The Housing Choice Voucher Program serves nearly 2 million low-income households nationwide, the majority in urban areas. This literature review examines the empirical evidence on neighborhood location outcomes for voucher recipients, including research regarding housing and neighborhood preferences. Voucher holders live in most urban neighborhoods, and do not typically experience extremely high poverty rates. However, disparities by race persist, and the program is less effective than the LIHTC program in allowing poor households to reach low-poverty suburbs. Neighborhood quality is lower for nonwhite households compared to whites, but evidence suggests black households may benefit more from the voucher than whites.
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Introduction: Why Neighborhood Matters
Over the past four decades, a wealth of multidisciplinary evidence has emerged to suggest that neighborhood environments shape individual outcomes. Kain (1968) and Wilson (1987) offer several theories for why and how living in a high-poverty neighborhood can be harmful. Ellen and Turner (1997), Briggs (1997), and Jencks and Meyer (2000) assess the empirical work on neighborhood effects and identify the major pathways through which neighborhoods may affect individuals. Broadly stated, distance from jobs, exposure to violence and crime, poor quality public services, negative peer influences and a dearth of positive role models in high-poverty neighborhoods may limit residents' ability to achieve economic mobility. Experimental evidence from the Moving to Opportunity (MTO) demonstration program, while controversial, further suggests that neighborhoods affect physical and mental health for adults and youth (Ludwig et al. 2008). Communities of color are disproportionately exposed to high-poverty neighborhoods, and black households in particular tend to live in areas with limited opportunities for economic mobility compared with whites (Wilson 1987; Massey and Denton 1993; Jargowsky 1996, Kingsley, Johnson and Petit, 2003). Capturing the specific mechanisms or impacts of neighborhood conditions quantitatively continues to challenge researchers. But collectively, the literature suggests that neighborhoods matter in various ways for various people.
Tenant-based housing assistance was born in part from the idea that neighborhood conditions affect individual well-being and shape life chances. A goal of the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program is to avoid concentrations of poverty typical of some public housing projects, and to permit assisted households to gain access to a wider range of higher-quality neighborhoods than they would have reached without the voucher, or if they have been offered a place-based housing unit. A persistent concern for policymakers is whether voucher holders do in fact live in "good" or lower-poverty areas than they would have lived in without a voucher. This paper reviews the evidence on neighborhood location outcomes for voucher holders in metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs), where over three-quarters of all voucher holders live (Devine et al. 2003; Galvez forthcoming[a]). Included is a discussion of how outcomes are defined and how voucher holders' location outcomes compare to threshold poverty-rate expectations, other poor households, and to assisted housing units. Also included is a review of the qualitative literature on location outcomes, which speaks to how voucher holders search for housing and make location decisions.
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