Does Access to Opportunity Differ in Urban and Rural Areas for Housing Choice Voucher Holders?

Does Access to Opportunity Differ in Urban and Rural Areas for Housing Choice Voucher Holders?
Rebecca J. Walter, Ruoniu Wang
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Providing housing assistance to more than 2 million low-income households, the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program permits participants to move to locations they pick. Previous research—focused on large metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs)—has shown that voucher recipients cluster in high-poverty areas with large concentrations of minorities. This research implies that policies for all voucher holders, including those in rural areas, have been guided by metropolitan findings. This study explores how the HCV program performs differently in urban and rural areas. To understand voucher household characteristics, concentration, and access to neighborhoods by accounting for location, the authors use 2013 US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) administrative data from the HCV program in Florida, focusing on voucher holders outside of large MSAs. The authors merged these data with HUD’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing data to analyze individual tenant, household, unit, and location characteristics. The study finds that the HCV program performs differently in urban versus rural areas in household composition, concentration, and ability to move to "high-opportunity" neighborhoods and suggests that further research should examine this discrepancy and resulting policy implications.

Key findings

  • Compared with MSAs and rural areas, micropolitan areas provide the most opportunity to voucher households in access to employment, school quality, and labor force participation and human capital.
  • The HCV program allows participants to access "high-opportunity" neighborhoods in nonmetropolitan areas, even though fewer "high-opportunity" neighborhoods are available.
  • Voucher households in nonmetropolitan areas have lower incomes, tend to be younger, and have higher shares of single mothers and families with children. This composition leads the authors to suggest that access to a wider range of supportive services could help these households reach self-sufficiency more than having mobility options to move to a different neighborhood.