Study Suggests Social Networks May Affect Residential Choices of Voucher Holders

Housing Choice Vouchers (HCVs) help low income households afford housing in low-poverty neighborhoods, but HCV recipients still tend to live in higher-poverty neighborhoods. A study published in the Journal of Housing Economics by Ingrid Gould Ellen, Michael Suher and Gerard Torrats-Espinosa, “Neighbors and networks: The role of social interactions on the residential choices of housing choice voucher holders,” explores whether social networks may help explain voucher holders’ residential choices. Among HCV recipients who moved to a new neighborhood, pairs of neighbors who had initially lived within the same or adjacent buildings were about 40% more likely to relocate to the same new neighborhood than did pairs of neighbors who lived more than 1,000 feet apart from one another. Based on these findings, the authors suggest that neighborhood social networks may influence the residential choices of voucher recipients.

The authors paired voucher holders who moved to a different neighborhood (census tract) between 2011 and 2014, but stayed in the same metropolitan area. The study included more than 3.3 million possible pairs of 272,329 voucher holders who had moved. Paired movers initially living within 50 feet of each other were up to two percentage points more likely than those living more than 1,000 feet from each other to end up in the same neighborhood. A two-percentage-point increase represents a 40% increase from the average rate (4.6%) of all pairs who wound up in the same neighborhood after moving. The effect was stronger in metropolitan areas with low vacancy rates and in metropolitan areas that were more highly segregated. Both low vacancy and high segregation rates make the search for housing more difficult.

The authors also found that paired neighbors who moved to the same neighborhood on average chose neighborhoods of greater poverty, with less access to the labor market and with more environmental hazards, than paired neighbors who did not move to the same neighborhood.

The authors acknowledged that they did not directly observe social interactions, so households living close to one another may have received similar information about housing options from another source. The results, however, suggest that more information and guidance to voucher recipients about their neighborhood options could broaden their choices. The use of Small Area Fair Market Rents, which provide voucher payment standards that better reflect ZIP code rents rather than metropolitan-level rents, could also expand neighborhood options for voucher holders (see Memo, 1/22 & 3/26).

“Neighbors and networks: The role of social interactions on the residential choices of housing choice voucher holders” is available at: