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CHAC Mobility Program Assessment

Interim Report

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Document date: November 13, 2001
Released online: November 13, 2001

Submitted To: MacArthur Foundation Grant No. 99-61174-HCD UI No. 07011-000-05

The nonpartisan Urban Institute publishes studies, reports, and books on timely topics worthy of public consideration. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute, its trustees, or it funders.

This report is available in its entirety in the Portable Document Format (PDF), which many find convenient when printing.


    Research Questions and Methods
    Scope of the Report

    Program Components
    Program Outcomes

    Reasons for Moving, Respondent Characteristics, and Services Needed
    Baseline: Housing and Neighborhood Conditions

    Housing Quality and Perceived Changes in Neighborhood Quality




    Exhibit 1.1 - Research Question

    Exhibit 2.1 - Mobility Program

    Exhibit 2.2 - Neighborhood Outcomes: CHAC Administrative Data

    Exhibit 3.1 - Reasons for Moving

    Exhibit 3.2 - Reasons for Voluntary Moves

    Exhibit 3.3 - Wave I: CHAC Respondents

    Exhibit 3.4 - Health

    Exhibit 3.5 - Asthma

    Exhibit 3.6 - Self-Efficacy

    Exhibit 3.7 - Section 8 Search Barriers

    Exhibit 3.8 - Non-housing Services Needed

    Exhibit 3.9 - Housing Quality

    Exhibit 3.10 - Social Disorder and Violence in Neighborhood

    Exhibit 4.1 - Survey Response and Relocation Status

    Exhibit 4.2 - Move Status

    Exhibit 4.3 - Neighborhood Outcomes for Movers

    Exhibit 4.4 - Neighborhood Outcomes by Poverty Categories

    Exhibit 4.5 - Neighborhood Outcomes: Minority Concentration

    Exhibit 4.6 - Housing Quality, by Neighborhood Poverty Levels

    Exhibit 4.7 - Social Cohesion and Trust, by Neighborhood Poverty Levels

    Exhibit 4.8 - Social Disorder, by Neighborhood Poverty Levels


The Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) Relocation and Mobility Counseling Assessment intends to examine neighborhood outcomes for Housing Choice Voucher holders and to assess CHAC's efforts in providing mobility counseling to voucher holders interested in moving to opportunity neighborhoods. The study also aims to provide ongoing feedback to the CHA and CHAC—the organization that administers the Housing Choice Voucher program and operates the Mobility Program—and other actors concerned about the Housing Choice Voucher Program, such as the Mayor's Office; Chicago Department of Human Services; and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The study is funded by a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and is being conducted by the Urban Institute, a non-profit policy research organization based in Washington, D.C., and its partner, the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The purpose of this interim report is to provide preliminary feedback on the impact of CHAC's Mobility Program as seen through data collected during the first two waves of our study. The study tracks the moving experiences of a cohort of Housing Choice Voucher holders (who have been receiving Housing Choice Voucher assistance for at least one year) as they proceed through the process of making a move with their voucher. This report presents a descriptive analysis of the characteristics of the respondents in our sample and examines neighborhood outcomes for voucher holders who moved.


In recent years, the emphasis of federal housing policy has shifted from project-based housing subsidies to tenant-based subsidies, increasing the importance of the Housing Choice Voucher Program in providing housing assistance to low-income families. Congress established the Housing Choice Voucher Program in 1974.1 The program has grown tremendously since its inception and today it currently serves approximately 1.4 million households (Schussheim 1996). The original goal of the program—to provide affordable housing options to low-income households—has expanded over time and now includes "deconcentration" of low-income households.

The program is administered by state and local governments and funded by the federal government's Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Participants in the program typically pay 30 to 40 percent of their monthly income toward rent (plus utilities) and the Housing Choice Voucher Program makes up the difference. Vouchers are tenant-based, which means that, unlike residents of public housing, voucher families have the option to move anywhere in the United States.

With approximately 26,000 vouchers, the Chicago Housing Authority's (CHA's) Housing Choice Voucher Program is one of the largest in the country. The CHA's program is expected to continue to grow substantially over the next five years. The expiration of Section 8 project-based subsidy contracts with private developers has already shifted a significant number of families from project-based assistance to tenant-based assistance. In addition, changes in Chicago public housing are expected to add thousands of families to the Housing Choice Voucher Program rolls.

Policy analysts, practitioners, and housing advocates disagree about whether the shift from project-based subsidies to tenant-based subsidies represents a positive change in housing policy. In some cities, the Housing Choice Voucher Program has shown promising results in increasing choice and expanding housing opportunities for low-income families (Turner 1998). However, in Chicago, the results of this shift are not as clear. A majority of Housing Choice Voucher recipients are located on the south side of Chicago and in the southern suburbs, and the "clustering" of voucher holders appears to be a substantial problem both inside the city and in the bordering suburbs (Fischer 1999).

Chicago has a long history of mobility programs intended to reduce economic and racial segregation in its public housing and Housing Choice Voucher programs. The most famous of these is the Gautreaux program, created in 1976 as the result of a desegregation settlement.2 The settlement called for 7,100 housing certificates to be provided to current and former CHA residents for use in neighborhoods that were less than 30 percent African American. The Gautreaux program, which ran until 1998, provided counseling and support to families who chose to move to these nonminority areas (Rubinowitz and Rosenbaum 2000). The certificates were administered by the Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Communities, which has since been one of the contractors involved in relocating CHA residents. In 2001, the agency was commissioned to create a new Gautreaux-type program for volunteers who wish to make mobility moves.3 In addition to Gautreaux, Housing Choice Partners administers a mobility program in the Cook County suburbs.

CHAC Inc., the private corporation that administers the Housing Choice Voucher Program in Chicago, has run several mobility initiatives since taking control of the voucher program in September 1995. The agency first initiated a small mobility program in 1995 as part of its contract, then administered the Chicago Moving to Opportunity Demonstration from 1996 to 1998. In 1999, CHAC dramatically expanded its mobility efforts, requesting a waiver from HUD to convert funds from 250 vouchers in order to create an expanded mobility program. The result of this increased effort is CHAC's Mobility Program.

The Mobility Program, geared to current Housing Choice Voucher recipients who are moving with their vouchers, is one of the only mobility programs in the country that is run directly by the same agency that administers the voucher program rather than by a nonprofit contractor.4 The program offers a variety of services, including one-on-one counseling, life-skills training, landlord negotiation seminars, neighborhood tours, and the Security Deposit Loan Program to foster moves to opportunity areas.

Research Questions and Methods

A number of studies have examined how neighborhood poverty levels influence outcomes for families with vouchers.5 However, to date, there has been no systematic examination of how mobility programs operate, what makes them effective, and what components need to be strengthened. The Relocation and Mobility Counseling Assessment6 study attempts to fill this gap by providing meaningful data that draw on a three-wave panel survey, program observations, and interviews with administrative staff.

The overall purpose of the study is to provide a systematic examination CHAC's Mobility Program and how it influences neighborhood outcomes. More specifically, the objectives of the study are to (1) understand the barriers faced by Housing Choice Voucher searchers while they look for housing in Chicago; (2) examine the services offered to participants in CHAC's Mobility Program; and (3) identify short-term outcomes for participants in the program. Further, the study is meant to provide feedback to CHAC as it implements its Mobility Program and continues to grapple with the challenges of serving a rapidly changing population. Exhibit 1.1 outlines our specific research questions.

  • What problems and challenges do Housing Choice Voucher recipients face in locating housing and leasing up?
  • What proportion of the population has multiple problems; what proportion requires intensive counseling before attempting a move; and what proportion will need long-term support in order to maintain their Housing Choice Voucher assistance?
Services and Facilitators
  • Do participants search in low-poverty areas?
  • What factors affect families' willingness to consider unfamiliar areas, including families' preferences for particular communities, fears of moving to unfamiliar areas, concerns about encountering discrimination, and the limited availability of appropriate units (e.g., affordable units, units with a large number of large bedroom units)?
  • Are there other services that they feel they need?
  • What are the characteristics of those participants who move to low-poverty areas?
  • What types of services do these participants receive?
Locational Outcomes
  • What proportion of Housing Choice Voucher holders move to low-poverty neighborhoods?
  • How do these participants compare with successful movers?
  • What are the relocation outcomes for participants (i.e., the characteristics of the neighborhoods they move from and to)?
  • How satisfied are movers with their new units and neighborhoods?
  • Do they feel they have received adequate follow-up support?
  • Are there any early impacts on employment or quality-of-life outcomes for participants?
  • What are the early outcomes for those who fail to find units?

To answer these questions, our study uses a variety of methods, including a three-wave panel survey, interviews with administrative staff at CHAC, and observation of program activities.7 These methods are described below.8

Three-Wave Panel Survey. The survey sampled 203 CHAC voucher holders who had been on the Housing Choice Voucher Program for at least one year and were moving voluntarily, being evicted from their apartment by their landlord, or required to move because their unit failed Housing Quality Standards (HQS) inspection. Data collection took place at CHAC directly following transfer briefings, which all movers are required to attend. All eligible participants were interviewed in separate areas of the briefing room. Baseline data collection took place from April through June 2000. The baseline survey lasted approximately 20 minutes, and each participant was paid $10 for completing the interview. We conducted the first follow-up wave of data collection with the same respondents between November 2000 and January 2001. The third and final survey wave began in May 2001 and was completed in September 2001.

Process Study. A process study of the counseling and mobility services provided by CHAC's Mobility Program was conducted in order to answer research questions related to program operations. Research staff conducted group interviews with CHAC staff in January 2000 and held interviews and program observations from April through August 2000. They observed briefings and other program activities, such as van tours and workshops for tenants, and also conducted one-on-one interviews with program administrators and individual counselors. Finally, they conducted follow-up interviews with program administrators in January and March 2001. In addition to qualitative data collected during our process study, we collected summarized administrative data on program outcomes from 5/01/99-4/30/01. These data are presented along with our description of CHAC's mobility program.

It is important to note that there are a number of limitations inherent in our research design. Our sample was selected from second movers who attended a transfer briefing between April and June 2000. Only the Housing Choice Voucher holders interested in participating in our study were surveyed at the end of the transfer briefing. This study design has several implications for the population our sample represents. In order to address this issue, descriptive statistics available from CHAC administrative data were examined. There appear to be several differences between our sample of movers and the population of voucher holders. CHAC administrative data that were examined showed that the respondents in our sample have slightly lower incomes but are slightly more likely to be employed. Further, Hispanic and elderly households are likely underrepresented in our sample, which likely represents two groups: Housing Choice Voucher holders who are moving voluntarily—and thus are likely to be more motivated—and voucher holders who have to move as a result of an eviction or failed inspection (involuntary movers).

Scope of the Report

This report presents a descriptive analysis of the characteristics of our respondents, their reasons for moving, the barriers they confronted during their search, and, for the respondents who moved, their neighborhood outcomes. Throughout this report, we focus is on several important questions:

  • Who among our Housing Choice Voucher sample moved?
  • What are the characteristics of movers, and how are they different from non-movers?
  • What are the neighborhood outcomes for the respondents who moved?
Answering these questions is the first step toward understanding how to target specific populations for mobility efforts.

One of the main objectives of our study is to examine the types of neighborhoods to which families on the Housing Choice Voucher Program move and how mobility counseling relates to neighborhood outcomes. To do so, we are studying Housing Choice Voucher movers, most of whom are moving voluntarily and thus can choose not to move and instead remain in their current apartment. Therefore, not all of our respondents will have moved by the end our study, limiting our sample size for certain types of analysis. Because of the limitations of our sample size, however, it is still too early to completely assess the effectiveness of mobility assistance for our sample of respondents.

For the final report (expected March 2002), we expect that more of our respondents will have moved and we will be able to conduct a multivariate analysis that examines whether participation in the Mobility Program increases the likelihood of moves to low-poverty neighborhoods. Further, we will examine if there are other "predictors," such as income, education level, and so on, of moving to low-poverty neighborhoods.

It is important to note that CHAC's Mobility Program is very much a work in progress. Therefore, this report highlights some of the changes CHAC has implemented in order to strengthen the program during the course of our study. Since our survey sample was first interviewed in May 1999, during the early phases of the program, those respondents who moved quickly were likely not affected by later changes to the program. However, our ongoing process study has documented many of the implementation challenges facing the program and has taken note of CHAC's responses during the study period. Thus, in addition to a snapshot of program outcomes, our report offers important lessons for CHAC's ongoing efforts to improve and expand its mobility counseling services.

The remainder of this report consists of five sections. Section 2 provides a description of CHAC's Mobility Program, including program outcomes to date (CHAC administrative data), how participants move through the Mobility Program, and major program components. Section 3, drawing on data from the first two waves of our survey, describes the respondents in our sample. Section 4 provides a descriptive analysis of neighborhood outcomes and housing quality, specifically examining differences between movers to opportunity neighborhoods and movers to high-poverty neighborhoods. Section 5 presents outcomes from our process study, highlighting some of the recent changes CHAC has made in order to strengthen the Mobility Program and, drawing on lessons learned to date, presents our recommendations for continued improvement. The report concludes with Section 6.


1. The Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act of 1998 merged the Section 8 certificate and Section 8 voucher program into one to create the Housing Choice Voucher Program. This program is referred to throughout this report as the "Housing Choice Voucher Program," the "voucher program," or "vouchers."

2. See the CHA Transformation Plan (October 2001) for more details regarding demolition and relocation. Most of these demolitions are covered by a 1996 federal law calling for the conversion to vouchers of certain severely distressed public housing developments.

3. In the landmark Gautreaux case the courts found that the CHA and HUD had discriminated against black tenants, concentrating them in large-scale developments located in poor black neighborhoods. The decision against the CHA in 1969 called for the creation of new public housing at "scattered sites" in nonminority communities. The case against HUD eventually moved to the Supreme Court and was settled in 1976 (Rubinowitz and Rosenbaum 2000).

4. For a full discussion of the Leadership Council's role in relocation, see S.J. Popkin and M.K. Cunningham (2001) CHA Relocation Counseling Assessment—Interim Report. Washington, D.C.: The Urban Institute.

5. The only other large-scale program is the Housing Opportunities Program administered by the Dallas Housing Authority as part of its obligations under the Walker decree.

6. See, for example, HUD's Moving To Opportunity Demonstration. For a full description of the Moving To Opportunity Program see U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Policy Development and Research Division. Expanding Housing Choices for HUD-Assisted Families: Moving to Opportunity. Washington, DC, April 1996.

7. The Relocation and Mobility Counseling Assessment has two components: an assessment of the counseling and relocation services provided to CHA relocatees and an assessment of services provided to participants in CHAC's Mobility Program. In July 2001, the Urban Institute released a report that focused on results from the first component of this study—counseling and relocation services to CHA relocatees. This report focuses on the second component—assessing CHAC's Mobility Program. See Popkin and Cunningham "CHA Relocation Counseling Assessment: Interim Report" July 2001.

8. In-depth interviews with CHAC Mobility Program participants may be conducted during the last wave of this study (November 2001-January 2002).

This report is available in its entirety in the Portable Document Format (PDF), which many find convenient when printing.

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