A study by researchers from the Urban Institute, University of Maryland, UCLA and Rutgers University, Driving to Opportunities: Voucher Users, Cars, and Movement to Sustainable Neighborhoods, finds that voucher holders with cars are more likely to live in better neighborhoods than those without cars. Voucher holders with cars lived in neighborhoods with fewer environmental hazards, lower poverty rates, and greater security.
The study examined a wide-range of neighborhood characteristics of voucher holders in the Moving to Opportunity (MTO) and Welfare to Work Voucher (WtWV) programs, two residential mobility initiatives that randomly assigned rental vouchers to low income households. The authors measured neighborhoods on multiple dimensions: natural environment, social environment, economic vitality, security, and access to opportunity. Data came from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the 2000 U.S. Decennial Census, the National Land Cover Database, and indices produced by several other organizations. The authors compared the neighborhood characteristics of voucher holders who had operating cars to those who did not.
Voucher holders with cars lived in neighborhoods with fewer environmental hazards. On average, they lived in neighborhoods with lower exposure to facilities listed by the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory, lower exposure to major highways, and fewer cancer risks as measured by an EPA cancer-risk assessment.
The study also compared neighborhood economic vitality between driving and non-driving voucher holders. Voucher holders with cars lived in neighborhoods with lower poverty rates and stronger housing markets. The strength of a neighborhood’s housing market was measured by a combination of vacancy rates, gross rent, and ownership rates. Voucher holders with cars, however, also lived in neighborhoods with fewer jobs per square mile and lower elementary school quality.
Fifty-eight percent of voucher holders with cars reported feeling safe at night in their neighborhood compared to 48% of voucher holders without cars. Crime data supported these perceptions. Forty-five percent of holders with cars lived in one of the top 25% highest crime neighborhoods (relative to their metropolitan area) while 49% of holders without cars lived in high crime neighborhoods.
These results should not be used to conclude that voucher holders should simply be provided with automobiles. Cars were not provided to a random selection of voucher holders, so car owners may differ from non-owners in other ways that would influence their neighborhood choices. Investment in automobiles for low-income households also should not be seen as an alternative to investment in public transit. The study included many metropolitan areas with poor public transit. In these areas, a car is more important for mobility than in areas with good public transit systems. The authors recommend a more integrated policy approach to transportation for low-income households, which includes public transit, automobiles, and walking. Suggestions also include providing affordable options and educational opportunities for car maintenance in areas where voucher holders with cars reside.
Driving to Opportunities: Voucher Users, Cars, and Movement to Sustainable Neighborhoods is available at http://bit.ly/1Heq79T.