A study conducted by the Illinois Housing Action Research Project (IHARP) finds that Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) holders across the state tend to stay within jurisdictional boundaries, and only a limited number of households use their vouchers to move to areas with reduced rates of poverty. The IHARP study found that 9,155 households took advantage of the “portability” of voucher assistance to cross jurisdictional lines from 2000 to 2007. In Illinois, 130,697 households utilized vouchers in this period, thus 7% of all voucher holders “ported” using their voucher.
According to the study, two jurisdictions, Chicago and Cook County, accounted for more than 55% of all portability moves in Illinois during the eight-year study period. Portability moves between the Chicago Metropolitan region and the rest of the state were found to be infrequent. Among 117 public housing agencies (PHAs) in Illinois, only 43 had any portability moves to Chicago. Few Chicago voucher holders moved outside the metro area using their voucher; 34 of 117 PHAs across the state had no voucher holders who had ported in from Chicago, and 67 PHAs documented fewer than 30 over the study period.
The IHARP study underscores the limitations of voucher portability, particularly the complicated administrative procedures. Among the complications, voucher households pursuing a portability move are given between 60 and 90 days to complete their housing search, and many risk losing their voucher if their search is not successful. Limited resources prevent program mangers from providing voucher holders with support during the search process. In addition, some housing authorities are not able to cover the elevated costs of administrating portable vouchers. Lastly, large differences between payment standards across different jurisdictions often complicate billing processes.
With these limitations in mind, to improve voucher portability rates, the authors recommend that cooperative agreements between housing authorities across the state are key to solving current administrative issues that limit the portability of vouchers. Cooperative efforts to standardize procedures are already underway in the Chicago area. The authors also recommend dedicating staff resources within housing authorities specifically to voucher portability, and providing a more robust program of mobility counseling to support relocation efforts. Fair housing regulations and landlord education are mentioned as important tools to increase the number of property owners in high-opportunity communities who are willing to rent to voucher holders.
Portability is an important component of the Housing Choice Voucher Program because it provides families with a greater choice of housing as well as an opportunity to rent homes in areas with higher-quality housing, schools and services, two objectives of the program. The IHARP study concludes that well-managed portability programs are an important step towards expanding housing choice for voucher holders.
The study, “Moving or Moving Up? Understanding Residential Mobility for Housing Choice Voucher Families in Illinois” is available on Housing Action Illinois’ webpage at: http://www.housingactionil.org/downloads/IHARP_State_report_JS_Final_4-6-11.pdf