The Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University has released a study of the effects of housing vouchers on families receiving TANF. The study focuses on how effective housing vouchers are in the following areas: allowing families to move away from areas of concentrated poverty, preventing homelessness, protecting families against hardship, and fostering economic improvement for families.
This report builds off data compiled and analyzed by HUD in its 2006 Housing Voucher Evaluation, “Effects of Housing Vouchers on Welfare Families” (see Memo, 1/12/07) by providing further analysis of the original study and outlining policy implications based on the study’s findings.
The new report shows that vouchers were most effective in improving neighborhood quality for those families receiving welfare who were initially living in neighborhoods with the highest concentrations of poverty, especially those living in public housing. For the subgroup of people living in public or assisted housing, use of the voucher lowered the proportion of families residing in neighborhoods with over 30% poverty by 49 percentage points and increased the proportion living in 20% to 30% poverty neighborhoods by 28 percentage points.
The authors also delve further into the subject of homelessness, building off of the Housing Voucher Evaluation’s confirmations that use of housing assistance reduces homelessness. This new study looks more specifically at characteristics that make people more prone to homelessness. The study finds the best predictor to be initial housing instability, whether that be not having a place of one’s own or moving frequently. Not having a place of one’s own increased the probability of being homeless at some point in the next four years by 8.7 percentage points.
When analyzing the ability of housing vouchers to prevent hardship, the study shows that families that are more vulnerable at the outset—for instance, those who have limited work experience and are from more distressed neighborhoods—are more likely to actually utilize the vouchers than those with higher earning capabilities. The authors conducted in-depth interviews with families and found that many gave up their vouchers when they were still vulnerable, due to misconceptions and failures in program administration. Those who relinquish their vouchers are worse off than those who continue to use their vouchers. These families may have higher earnings, but because of their lower receipt of public assistance, they experience more material hardship—and are more susceptible to homelessness—than those that continue using housing vouchers.
Finally, the original report showed that the voucher program increased housing independence, boosting by 23.4 percentage points the proportion of families who no longer lived in someone else’s household, but instead were able to rent their own apartment. Further analysis of this finding shows that those families that became newly independent remained in precarious positions, exhibiting greater food hardship and food insecurity than families that remained independent throughout the study. The use of a voucher was shown to have no impact on a family’s ability to live on its own and afford housing with a reasonable rent burden in a four- to five-year time frame.
To view the full report, go to: www.jchs.harvard.edu/publications/governmentprograms/w09-7.pdf.
HUD’s original 2006 report is available in two parts on their website: Part One: www.huduser.org/Publications/pdf/hsgvouchers_1.pdf Part Two: www.huduser.org/Publications/pdf/hsgvouchers_2.pdf