Interactive Report Outlines Impacts of Universal Housing Vouchers

The Housing Initiative at Penn released a report titled “Exploring a Universal Housing Voucher.” The interactive online report examines the projected impacts of a universal Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program and provides estimates of how many renter households would be served. Adjusting for various factors impacting voucher use, the authors estimate a universal voucher program would serve 5.6 million renter households, or 3.3 million more than are currently served.

HCVs provide rental assistance to households with incomes at or below 80% of the area median income (AMI), though most recipients are at or below 50% of AMI. While approximately 2.3 million households benefit from HCVs, HCVs are not universally available. The authors estimate that only 1 in 5 eligible households received a voucher and were able to use it in 2019. They cite empirical evidence of the benefits for households receiving vouchers.

Given the benefits of expanding vouchers, the authors estimate how many vouchers would be needed for a universal program. Approximately 17.7 million renter households at or below 50% AMI would be eligible if vouchers were universally available. About 14 million of these renter households live in metropolitan areas, while the remaining 3.7 million live in non-metropolitan or rural areas. Approximately 6.1 million households with children, 4.8 million households with seniors, and 9.5 million households of color would be eligible for universal vouchers. Households with children would account for 34% of all eligible households, households with seniors 27%, and households of color 54%.

The authors further refine their estimates for households served in a universal program by excluding households already residing in public housing, adjusting for expected success rates in leasing-up with vouchers, accounting for the potential formation of new households in response to voucher availability, and estimating length of stay in the program. After these adjustments, an estimated 5.6 million renter households would be expected to use a voucher in a universal program targeted at or below 50% of AMI. Such an estimate would serve 3.3 million more households than are served in the current program. Voucher holders would represent 13% of all renter households. The share of renter households expected to use universal vouchers would vary by state with the lowest share in Delaware (9%) and the highest share in Michigan (18%). The authors suggest that differences in renter incomes likely explain some of the variation – e.g., renters in Delaware have relatively higher incomes compared to those in Michigan.

The report includes estimates of the extent to which a universal voucher program might reduce poverty. A universal voucher program targeted for households with incomes at or below 50% AMI would make vouchers available to an estimated 10 million renter households in poverty and potentially lift 4.9 million households out of poverty. Households of color would account for 55% of the households potentially lifted out of poverty, while households with seniors would account for 23%. Households with children would comprise 32% of all households lifted out of poverty by a universal voucher program. Universal vouchers could reduce poverty even further if combined with a child tax credit. Combined with the 2021 Child Tax Credit, the authors estimate that universal vouchers targeted at or below 50% AMI could help lift 6.1 million households out of poverty.

Read the report at: