Alternative Metric to Measure High-Opportunity Neighborhoods

Alternative Metric to Measure High-Opportunity Neighborhoods
Alex Schwartz, Kirk McClure, Lydia B. Taghavi
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Using an alternative metric—the neighborhood distress index—to measure the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program’s ability to help poor households move to high-opportunity neighborhoods, Alex Schwartz and his colleagues find that HCV families are underrepresented in neighborhoods with the lowest levels of neighborhood distress. Low poverty is traditionally used to indicate that a neighborhood is high opportunity. But the authors propose using the neighborhood distress index, which incorporates five neighborhood variables: poverty rate, share of female-headed households, unemployment rate, share of households receiving public assistance, and share of adults not in school and without a high school diploma. Using data from the American Community Survey and administrative data from the HCV program, the authors examined the distribution of HCV families by race in all census tracts in metropolitan statistical areas in 2013. The authors compared this distribution with each census tract’s level of neighborhood distress and availability of affordable rental housing to examine whether the HCV program helps poor households relocate to high-opportunity neighborhoods—that is, census tracts with low levels of distress. Focusing their analysis on female-headed households with children, a population that prior research suggests would experience the greatest benefit from moving to high-opportunity neighborhoods, the authors consider the policy implications of their findings.

Key findings

  • There were almost no predominantly black or Hispanic neighborhoods with low or very low levels of distress, forcing HCV families to live in predominantly white or integrated neighborhoods if they want to live in high-opportunity neighborhoods.
  • Approximately 8 percent of black and Hispanic HCV families lived in predominantly white neighborhoods, and 38 to 40 percent were in integrated neighborhoods.
  • Housing Choice Voucher families were underrepresented in low-distress neighborhoods compared with the supply of available affordable rental housing in these areas, particularly for black and Hispanic families.