Housing Voucher Denial Rates Higher in Boundaries for High-Performing Schools

In “Why Schools Should Care about Housing Voucher Discrimination,” scholars at the Urban Institute find that landlords were more likely to deny applicants with Housing Choice Vouchers in the boundaries of high-performing school districts. In jurisdictions that had voucher nondiscrimination laws, some landlords still told would-be renters they did not take vouchers, but the school-performance gap was mitigated or erased.

This research revisits a 2018 pilot study of housing voucher discrimination conducted by the Urban Institute, which found that landlords were more likely to reject voucher holders in lower-poverty neighborhoods. That study selected a random sample of rental unit listings in Los Angeles, California; Fort Worth, Texas; Newark, New Jersey; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Washington, D.C. They conducted 3,870 “acceptance tests” by calling landlords and inquiring about the use of vouchers. In Fort Worth, 78% of landlords refused vouchers, compared to 76% in Los Angeles and 67% in Philadelphia. In Newark and Washington, DC, where voucher non-discrimination laws protect tenants, the denial rates were 31% and 15%, respectively.

For this study, researchers combined the 2018 data about voucher acceptance rates with data on public school performance from EDFacts student assessment data and School Attendance Boundary Survey data. The school performance measure was the share of students testing as proficient in math and reading. Because school boundary data were not complete for Fort Worth, the researchers focused on Los Angeles, Newark, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC.

In Los Angeles, Newark, and Philadelphia, school performance is higher in areas where vouchers are more likely to be denied. For example, in school catchment areas (boundaries for assignment to particular schools) where vouchers were accepted in Philadelphia, 27% of elementary students scored proficient in reading and 15% scored proficient in math. In catchment areas where vouchers were denied, 35% of students scored proficient in reading and 22% scored proficient in math. In Los Angeles, the areas where vouchers were denied had proficiency scores that were 6 percentage points higher in reading and 5 percentage points higher in math than areas where vouchers were accepted. The differences were smaller in Newark—there was a 3 percentage point gap in reading and math—which may reflect the existence of a voucher non-discrimination law in New Jersey. In Washington, DC, there was not a statistically significant difference in school performance between areas where vouchers were accepted or denied.

A summary of this research can be found at: https://urbn.is/3aUtSIc

A technical appendix with more details about the study can be found at: https://urbn.is/3gthZKD