How Can Housing Choice Vouchers Help More Families Access Low-Poverty Areas?

How Can Housing Choice Vouchers Help More Families Access Low-Poverty Areas?
Barbara Sard, Douglas Rice
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Building on research on the importance of housing and neighborhoods to families and children, a new policy report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities examines how effective the Housing Choice Voucher program has been in connecting families with children to homes in low-poverty areas and finds substantial room for improvement. The report recommends changes in federal policy and voucher administration to remove constraints to the use of vouchers in communities with strong schools, low crime rates, and long-term economic opportunities.

Major findings:

  • Although having a housing voucher is connected with a greater likelihood that a poor minority child lives in a low-poverty neighborhood (i.e., in which less than 10% of the population earns below the federal poverty line), just one in seven voucher holders with children lived in low-poverty areas in 2014.
  • In 2014, 280,000 children in families with vouchers lived in neighborhoods in which at least 40 percent the population was poor.
  • Many families are unaware of the housing opportunities available in unfamiliar neighborhoods, and may need assistance from program administrators to identify landlords who accept vouchers in low-poverty areas.
  • The allowable rents for voucher-assisted units are often lower than the market rents in lower-poverty neighborhoods.

The authors recommend four pathways to increase the share of families who use their vouchers in low-poverty areas, with each discussed in detail in the report:

  1. Incentives from HUD, such as agency performance measures, the application of the affirmatively furthering fair housing rule, and higher administrative fees for those achieving results.
  2. Policy changes that remove impediments to families’ using vouchers in lower-poverty areas, such as basing rent limits on smaller geographic areas, requiring agencies to identify units in low-poverty neighborhoods, and extending families’ search time.
  3. Policy changes that improve the ability to use vouchers across jurisdiction lines, such as reducing financial disincentives to “porting” vouchers across lines and encouraging housing authorities to consolidate their voucher programs to serve a full metro area.
  4. State and local policies to expand and facilitate location choices by voucher holders, as well as voucher acceptance by landlords in low-poverty areas, using tools such as mobility counseling, transportation programs, tax incentives, and prohibitions on “source of income” discrimination.