A final report examining the Moving to Opportunity (MTO) Demonstration Program suggests that housing mobility programs improve the quality of housing and neighborhood conditions for participants, but do not have a significant effect on educational or economic outcomes. The report, issued by HUD’s Office of Policy Development and Research, summarizes findings from a long-term evaluation of the MTO program, ten to fifteen years after families were recruited to participate in the study. The study explores the effects of housing mobility interventions on families and children, with a focus on changes in housing quality, neighborhood conditions, health, economic outcomes, educational outcomes and risky behavior.
Between 1994 and 1998, MTO enrolled approximately 4,600 low income families with children living in public housing or project-based assisted housing in five cities: Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York. Eligible households participating in MTO were randomly assigned to one of three groups: a control group, an experimental group and a Section 8 group. The members of the control group did not receive vouchers, but remained eligible for their existing housing assistance. The experimental group received Section 8 (MTO) vouchers that they could only use in low poverty census tracts; they also received mobility counseling. The Section 8-only group received vouchers they could use anywhere they wished, and did not receive any housing search assistance.
The study revealed that housing vouchers helped recipients to move to lower-poverty neighborhoods, and all voucher recipients were more likely to live in lower-poverty neighborhoods than the control group years after their initial move. At the time of the baseline survey, families were living in neighborhoods with an average poverty rate of 53%. Experimental group movers initially relocated to neighborhoods with an average poverty rate of 10.7%. Ten to 15 years after the baseline survey, the average control group family lived in a census tract with a 31% poverty rate while experimental group families were, comparatively, living in neighborhoods with 21% poverty rates. The long-term survey of participants also found that movers expressed a greater sense of neighborhood satisfaction and improved safety.
Overall, households in the experimental group also experienced a long-term improvement in the quality of their housing. Those in the experimental group were 5% more likely to rate their housing good or excellent than the control group of non-movers. They were also less likely to report housing problems such as vermin, broken plumbing or broken windows.
Adults in the experimental group experienced some improved health outcomes. Women, in particular, had a lower prevalence of obesity and diabetes. Additionally, adults, as well as female children who moved with the assistance of the MTO program, had significantly improved mental health outcomes, with fewer incidences of depression and psychological distress. Health outcomes were both self-reported and measured through some physical tests.
However, families in the experimental group did not experience gains in employment, income or educational outcomes compared to those in the control group. The minimal educational improvements may in part be because many families stayed within the same school district even if they moved to new neighborhoods. Overall, the study found no significant increase in economic self-sufficiency among voucher recipients.
According to the final MTO evaluation, while housing mobility programs move families to lower income neighborhoods, the programs cannot address the multiple challenges facing low income families on their own. Further research is needed to discover how to address barriers to employment and improve educational outcomes, according to the report’s authors.
The MTO study entitled Moving to Opportunity for Fair Housing Demonstration Program – Final Impacts Evaluation, can be found on HUD’s webpage at http://www.huduser.org/portal/publications/pubasst/MTOFHD.html