A study published in Cityscape titled “Vouchers and Neighborhood Distress” by Alex Schwartz, Kirk McClure, and Lydia Taghavi find that Housing Choice Vouchers (vouchers) utilized by female-headed families are underrepresented in neighborhoods with low levels of distress and overrepresented in neighborhoods with high levels. The authors suggest that governments have to help voucher holders overcome racial barriers to access low-distress neighborhoods, which are predominantly white or racially integrated.
The study utilized data from HUD and the five-year 2009-2013 American Community Survey to examine the neighborhoods of female-headed families with vouchers in metropolitan areas. The authors measured neighborhood distress with an index based the neighborhood poverty rate, the unemployment rate, the percentage of households who were female-headed, the percentage of households receiving public assistance, and the percentage of adults not in school and without a high school diploma. The authors also identified neighborhoods as white, black, Hispanic, or integrated. The authors compared the distribution of voucher-eligible homes, those renting for less than the Fair Market Rent (FMR), to the distribution of female-headed families with vouchers. The FMR is the basis for voucher payment standards.
In the average metropolitan area, 36% of homes renting below the FMR were located in neighborhoods with very high distress levels, but 49% of female-headed families with vouchers were living in these neighborhoods. At the other end of the spectrum, 8% of rental homes below FMR were located in neighborhoods with very low distress levels, but fewer than 4% of female-headed families with vouchers were located in these neighborhoods. The table below gives the full distribution. Underrepresentation in neighborhoods of low or very low distress is especially problematic for black and Hispanic voucher holders.
Female-Headed Families with Vouchers
Neighborhood Distress Level
Voucher-Eligible Affordable Homes
Source: Reproduced from Cityscape, “Vouchers and Neighborhood Distress” article.
White and racially integrated neighborhoods were more likely to have low or very low levels of distress, but black and Hispanic voucher holders were far less likely to live in them than white voucher holders. In the average metropolitan area, approximately 25% of homes renting for below the FMR were located in predominantly white neighborhoods, yet only 8% of black and Hispanic female-headed families with vouchers lived in them, as compared to 46% of white female-headed families with vouchers.
The authors conclude that policymakers should help voucher holders gain access to housing in white and racially integrated neighborhoods, which are more likely to have lower levels of distress. Increasing the availability of affordable rental homes may be necessary but insufficient to ensure access to low-distress neighborhoods. The authors also suggest that small area FMRs, which provide for higher voucher payment standards in higher cost neighborhoods, may not provide better access to low-distress neighborhoods on their own, without other policies to address racial barriers.
Vouchers and Neighborhood Distress: The Unrealized Potential for Families with Housing Choice Vouchers to Reside in Neighborhoods with Low Levels of Distress is available at: http://bit.ly/2hVwUPj