Skip to content

Urban Affairs Association Annual Conference in Toronto

Earlier this month, faculty members Gregg Colburn and Rebecca Walter presented at the Urban Affairs Association Annual Conference in Toronto. Below is an abstract of Gregg’s session on housing subsidies.

Session Title: Housing Subsidies: Housing Choice and Quality

Paper Title: Housing Market Conditions and the Housing Choice Voucher Program

Since the 1970s, housing vouchers have become the primary mode of federal housing support for low-income households in the U.S. The voucher program was designed to provide recipients with the choice and flexibility needed to secure higher quality housing in neighborhoods with lower levels of segregation and poverty. Decades of analysis suggest that the housing outcomes of program beneficiaries have failed to produce the favorable outcomes envisioned by policymakers. To add to our understanding of the outcomes of this important federal program, this paper seeks to underscore the importance of context-dependent policy analysis. In particular, this study analyzes the impact of housing market conditions on the outcomes achieved by voucher recipients. Using neighborhood and housing outcome data from the American Housing Survey, and rental market vacancy data from the U.S. Census, I demonstrate the important role that market conditions play in program outcomes. The results from this study suggest that voucher recipients are successful at improving housing unit quality outcomes regardless of market conditions, but the ability to move to a better neighborhood is a function of market conditions. While voucher holders find improved housing and better neighborhoods in cities with higher vacancy rates, expensive coastal cities with low vacancy rates present a profound challenge for housing authorities and voucher recipients as they seek to administer and use vouchers in tight market conditions.