St. Louis Families Using Housing Vouchers for School Choice

St. Louis Families Using Housing Vouchers for School Choice
Annah Bender, Molly Metzger, Vithya Murugan, Divya Ravindranath
City and Community
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Some Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) renters prioritize school options when relocating, according to Annah Bender and her colleagues. Despite literature that demonstrates that HCV renters are constrained to live in areas with low-quality schools, the authors use qualitative evidence to provide a more nuanced account of HCV renters’ decisions during moves. Collaborating with the St. Louis Housing Authority, the authors randomly sampled HCV renters in six zip codes that include areas of St. Louis City and surrounding suburbs in St. Louis County. The authors invited the HCV renters to participate in a 45-question interview about their housing search process, preferences, and perceptions of the HCV program. Thirty-four HCV renters completed interviews, with an equal distribution of urban and suburban households. The zip codes from which the researchers selected participants had high concentrations of HCV renters and area median incomes below the regional average. Bender and her colleagues document the findings from 17 of these interviews and offer three policy and research recommendations around HCV renters’ ability to move and their preferences, specifically school preferences.

Key findings

  • Some HCV renters prioritized education as a neighborhood preference when choosing where to move. But only a minority of HCV renters sent their children to the school assigned by their address.
  • Three families used their HCV to move to an unaccredited school district, allowing their children to attend a school district outside their neighborhood. This was a strategic yet risky move, given the unpredictable nature of state accreditation policy.
  • To combat discrimination and economic segregation, the authors recommend enacting “source of income” protections to require all landlords to accept HCVs, continual enforcement of fair housing laws, and further research on educational outcomes for HCV renters.