How Much Does Resident Desire versus Federal Housing Policy Influence Residents to Exit Public Housing?

How Much Does Resident Desire versus Federal Housing Policy Influence Residents to Exit Public Housing?
Prentiss A. Dantzler and Jason D. Rivera
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Over the past few decades, several federal housing programs have shifted to focus on poverty deconcentration. This is typically achieved through either offering housing vouchers to public housing residents, such as the Moving to Opportunity demonstration that ran from 1994 to 1998, or replacing public housing developments with mixed-income developments, such as the HOPE VI Program, which has provided more than $6 billion in federal funding to rehabilitate public housing. Poverty deconcentration programs have led to voluntary and mandatory relocation of residents from public housing. Research on resident relocation has tended to focus on how federally motivated moves affect resident outcomes without exploring residents’ own desires or intentions to move. This study examined how residents’ attitudes toward moving, along with other determinants such as federal policy, economic factors, and length of residency, affected residents’ likelihood of moving.

This study drew on data from the Panel Survey of Income Dynamics (PSID), which includes information on heads of households’ income, employment, marriage status, and more. The PSID also asked respondents about their intentions to move, which allowed researchers to include it in the analysis. The authors combined PSID data with restricted assisted housing data to create a dataset of 3,003 observations of people who lived in public housing after 1986, though fewer observations were used for some variables. Then, they created three models to test mobility intentions and length of stay; individual characteristics such as age, marital status, and number of children; and neighborhood dynamics, such as vacancy rate and unemployment rate, on exit rates. Additionally, each model included the variables of the model before it. Because the authors were also interested in the effect of federal housing policy, they included a proxy measure based on moves before and after 1997 to reflect the major changes in federal housing policy in the mid to late 1990s.

The researchers found that residents’ intentions to exit public housing were associated with actual exits, suggesting that public housing residents “have more control over their mobility choices than previously argued,” at least in the short term. However, federal housing policy also had a strong effect on the likelihood of exiting and, potentially, was a greater determinant than whether or not a person wants to leave.

Key findings

  • A person’s mobility intention had a significant effect on the likelihood that they would exit housing. For example, when examining only mobility intentions and length of stay, the researchers found that people who stated they intended to move were 47.6 percent more likely to do so.
  • The longer residents stayed in public housing, the less likely they were to move. The authors found tenure to be significant, with the odds of leaving housing 72.6 percent lower in the second through fifth year than the first year. The statistical significance of tenure held across the three models.
  • Public housing reforms also had a statistically significant relationship with exits across all three models. In model 3, for example, people in public housing after 1997 were 2.4 times more likely to leave than those in public housing before 1997.
  • Individual characteristics, including age, marital status, and the presence and number of children, also help predict exits. Older people were less likely to leave, as were unmarried people and parents with more children.
  • Surprisingly to the researchers, residents with a disability were more likely to leave public housing than those who are able-bodied.

Policy implications

  • Public housing residents are often subjected to changes in federal housing policy and may be forced to move regardless of their intentions. As they typically enter the private rental market, it is critical for policymakers to consider how discrimination within the rental market may further affect their available housing choices. The authors argue that “HUD should make a more concerted effort to identify practices of rental discrimination among racial and ethnic minorities and develop new methods of deterring these types of practices in the future.”
  • Additionally, an exit does not necessarily mean that the resident has achieved self-sufficiency and is able to maintain private market housing. This is particularly important for policymakers to keep in mind when considering term limits or other polices designed to push residents out of public housing.

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