with vouchers generally have succeeded in finding a home in a safe neighborhood, research from 91 large cities shows.  On average, families used vouchers in neighborhoods that had a 6 percentage-point lower crime rate than all poor renters in the same cities.

Families receiving assistance through the HCV program — particularly minority families — are more likely to live in lower-poverty neighborhoods, and less likely to live in extreme-poverty neighborhoods, than their counterparts in HUD’s project-based rental assistance programs or than poor children generally.

But many children in the HCV program continue to live in extreme-poverty neighborhoods, where crime rates are likely to be high and school performance inadequate, despite the better options that a voucher should make available to their families.  A quarter of a million kids receiving HCV assistance — spread across almost every state — live in these troubled neighborhoods (see map).

Lack of access to well-performing schools for children in the HCV program is particularly discouraging.  In one study, only one in four families with children receiving HCV assistance in metro areas lived near an elementary school ranked in the top half in their state in 2008.  They were also more likely to live near a school ranked in the bottom 10 percent than poor families generally.

The HCV program makes housing stable and affordable for more than a million families with children.  But it can do better to deliver on its potential to expand children’s access to good schools in safe neighborhoods, beginning with changes that HUD can make to improve families’ ability to move to lower-poverty, higher-opportunity neighborhoods.  We’ll look at these recommendations in greater detail next week.

Rental Assistance Can Do More to Help Kids Live in Better Neighborhoods

October 15, 2014 at 12:13 pm

Where children grow up can influence their lifelong health and success, and improvements to federal rental assistance programs could substantially better their life outcomes, our new report explains.

Nearly 4 million children live in families that receive federal rental assistance.  But just 15 percent of the kids whose families receive rent subsidies through the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) three major rental assistance programs — the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program, public housing, and Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance — live in high-opportunity neighborhoods with access to good schools, safe streets, and high rates of employment.  A larger share (18 percent) of children in assisted families live in neighborhoods of extreme poverty, where at least 40 percent of the residents are poor.

Children exposed to neighborhood violence and extreme poverty often suffer cognitive, health, and academic deficiencies, research shows, while low-income children who can move to safer neighborhoods with better schools have experienced significant improvements in their lives, including gains in academic performance.

Over several decades, policymakers have tried to reduce the extent to which low-income families receiving federal rental assistance are concentrated in distressed neighborhoods and, instead, to improve these families’ access to higher-opportunity neighborhoods.  To do so, they’ve relied increasingly on housing vouchers (rather than housing projects) so that families may choose where to live.

The HCV program has performed much better than HUD’s project-based rental assistance programs in enabling more low-income families with children to live in lower-poverty neighborhoods (see chart).  Having a housing voucher also substantially reduces the likelihood of living in an extreme-poverty neighborhood.

Nevertheless, a quarter of a million children in the HCV program live in these troubled neighborhoods.  As now administered, the HCV program doesn’t adequately deliver on its potential to expand children’s access to good schools in safe neighborhoods.

Based on the evidence on how housing location affects low-income families, particularly children, and federal rental assistance programs’ performance on location-related measures, we recommend two near-term goals:  1) federal rental assistance programs should provide greater opportunities for families to choose affordable housing outside of extreme-poverty neighborhoods; and 2) the programs should provide better access for families to low-poverty, safe communities with better-performing schools.

We can make substantial progress toward these goals in the next few years, even in the current fiscally constrained environment and without congressional action or more funding.

Federal, state, and local agencies can take four key actions to help more families in the HCV program to live in better locations:

  • Create stronger incentives for local and state housing agencies to help families move to better neighborhoods.
  • Modify policies that discourage families from living in higher-opportunity communities.
  • Minimize jurisdictional barriers to families’ ability to choose to live in high-opportunity communities through the HCV program.
  • Better assist families in using vouchers to live in high-opportunity areas.

Click here to read the full report.

Funding Bills Don’t Provide Enough Housing Help for the Most Vulnerable

June 20, 2014 at 2:20 pm

Congress may soon finalize 2015 funding for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  Unfortunately, struggling working families, people with disabilities, and others unable to afford today’s high rents will see little housing relief in Congress’ funding, as I explain in a new post on

The House has passed its 2015 Transportation-HUD appropriations bill and the Senate may vote on its bill soon.  While the need for affordable housing continues to rise — the number of poor renter households who pay more than half their monthly income for housing costs has risen 28 percent since 2007 — and homelessness remains unacceptably high, the House bill cuts HUD funding compared to 2014, reducing the number of people receiving rental assistance.  The Senate allocated over $1 billion more to HUD than the House and its bill makes important investments in a few areas, but it fails to serve any additional very poor or homeless households.

These inadequate bills come as the Housing Choice Voucher program, the biggest federal rental assistance program, continues to suffer from losses due to sequestration in 2013, which imposed the steepest funding cut in the program’s 40-year history.  Over 70,000 fewer low-income families had vouchers at the end of 2013 than a year earlier.  Congress provided enough funding in 2014 to restore fewer than half of these lost vouchers, but the 2015 Senate and House bills won’t even renew all of the vouchers restored in 2014, locking in large voucher losses for years to come.

Although the funding bill before the Senate makes important improvements over the House bill, neither chamber has prioritized HUD’s housing programs, as my post explains.

These programs serve 10 million people in about 5 million households, most of whom are elderly, disabled or working parents with incomes below the poverty line and would be homeless or lack stable housing without federal rental assistance.  Yet only 1 in 4 people eligible for rental assistance receives it due to limited funding, and the unmet need is enormous. . . .

Even maintaining the status quo, as the Senate bill largely does, won’t help homeless children, who fall farther behind in school the longer they lack a home; it won’t help homeless adults with disabilities obtain supportive housing; and it won’t help more low-income seniors age with dignity in their communities. These bills are not good enough for our most vulnerable neighbors, and they shouldn’t be good enough for Congress.

Click here to read the full post.

Senate Housing Bill Expands Reach of Self-Sufficiency Program

June 9, 2014 at 1:50 pm

We’ve noted several areas where the Senate Appropriations Committee-approved bill to fund the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) improves on its House counterpart.  Here’s another:  the Senate bill would enable more families with housing assistance to participate in HUD’s effective but underutilized Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program; the House bill wouldn’t.

Under FSS, created in 1990 based on a proposal by the first Bush Administration, participants sign a contract with the public housing agency detailing their plans to acquire educational or vocational training and their interim or longer-term goals, such as getting a job or a higher salary or starting a business.  To complete the program (which generally takes five years), the head of the household must be employed and, if the family receives welfare benefits, each family member must become independent of those benefits and remain so for 12 months.

FSS provides case management services to improve participants’ job prospects and earning potential, such as information on available child care, transportation, credit and money counseling, and educational or training programs in the community.

It also provides escrow accounts into which the housing agency deposits the increased rent that a family pays as its earnings rise.  (Families receiving federal rental assistance generally must pay 30 percent of any rise in their income to the agency in the form of higher rent.)  Families that complete FSS may withdraw funds from these accounts for any purpose; many FSS graduates use their savings to buy a home.  Families that don’t meet the terms of their contract forfeit the funds in the account.

Now, only families assisted by public housing agencies — that is, families living in public housing or assisted with Housing Choice vouchers — are eligible for FSS.  The Senate Transportation-HUD funding bill would broaden the program’s reach by allowing private owners of HUD-assisted properties to offer FSS to their tenants.  (Owners would have to pay for the case management services.)  Roughly 1.2 million low-income families rent modest units from private owners through the Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance programs.

We’ve called FSS HUD’s best-kept secret for promoting employment and asset growth.  Congress can help more families participate in this promising program by including the Senate provision in the final funding bill.

For Veterans, More Bad News Than Good in Housing Funding Bill

May 23, 2014 at 10:41 am

We explained yesterday that the House funding bill for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) would cut assistance to low-income renters and stall recent progress against homelessness.  Veterans, among others, will likely feel the impact.  While the bill funds new vouchers for homeless veterans, it seriously underfunds HUD’s main housing assistance programs, which help the large majority of the 300,000-plus veterans and their families (see chart) who rely on housing assistance to afford decent homes.

The bill, which the House Appropriations Committee approved this week, funds roughly 10,000 new housing vouchers for homeless veterans next year under the Veterans’ Administration-HUD Supportive Housing (VASH) program.  Congress has funded steady increases in VASH vouchers in recent years.

Along with rental assistance programs not specifically targeted on veterans, most notably Housing Choice Vouchers, VASH appears to have played a central role in the 23 percent drop in homelessness among veterans between 2009 and 2013.

Unfortunately, the House bill doesn’t include enough money to renew the more than 60,000 existing VASH vouchers unless state and local housing agencies scale back their other voucher programs, by helping fewer families or shifting the burden of rent and utility increases to voucher holders.  The bill also risks locking in the loss of more than 70,000 Housing Choice Vouchers cut in 2013 due to sequestration.

As a result, voucher holders — including many veterans — would face higher housing costs, and people on waiting lists for vouchers would face longer waits.

The House bill would also deepen the funding shortfall in public housing, which over time will cause living conditions for more low-income residents — again, including many veterans — to deteriorate.

As policymakers negotiate the final HUD budget, they should reflect on veterans’ service to the country and the progress that’s been made in helping them afford housing.  They shouldn’t cut the programs that help them keep a roof over their heads.