How Many Voucher Recipients Move, and Where Do They Go?

How Many Voucher Recipients Move, and Where Do They Go?
John Park and Kyle Shelton
Publication Date:
Find Full Text

The Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) Program subsidizes rent for low-income households in the private rental market and can help recipients afford to live in neighborhoods with stronger market demand. This new study explores whether the program is accomplishing the goal of expanding neighborhood options in Harris County, Texas, which is in the Houston area. Researchers studied how often voucher recipients move, how far they move, which recipients are most likely to move, and where they are most likely to go. The researchers also analyzed how and whether voucher-holding household movements responded to flood risk and gentrification.

The researchers used the Houston Housing Authority (HHA) HCV datasets from 2015–17 and data from the American Community Survey. Within the HHA system, about 88 percent of voucher households are headed by non-Hispanic Black residents, 86 percent are headed by women, and 26 percent have a member with a disability status. The researchers found that of HHA-area households that received vouchers in 2015, 10 percent moved addresses between 2015 and 2017.

Key takeaways

  • Women-headed households, households with children, and households with larger families were among the most likely HCV holders to move, possibly reflecting moves motivated by school choice.
  • HCV-holding movers tended to move to areas with higher market rents and higher median incomes than their previous neighborhoods.
  • When compared with recipients that stayed, HCV-holding movers relocated from units with the higher market rent and paid the least tenant rent due to subsidy.
  • HCV-holding families were more concentrated in gentrifying census block groups, and they left gentrifying areas in greater numbers than moved in.
  • HCV holders moving from gentrifying neighborhoods relocated to areas with higher household incomes than their previous neighborhoods, regardless of whether they moved within their neighborhood or to a nongentrifying neighborhood.
  • Although most HCV-holding movers relocated to block groups with a low risk of flooding, a significant number of HCV holders did move into areas with a high risk of flooding.
  • The median moving distances were 5.3 in 2015–16 and 5.4 miles in 2016–17, suggesting that movers relocated outside their existing communities.

Policy implications

The authors highlight that because HCV holders who moved relocated to neighborhoods with higher median incomes, the program seems to have accomplished its goal of enabling families to live in areas with greater opportunities. But they also note that many voucher holders remain in high-risk areas, suggesting that agencies should continue to push for flood risk education and work with HCV holders to find safe homes.

Photo by Paul Vasarhelyi/Shutterstock