Federal Rental Assistance and Access to Opportunity

Federal Rental Assistance and Access to Opportunity
Barbara Sard, Douglas Rice
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Federal rental assistance enables five million low-income households, including four million children, to afford modest housing. A report was released by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) to analyze and address the educational, developmental and financial effects of housing’s location on households that receive assistance. This study analyzes how children and adults benefit from moving out of high-poverty neighborhoods and how assistance programs can facilitate relocation into "neighborhoods of opportunity." Ninety percent of households received assistance through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) major rental programs: Housing Choice Vouchers (HCV), Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance, and Public Housing programs. Although these programs are vital to many households, in 2010, nearly one fifth of children whose families received federal rental assistance lived in high-poverty neighborhoods.

Major findings:

  • High-poverty neighborhoods, which may also be high-crime and home to environmental hazards, can impair children’s cognitive development, school performance, mental health, and long-term physical health.
  • Historically, federal rental assistance programs have been ineffective in helping families secure housing in low-poverty neighborhoods; in 2010, only a fifth of families with children participating in the HCV program used their vouchers to live in a low-poverty area, and only 15 percent of all families receiving any form of rental subsidies to live in a low-poverty area.
  • Children from low-income families who live for many years in low-poverty neighborhoods and consistently attend high-quality schools perform significantly better academically than those who do not.
  • The HCV program assists more families with children than the other two major rental assistance programs combined.
  • Families using housing vouchers are more likely to live in low-poverty areas, compared with similar families with children that either receive project-based rental assistance or don’t receive housing assistance at all.
  • The HCV program does not adequately expand children’s access to good schools in safe neighborhoods nor does it enable families to avoid living in high-poverty neighborhoods.
  • HUD subsidizes only a few properties, through project-based rental assistance, that afford residents access to low-poverty neighborhoods.

Policy suggestions:

  • Modify policies that discourage families from living in lower-poverty communities and instead create strong incentives for housing agencies to assist families in gaining access to low-crime, low-poverty communities.
  • Encourage and assist families to use vouchers in low-poverty areas and offer increased access to these areas in HUD’s project-based rental assistance programs.
  • Minimize jurisdictional barriers that limit families’ access to housing in low-poverty communities by offering transportation and additional services during a household’s transition.