Source-of-Income Protections Can Positively Impact Public Housing

A study published in Housing Studies, “The Spillover Effects of Source-of-Income Anti-Discrimination Laws on Public Housing,” examines the potential effects of source-of-income (SOI) protections on enrollment in public housing programs. SOI protections, which prevent landlords from discriminating against housing choice voucher (HCV) holders, are intended to improve voucher success rates and mobility. Yet improved success rates and mobility in the voucher program may have unintended consequences regarding who enrolls in the public housing program. The study examines whether SOI protections can improve voucher outcomes as intended without further concentrating poverty and racial segregation in public housing. The study finds that while SOI protections do reduce the concentration of poverty in public housing, their impacts on racial segregation are unclear.

To analyze the potential impacts of SOI protections, the author compared the tenant composition of voucher and public housing programs at public housing agencies (PHAs) following the implementation of state and local SOI protections. More specifically, the author examined potential impacts on income, race, single parent status, occupancy rates, and new move-ins. The author also analyzed the potential effects of waiting list times on the relationship between SOI protections and tenant composition in public housing.

The study finds that following the enactment of SOI laws, the number of poor and extremely poor households in public housing was reduced by up to 1.5 and 4.4 percentage points, respectively. The study also finds corresponding increases in poor and extremely poor households in voucher programs, as well as a reduction in new entries to public housing. These findings suggest SOI protections improve voucher utilization for some of the poorest households and help expand their housing options beyond the public housing program.

The study’s findings regarding impacts on racial composition within public housing are inconclusive. In localities seeing shorter waiting times after the enactment of SOI laws, the study finds a 2.4 percentage point increase in the share of Black households residing in public housing. This finding suggests Black households might have been crowded out of the voucher program and into public housing by increased competition for vouchers. The same pattern, however, was not seen for PHAs with longer waiting times, and the share of Black households with vouchers increased overall following implementation of SOI protections. Further research is needed to fully understand the possible impacts of SOI protections on segregation in public housing.

There has been an ongoing transition from project-based to tenant-based housing assistance over the past several decades. Much of this transition has been conducted in the name of poverty de-concentration and desegregation. While limited in scope, this study provides a first look at whether a crucial policy for tenant-based assistance, namely SOI protections, might unintentionally lead to further poverty concentration or segregation in public housing, a key project-based assistance program. The study concludes that SOI laws are an effective tool with which localities can expand and improve voucher programs without exacerbating extreme poverty in existing public housing projects. Further research, however, is needed to understand potential impacts on racial segregation in public housing. 

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