Urban Institute nonprofit social and economic policy research

Three-City Study of the Moving to Opportunity program


Three-City Study of MTO is a large-scale, mixed-method study focused on three Moving To Opportunity sites: Boston, Los Angeles, and New York. The study was designed to examine key puzzles that emerged in previous MTO research, including the Interim Evaluation, and combines analysis of MTO survey, census, and neighborhood indicator data with new, qualitative data collection. The family-level data were collected in 2004 and 2005, about 6 to 10 years after families' initial placement through the MTO program and 2 years after the Interim Evaluation data collection. Through in-depth qualitative interviews and "family-focused" ethnographic field work, we examine the effects of relocating families to lower poverty neighborhoods and beyond.

Commentary: New Findings on the Benefits and Limitations of Assisted Housing Mobility

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) launched the Moving to Opportunity (MTO) demonstration in 1994 in five cities: Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York. MTO targeted families living in some of the nation’s poorest, highest-crime communities and used housing subsidies to offer them a chance to move to lower-poverty neighborhoods. Research on the families conducted in 2002 raised some important questions about the impact of the program. Findings from the follow up Three-City Study of MTO, in 2004 and 2005, answer some of the questions but also highlight the complexity of the MTO experience and the limitations of a relocation-only strategy in being able to bring about fundamental changes in the lives of very low income families.



Girls in the 'Hood: The Importance of Feeling Safe

The Moving to Opportunity program targeted families living in some of the nation’s poorest, highest-crime neighborhoods and offered them a chance to move to lower poverty areas. One hope was that, away from concentrated poverty and the risks associated with it – including poor physical and mental health, risky sexual behavior and delinquency – families would fare better. This brief examines how adolescent girls benefited from moving out of high poverty and discusses why girls might have fared so much better than boys.

Have MTO Families Lost Access to Opportunity Neighborhoods Over Time?

Families in HUD’s Moving to Opportunity program had the chance to move to neighborhoods with lower poverty, lower crime rates and, presumably, more opportunities for employment, good schools and better quality of life. Did they benefit from the moves and did they remain there to continue those benefits? This brief identifies patterns of moving for MTO families and the characteristics of the neighborhoods both from and to which they moved.

Do Better Neighborhoods for MTO Families Mean Better Schools?

One expected benefit of moving poor families from the concentrated poverty of some inner city neighborhoods to better, less poor neighborhoods, was that the children would attend better schools, with more resources and more advantaged peers who might be models for hard work and higher achievement. This brief looks at the schools MTO children attended after their move, how they did or did not differ from the schools in their pre-move neighborhoods, and what factors mattered to families choosing schools for their children.

Can Escaping from Poor Neighborhoods Increase Employment and Earnings?

Is there a correlation between exposure to racially integrated, low poverty areas and employment outcomes? Does moving from a poor, inner city neighborhood to a less poor area bring greater proximity to job opportunities, or contacts with new networks of neighbors who might steer movers to jobs? Does living in a community where more people work increase motivation to work or to increase income? In examining these questions for the MTO experimental movers, this brief finds that factors in addition to where people live affect their employment and earnings.

Assisted Housing Mobility and the Success of Low-Income Minority Families: Lessons for Policy, Practice, and Future Research

The federal Moving to Opportunity program (MTO) was designed to help poor minority families move from distressed, high poverty neighborhoods to better locations, thereby improving their quality of life and long term chances for well-being. Low income families living in concentrated poverty face a variety of challenges to their safety, health, and economic health, including poor schools, high crime and unemployment. This brief examines areas where the MTO program helped movers with those challenges, areas still problematic even after moving, and factors affecting those outcomes and considers policy implications for the next generation of assisted housing mobility initiatives.

Struggling to Stay Out of High-Poverty Neighborhoods: Lessons from the Moving to Opportunity Experiment

MTO offered families living in concentrated poverty the chance to move to lower poverty areas, away from the high unemployment and high crime rates areas with the challenges and risks they present. This brief looks at whether the program was successful in helping families move away from those neighborhoods and stay away from them, noting both the reasons for subsequent moves and the characteristics of the neighborhoods to which they made those moves.