Families with Vouchers Are Underrepresented in Low-Distress Neighborhoods
A recent study published in Cityscape titled “Vouchers and Neighborhood Distress” finds that Housing Choice Vouchers utilized by female-headed families are underrepresented in neighborhoods with low levels of distress and overrepresented in neighborhoods with high levels. The Cityscape journal is published by HUD’s Office of Policy Development and Research. The authors suggest that governments have to help voucher holders overcome racial barriers to access low-distress neighborhoods, which are predominantly white or racially integrated.
The study utilized data from HUD and the five-year 2009-2013 American Community Survey to examine the neighborhoods of female-headed families with vouchers in metropolitan areas. The authors measured neighborhood distress with an index based the neighborhood poverty rate, the unemployment rate, the percentage of households who were female-headed, the percentage of households receiving public assistance, and the percentage of adults not in school and without a high school diploma.
The study found that voucher families are underrepresented relative to the availability of affordable housing in census tracts with the lowest levels of distress and are overrepresented in tracts with the very highest levels of distress. It found that minority voucher holders are especially underrepresented in tracts with low levels of neighborhood distress. Although non-Hispanic white voucher holders are slightly underrepresented in the very low-distress category relative to the percentage of all affordable housing, black and Hispanic voucher holders are significantly underrepresented, and other voucher families are underrepresented to a lesser degree. Non-Hispanic white voucher holders are slightly overrepresented relative to the availability of affordable units in low-distress tracts, but all three minority groups are underrepresented, again especially black and Hispanic voucher holders.
The authors conclude that policymakers should help voucher holders gain access to housing in white and racially integrated neighborhoods, which are more likely to have lower levels of distress. Increasing the availability of affordable rental homes may be necessary but insufficient to ensure access to low-distress neighborhoods. The authors also suggest that small area FMRs, which provide for higher voucher payment standards in higher cost neighborhoods, may not provide better access to low-distress neighborhoods on their own, without other policies to address racial barriers.