A study recently published in Cityscape explores how households in the Moving to Opportunity (MTO) demonstration fared after leaving housing assistance. The authors of the article titled “What Happens to Housing Assistance Leavers?” are Robin Smith, Sue Popkin, Taz George, and Jennifer Comey.
The study found that participants who left housing assistance for positive reasons fared better in terms of income growth and neighborhood quality than those who remained assisted. However, those who left assistance for negative reasons fared worse than households who remained in public housing or used a voucher to move.
The study analyzed data from HUD’s MTO demonstration, which tracked a sample of 4,600 households living in public housing or utilizing Housing Choice Vouchers in five cities over a 10 to 15 year period. The MTO demonstration was designed to test the effect of giving residents of distressed public housing the opportunity to move to low-poverty neighborhoods using vouchers. The study found that 35% of MTO participants were no longer receiving housing assistance by the end of the demonstration.
Households that left MTO were placed into two comparison groups: households that left assistance for positive reasons (positive leavers) and households that left for negative reasons (negative leavers). Positive leavers were those who left assistance due to having too much income (“incoming out”) or becoming homeowners. Negative leavers were those who left for reasons such as lease violations, evictions, or an inability to lease up within the time limits of the voucher program. The study found that 52% of unassisted households were positive leavers and 48% were negative leavers.
The findings indicate markedly different outcomes for positive and negative leavers. This was especially clear in terms of income. Households that left for positive reasons reported a median income of $37,865 compared to just $13,950 for households leaving for negative reasons. Positive leavers were also more likely than negative leavers to have better physical and mental health and greater satisfaction with their housing and neighborhood.
Positive leavers, however, reported significantly higher levels of medical and credit card debt than either negative leavers or still-assisted households, and one in five reported food insecurity and difficulty affording utilities. Qualitative interviews conducted in Boston and Los Angeles also revealed that positive leavers experienced continued income instability and, for those who transitioned to homeownership, difficulty making mortgage payments. Households who transitioned to homeownership appeared vulnerable to high interest loans and underwater mortgages. Based on these findings, the authors urge careful examination of HUD’s homeownership promotion strategies for assisted households.
The study found that almost half of negative leavers reported experiencing homelessness. Negative leavers were also less likely to utilize food stamps or Medicaid than still-assisted households, despite similar levels of income. In short, negative leavers were worse off than their counterparts who remained in public housing or the voucher program and at significantly greater risk for homelessness. As a result, the authors of the study urge Congress to require housing authorities to provide intensive supports to assisted households at risk of lease violations and eviction.
What Happens to Housing Assistance Leavers? is available at http://bit.ly/1JOQYA2.