The Center's work on 'Vouchers' Issues


Two Policy Changes Could Help Public Housing Families

October 24, 2014 at 12:21 pm

Tens of thousands of children whose families can afford decent housing by living in public housing live in extremely poor neighborhoods, as I explained yesterday.  But policymakers can take steps to improve these kids’ access to safer neighborhoods with better schools.

Congress has underfunded maintenance and repair of public housing for decades, causing a substantial loss in the number of units available as projects deteriorate.  The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) aims to preserve — and, if necessary, rebuild — distressed rental units.  By shifting money from the public housing funding streams to long-term “Section 8” funding contracts, RAD makes it easier to leverage private investment to rehabilitate and preserve public housing developments.

By making two changes to RAD, policymakers could help give low-income children longer-term access to better neighborhoods, and at the same time improve the living conditions for families that choose to stay in their current homes.

  1. Capitalize on RAD’s potential by expanding and extending the demonstration.  When Congress established RAD in 2012, it limited conversions to 60,000 public housing units — about 5 percent of the nation’s public housing stock.  By the end of 2013, HUD had already received applications to convert 176,000 units.  The Senate’s 2015 funding bill would raise the limit on conversions to 185,000 units.  (The House bill made no change.)  When policymakers return in November, they should include the Senate provision in their final appropriations bill. 
  2. Prioritize preservation of affordable units in public housing properties located in high-opportunity or improving neighborhoods.  Public housing developments located in neighborhoods where less than 20 percent of the residents are poor — home to some 84,000 families with children — would be extremely difficult to replace if they were lost.  In selecting properties to participate in RAD, HUD should prioritize properties in these neighborhoods.

Two Programs Could Boost Opportunity for Families With Project-Based Rental Assistance

October 23, 2014 at 2:36 pm

More than 700,000 low-income families with children can afford decent housing by living in public housing or privately owned properties that the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) subsidizes.  As we explain in our recent paper, for about 200,000 of these families, having an affordable place to live entails living in an extremely poor neighborhood — where at least 40 percent of the residents have incomes below the poverty line, and crime rates tend to be higher and schools lower performing.  Almost all of these families are racial or ethnic minorities (see chart).

HUD has begun two programs that could help more of these families live in higher-opportunity neighborhoods — if Congress provides sufficient funds and HUD and local partners implement the programs effectively:  the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative (CNI) and the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD).  Both programs aim to preserve and if necessary rebuild distressed rental units.  CNI also has a broader goal to revitalize the neighborhoods of the assisted properties.

In the near term, two policy changes to these programs would increase the number of families that could live in safer neighborhoods with better schools.  HUD should:

  1. Require housing authorities and other CNI grantees to offer relocating families effective mobility services. Many families forced to move during CNI-funded redevelopment likely will continue to live in private-market housing using the tenant-based vouchers provided to them as part of the relocation process rather than return to the redeveloped properties.  Effective mobility services, including recruitment of landlords in low-poverty, high-opportunity communities; effective search assistance; and policies that allow vouchers to provide sufficient subsidies to make renting in higher-cost neighborhoods feasible for families, would better set up these families for success.
  2. Encourage local housing agencies to help residents of RAD properties access housing in high-opportunity areas.  RAD requires housing agencies to allow most families in RAD developments to move with the first tenant-based Housing Choice Voucher that becomes available at their local housing agency after they have lived in the converted development for one to two years.  With RAD residents in stable housing before they’re eligible to move with a voucher, they could benefit from counseling about neighborhood options and search techniques, which will help them make the best choice for their families when a voucher becomes available.  HUD should provide guidance to agencies on best practices.

We’ll be back later today with a look at two other changes to RAD that could help low-income children over the longer term.

4 Ways to Help More Families Use Vouchers to Live in Low-Poverty Neighborhoods

October 22, 2014 at 2:58 pm

The Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program has reduced families’ housing cost burdens and homelessness and boosted their housing stability, but its performance in helping families live in low-poverty, high-opportunity neighborhoods has been disappointing, as we explain in our recent paper.

Overall, just about 20 percent of the families with children who use housing vouchers live in high-opportunity neighborhoods with access to good schools, safe streets, and high rates of employment.  Almost 10 percent — including a quarter of a million children — of families in the program live in extreme-poverty neighborhoods, where at least 40 percent of the residents are poor.

In most metro areas, there are enough rental units to enable a much larger share of families to use their vouchers to live in better areas.  That more families don’t reflects, at least in part, the constraints families face in using vouchers to access neighborhoods that provide greater opportunities.

Federal, state, and local agencies can make four sets of policy changes that can help more HCV families to live in better locations:

  1. Create strong incentives for local and state housing agencies to achieve better location outcomes.  The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) could provide incentives for agencies to reduce the share of families using vouchers in extreme-poverty areas and increase the share living in low-poverty, high-opportunity areas in three ways: 1) by giving added weight to location outcomes in measuring agency performance, 2) by reinforcing these changes with a strong fair housing rule — the rule that will revise HUD grantees’ planning for how to achieve outcomes that further fair housing goals — and 3) by rewarding agencies that help families move to high-opportunity areas by paying these agencies additional administrative fees.
  2. Modify policies that discourage families from living in lower-poverty communities.  Various HCV policies unintentionally encourage families to use their vouchers in poor neighborhoods that often are highly racially concentrated.  (Most extremely poor neighborhoods are predominantly African American and/or Latino.)  In addition to finalizing its fair housing rule, HUD should set its caps on rental subsidy amounts for smaller geographic areas than it now does, and — at least where necessary to help families move from extreme-poverty, highly racially concentrated neighborhoods to higher-opportunity communities with less poverty — require agencies to identify available units in these lower-poverty communities and extend the search period for families seeking to make such moves.
  3. Minimize jurisdictional barriers to families’ ability to choose to live in high-opportunity communities.  In 95 of the 100 largest metro areas, one agency administers the HCV program in the central city and one or more different agencies serve the suburban cities and towns.  This balkanization makes it harder for families to move to safe neighborhoods with high-performing schools.  HUD could substantially lessen these barriers by encouraging agencies in the same metropolitan area to unify their program operations and by simplifying “portability” procedures to use vouchers in areas served by other agencies.
  4. Assist families in using vouchers to live in high-opportunity areas.  To expand housing choices in safe, low-poverty neighborhoods with well-performing schools, state and local governments and housing agencies should adopt policies to expand HCV participation by landlords in these neighborhoods.  Programs such as mobility counseling — supported by state or local funds or philanthropy — would assist interested families to use their vouchers in these areas.

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

We can also do more to help families in project-based rental assistance to live in lower-poverty neighborhoods.  We’ll take a look at two such promising programs in a post later this week.

Improving Children’s Chances of a Better Life

October 21, 2014 at 2:44 pm

In a new commentary for Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity, CBPP Vice President for Housing Policy Barbara Sard outlines steps that federal, state, and local agencies can take to help tens of thousands of children and their families avoid living in violent neighborhoods of extreme poverty — and enable more of them to choose to live in low-poverty neighborhoods with high-quality schools.  Here’s the opening:

Nearly 4 million children live in low-income families that receive federal rental assistance, which not only helps them keep a roof over their heads but also has the potential to enable children to grow up in better neighborhoods with more opportunities.  Unfortunately, we’ve fallen badly short on the latter ambition.

As of 2010, only 15 percent of the children whose families participate in the major rental assistance programs lived in low-poverty neighborhoods, while 18 percent lived in very high-poverty neighborhoods.  The good news is that we can make substantial progress in the next few years — without congressional action or more federal funding — to help more families live in neighborhoods that will improve their children’s chances of a better life.

Click here for the full commentary.

CBPP

What Housing Vouchers Mean to Poor Minority Families, Part 2: Help in Avoiding Extreme-Poverty Neighborhoods

October 20, 2014 at 3:24 pm

I explained earlier today that housing vouchers make a big difference for minority families’ ability to live in a low-poverty neighborhood.  They also help poor black and Hispanic families with children avoid neighborhoods of concentrated poverty.

Researchers generally agree that living in neighborhoods of extreme poverty, in which 40 percent or more of the inhabitants are poor, is particularly harmful to children.  Nationwide, nearly 15 percent of poor children live in such neighborhoods.  These neighborhoods are more likely than others to have high rates of crime and violence, poorly performing schools, few college-educated adults, low employment rates, and limited opportunities for physical recreation.

Extreme-poverty neighborhoods are predominantly African American and Latino.  Poor black and Hispanic children are more than five times as likely to live in a neighborhood where 40 percent or more of the residents are poor than poor non-Hispanic white children.  Living in an extremely poor neighborhood may be particularly harmful for children when families live in such neighborhoods for several generations, as occurs more among African American families.

But housing vouchers improve these statistics substantially for poor black and Hispanic families with children.  For these families, vouchers cut their likelihood of living in extreme-poverty neighborhoods by nearly half for black children and more than a third for Hispanic children, compared with poor children of the same race or ethnicity (see chart).

These are encouraging statistics, but the Housing Choice Voucher program can do more to deliver on its potential to help families avoid living in neighborhoods likely to hurt their children’s economic prospects and future health, as we detail in our recent paper.  We’ll look at these recommendations in greater detail in a future post.