Systematic Review of Housing Voucher Studies Finds that Vouchers Lead to Improved Household Security and Health

A new paper published in the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice, “Tenant-Based Housing Voucher Programs: A Community Guide Systematic Review,” assesses the impact of housing voucher programs on households’ housing stability, neighborhood opportunity, and health. The review covers seven studies, all comparing outcomes for households receiving housing vouchers and those not receiving vouchers. The review finds that households that received vouchers were more likely to experience better housing quality, less housing insecurity, and improved health care access compared to households not receiving vouchers. Additionally, children who lived in households with vouchers before age 13 experienced improved employment and economic outcomes.

The review identified studies that evaluated voucher programs in the U.S., included a comparison group of households not receiving vouchers, and were published by a reputable source. Researchers identified seven eligible studies and compared findings across papers to garner a better understanding of the impacts of tenant-based housing vouchers. In some cases, the reviewers drew a distinction between the impacts of the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program and a program in which households received a housing voucher and housing counseling and were required to move to a low-poverty area (known as Moving to Opportunity (MTO)).

The paper finds that voucher holders experienced improved housing security outcomes compared to households that did not receive vouchers. The proportion of voucher holders who rated their housing as good or excellent was a median of 7.9 percentage points greater than non-voucher-holding households. Voucher holders were also less likely to be housing insecure or homeless, with a median difference of 22.4 percentage points among voucher holders and non-voucher holders. Neighborhood poverty was also lower among voucher holders, with the average voucher holder living in a neighborhood where the poverty rate was 5.2 percentage points lower than the rate in neighborhoods where non-voucher holders typically lived.

Households with vouchers also had greater access to healthcare and reported better mental and physical health than low-income households without vouchers. The percent of uninsured voucher holders was a median of 4.2 percentage points less than those without vouchers. Adult voucher holders were also more likely to rate their health as good or excellent and were less likely to have poor mental health, including depression and panic attacks, than adults without vouchers

Children who were under the age of 13 when their families received a voucher were more likely to be employed and have higher incomes in adulthood. Children in households that received a voucher through MTO were 3.9 percentage points more likely to be employed as adults, while children in households participating in the HCV program were 2.1 percentage points more likely to be employed as adults. Children in the MTO and HCV programs also had higher incomes as adults – by 30.8% and 10.3%, respectively – compared to those from low-income households not receiving a voucher.

The authors emphasize that households with housing vouchers experience improved housing stability and health outcomes overall compared to unassisted low-income households. Because only one-quarter of eligible low-income households currently receive vouchers, expanded funding for the HCV program could help more eligible households access affordable, quality housing.

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