A recent progress report of the Baltimore Housing Mobility Program (BHMP) shows that 86% of surveyed voucher participants in the BHMP program say that their neighborhoods are better or much better than the neighborhoods they came from, and 80% report an increased quality of life. The report, New Homes, New Neighborhoods, New Schools: A Progress Report on the Baltimore Housing Mobility Program discusses the success of the program to date and outlines planned improvements. Focusing on surveys of residents from 2007 and 2008, the report outlines the different reasons participants have for wanting to move and how they feel about their new neighborhoods.
The mobility program was developed in response to a desegregation case (Thompson vs. HUD) filed in 1995, and was fully launched in 2003. The program is unique in that it combines the typical Housing Choice Voucher program with intense housing counseling and tenant preparation. Additionally, the program focuses on building relationships with landlords who accept their tenants, and program administrators monitor the placement of voucher holders to avoid “clustering” tenants. Tenants were intentionally placed in drastically different neighborhoods. In “sending” neighborhoods, the average median income was $24,182, the citizens were 80% African American, unemployment was 17%, and 33% were living in poverty. This is contrasted with “receiving” neighborhoods, in which the average median income was $48,318, citizens were 21% African American, unemployment was 4.4%, and only 7.5% of the population was living in poverty.
The study found that along with the need for affordable housing, 86% of those surveyed in 2007 cited the desire to escape crime and move to a safer neighborhood as reasons to participate in the Baltimore Housing Mobility Program. Additionally, 67% of participants discussed the need for better schools for their children. Because of these needs, BHMP focuses on moving its residents from the city to safer suburban neighborhoods. Nearly 90% of residents used the voucher to move from city neighborhoods to suburban neighborhoods, which are described as “high-opportunity” neighborhoods in this report. Suburban neighborhoods generally provide lower poverty rates, better schools and more employment opportunities. In order to help participants make this move successful, housing counselors are involved in the preparation process, helping participants raise their credit scores and learn how to budget. This makes participants more appealing to landlords and more likely to be successful in their new neighborhoods.
In the 2008 survey, 95% of residents reported that their new neighborhoods are “better” than their old, with 72% answering “much better.” Eighty-four percent of 2008 survey respondents said that they are satisfied with the schools their children are in, with 55% reporting that their children are performing better in their new school than in their previous school. Of respondents, 85% reported an improvement in their quality of life, feeling less stressed, more motivated and generally healthier.
While some opponents of the voucher program have expressed concern over the potentially hostile environment that low income families might encounter in middle-class suburban neighborhoods, this has not been the case in the Baltimore Housing Mobility Program. In 2007, 72% of respondents who had been living in their neighborhoods for more than 14 months reported that their neighbors were friendly and cited their neighbors as a positive aspect of the move. Additionally, participants appreciated the diversity of their neighborhoods, with 68% reporting that a mix of cultures and backgrounds was an important aspect of choosing a neighborhood.
Link to the report at: http://www.prrac.org/pdf/BaltimoreMobilityReport.pdf