Researchers Find High Denial Rates of Housing Vouchers by Landlords

A study conducted by the Urban Institute, A Pilot Study of Landlord Acceptance of Housing Choice Vouchers, finds high denial rates of Housing Choice Vouchers by landlords, particularly in markets where discrimination based on prospective tenants’ source of income is not prohibited. The study’s authors recommend legal protections prohibiting discrimination against voucher holders, recruitment of and incentives for landlords to participate in the voucher program, extended search times for voucher holders to find housing (from 60 days to 120 days), and program improvements like payment standards more comparable to markets and improved services to landlords by public housing agencies.

The study included tests of voucher acceptance in five areas: Fort Worth, TX; Los Angeles, CA; Newark, NJ; Philadelphia, PA; and Washington, DC. Over 16 months, the study’s authors screened 341,000 online advertisements to find 8,735 advertisements for rental housing affordable to voucher holders. In telephone inquiries to the landlords about voucher acceptance in housing that would be affordable to voucher holders, the outright denial rate of vouchers was 78% in Fort Worth, 76% in Los Angeles, 67% in Philadelphia, 31% in Newark, and 15% in DC. Newark, the District of Columbia, and part of the Philadelphia area have protections against source-of-income discrimination. DC and Philadelphia also had higher payment standards than the others cities, with DC’s standards set at the neighborhood, rather than regional, level. Neighborhood-level payment standards allow for higher voucher payments to landlords in higher-cost neighborhoods and lower payments in lower-cost neighborhoods.

Denial rates in low-poverty neighborhoods were higher than those in high-poverty neighborhoods, except in DC (85% vs. 67% in Fort Worth; 81.5% vs. 66% in Los Angeles; 82.5% vs. 55.3% in Philadelphia; 31% vs. 26% in Newark; and 16% vs. 16% in DC).

In an additional step in the study, paired testers called landlords who accept vouchers to ask about available rental housing and to schedule an appointment to view it. Two testers would call the same landlord. These testers were similar in all aspects, including race, except that one identified as a voucher-holder and one did not. Because of the small number of paired-tests, only the results from Newark, NJ were reported. The tests found that landlord no-shows to appointments were common: 11% of tests ended with the landlord not meeting with either tester. The testers with vouchers, however, were eight percentage points less likely than those without a voucher to meet with the landlord.

The full report, A Pilot Study of Landlord Acceptance of Housing Choice Vouchers, will be released in September 2018. The report’s Executive Summary is available at: