«Moving to opportunity voluMe 14, nuMber 2 • 2012 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development | Office of Policy Development and Research ...»
Examining child outcomes is especially important because young children are particularly susceptible to many biological changes and illnesses associated with environmental exposures of all kinds.
Moreover, if prevented or detected early, some such illnesses can be cured or managed in ways that are beneficial to the child, the family, and the national health dollar. The key here is that young children’s biology and health are susceptible to the socioeconomic circumstances of their families (Adler and Stewart, 2010). Using a housing voucher to upgrade housing and increase family disposable income are two forms of socioeconomic upgrading, each of which occurs for most families in the Section 8 Program because they live in private housing when they get their voucher.
Conclusions MTO is a very important study and was well designed and analyzed for its own primary purpose— to test the consequences of a dramatic shift in the density of neighborhood poverty. The designers of the study never intended it to be an evaluation of the health consequences of the Section 8 Program, the conceptual framework we adopted in this article. Our remarks are not, therefore, critical of the MTO research. Rather, they are intended for all those who might be tempted to take MTO’s positive health results and extrapolate them to the Section 8 Program to declare it an empirical success. The MTO team never attempted such an extrapolation, and this article merely cautions those who might want to do so by outlining how the MTO demonstration differs from the Section 8 Program in (1) study population, (2) the size of the neighborhood affluence contrast, (3) the role of supplemental household income as a possible causal mediating mechanism, and (4) the limited supply of affordable rental housing in neighborhoods as affluent as those to which families in the main MTO treatment group moved.
The article also briefly outlines a different study for testing voucher effects in the Section 8 Program writ large. It particularly emphasizes the need for (1) including samples from the national population of Section 8 Program-eligible families; (2) including treatment contrasts that reflect the range of neighborhood and housing unit quality changes the Section 8 Program typically achieves;
(3) measuring and analyzing how much discretionary income flows to voucher holders who are already paying private-market rent before entering the Section 8 Program; (4) assessing the supply of, and demand for, affordable housing in the Section 8 Program; (5) measuring more biological and health outcomes than MTO did; and (6) examining biological and health changes in people of all ages, especially children.
Ironically, the evaluation emphasis in this article is somewhat at odds with our own view of social experiments (Shadish, Cook, and Leviton, 1991). MTO sought to be a bold enterprise that transcended the policy concerns of the era when it began, about 20 years ago. That is, it would create a treatment so bold that it could not exist in the world as it is currently socially conceived. Campbell (1969) has championed this conception of bold social experiments and has cautioned against using scarce and expensive experimental resources to test options that are already considered to be policy relevant. After all, good science need not have immediate payoffs, and what is deemed 178 Moving to Opportunity Making MTO Health Results More Relevant to Current Housing Policy: Next Steps unreasonable at any one moment in time may be considered feasible later. As we have shown here, a study to assess the effects of the Section 8 Program would involve a neighborhood improvement contrast smaller than what MTO achieved and, in some interpretations at least, this contrast would confound neighborhood change with an increase in disposable income. MTO was bolder and tested a theoretical policy alternative that reached beyond what was then considered a feasible alternative to public housing: locating families in settings considerably more affluent than the somewhat more safe and somewhat less poor, but otherwise not very different, neighborhoods into which they would otherwise have spontaneously moved. There has to be a place for such bold studies in our armamentarium of social experiments, and it is important to us that the present argument not be construed as an advocacy of doing only those social experiments that evaluate current policies like the Section 8 Program. At the national level, we need a both/and strategy: social experiments to examine both bold innovations and current policies. MTO is a great start and has successfully shone the light on health as an outcome of social mobility programs. Now is the time to enrich our understanding of the causal links between housing and health by conducting an evaluation of the less adventurous, but more immediately relevant, Section 8 Program.
Acknowledgments The authors thank Jens Ludwig and Mark Shroder for their help with general commentary and for details about the Section 8 Housing Voucher Program. The research for this article was supported by the MacArthur Foundation’s Network on Housing and Families with Children.
Authors Thomas D. Cook is the Joan and Serepta Harrison Professor of Ethics and Justice in the Sociology Department and a faculty fellow at the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University.
Coady Wing is an assistant professor of health policy in the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago and was a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University.
References Adler, Nancy E., and Judith Stewart. 2010. “The Biology of Disadvantage: Socio-Economic Status and Health,” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1186: 1–275.
Almond, Douglas, Hilary W. Hoynes, and Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach. 2011. “Inside the War on Poverty: The Impact of Food Stamps on Birth Outcomes,” The Review of Economics and Statistics 93 (2): 387–403.
Campbell, Donald T. 1969. “Reforms as Experiments,” American Psychologist 24 (4): 409–429.
Hoynes, Hilary W., Douglas L. Miller, and David Simon. 2011. “Income, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and Infant Health.” Available at http://poverty.ucdavis.edu/research-paper/ income-earned-income-tax-credit-and-infant-health.
Jacob, Brian A., and Jens Ludwig. 2012. “The Effects of Housing Assistance on Labor Supply:
Evidence From a Voucher Lottery,” American Economic Review 102 (1): 272–304.
Kling, Jeffrey R., Jeffrey B. Liebman, and Lawrence F. Katz. 2007. “Experimental Analysis of Neighborhood Effects,” Econometrica 75 (1): 83–119.
Ludwig, Jens, Lisa Sanbonmatsu, Lisa Gennetian, Emma Adam, Greg J. Duncan, Lawrence F. Katz, Ronald C. Kessler, Jeffrey R. Kling, Robert C. Whitaker, and Thomas McDade. 2011. “Neighborhoods, Obesity, and Diabetes—A Randomized Social Experiment,” The New England Journal of Medicine 365 (16): 1509–1519.
Orr, Larry, Judith D. Feins, Robin Jacob, Erik Beecroft, Lisa Sanbonmatsu, Lawrence F. Katz, Jeffrey B. Liebman, and Jeffrey R. Kling. 2003. Moving to Opportunity for Fair Housing Demonstration Program: Interim Impacts Evaluation. Report prepared by Abt Associates Inc. and the National Bureau of Economic Research for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Policy Development and Research. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Policy Development and Research.
Sanbonmatsu, Lisa, Jens Ludwig, Larry F. Katz, Lisa A. Gennetian, Greg J. Duncan, Ronald C.
Kessler, Emma Adam, Thomas W. McDade, and Stacy Tessler Lindau. 2011. Moving to Opportunity for Fair Housing Demonstration Program: Final Impacts Evaluation. Report prepared by the National Bureau of Economic Research for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Policy Development and Research. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Policy Development and Research.
Shadish, William R., Thomas D. Cook, and Laura C. Leviton. 1991. The Foundations of Program Evaluation: Theories of Practice. Beverly Hills, CA: SAGE Publications.
Wilson, William Julius. 1987. The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, the Underclass, and Public Policy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
180 Moving to Opportunity
Solving the Puzzle of MTO’s Lease-Up Rates and Why Mobility Matters Kathryn Edin Harvard University Stefanie DeLuca Johns Hopkins University Ann Owens Harvard University Abstract The Moving to Opportunity (MTO) for Fair Housing demonstration provided an opportunity for low-income renters to move to low-poverty neighborhoods. Many of these renters, however, did not move with their vouchers, and many of those who moved did not stay in low-poverty neighborhoods. In this article, we explore the mechanisms behind these residential outcomes and what they mean for housing policy. First, we review evidence suggesting that MTO families wanted to live in low-poverty “opportunity areas.” We then describe how some aspects of the Housing Choice Voucher Program, the structural features of the housing market, and the beliefs and coping mechanisms of low-income renters—shaped by years of living in extreme poverty—prevented these families from achieving their goals of residential mobility. Finally, we consider the negative consequences on the life chances of the poor if housing policy does not address constraints to mobility and identify potential policy solutions that might lead to opportunities for low-income renters to live in low-poverty neighborhoods.
Introduction Across the nation, the Moving to Opportunity (MTO) for Fair Housing demonstration has raised a chorus of “why didn’t” responses (for example, see Briggs, Popkin, and Goering, 2010; Sampson, 2012). The loudest question (Clampet-Lundquist et al., 2011; Clampet-Lundquist and Massey, 2008; Ludwig et al., 2008; Sampson, 2008; Turney et al., 2006) has commanded most of the attention: Why didn’t MTO have more of an effect? Some researchers (Goetz and Chapple, 2010;
Imbroscio, 2012) have even claimed that MTO shows that assisted housing mobility programs do not improve life chances. Two more specific questions point more directly to how well the program really worked, however: Why did more people not move with their vouchers, and why did more people not stay longer in their low-poverty neighborhoods?
To these questions, one might reasonably add another: why do we need a program like MTO, which circumscribes where people can lease up, when renters can exercise choice and live where they want via the traditional Housing Choice Voucher Program (HCVP)? The answer to this question, in a nutshell, is the rationale for MTO: without restricting the voucher so initial lease ups occurred in low-poverty neighborhoods, MTO’s architects feared that the public housing residents the program sought to serve—who were largely African American or from other disadvantaged minority groups—would not make a move to such neighborhoods on their own. They were right about this concern; perhaps one of the most startling outcomes of MTO is that families in the Section 8 group, who were offered a traditional HCVP voucher rather than the restricted low-poverty voucher offered to families in the experimental group, spent a median of only 9 months in lower poverty neighborhoods (less than 20 percent poor) over the 10- to 12-year window of the study.
In contrast, MTO succeeded in helping families in the experimental group spend a median of 36 months in such neighborhoods (the figures for compliers in the Section 8 and experimental groups were 24 and 87 months, respectively)—perhaps not as much time as many had hoped, but not an insignificant amount.
Because the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) was generous enough to allow several qualitative research teams into the field along with the survey researchers, we know a lot about the reasons why families in the two treatment groups might not have made or maintained larger gains in neighborhood quality. These reasons teach us a lot about the very problem MTO was trying to solve: how to get voucher holders into lower poverty neighborhoods with more resources. As we show in this article, this body of research defies the conventional wisdom, which assumes that families did not lease up or stay in opportunity neighborhoods because they did not want to—that they instead preferred a set of neighbors who were more like them. The qualitative research conducted on MTO, other mobility programs, and the voucher population more generally, disputes this simplistic assumption. As we show in the following sections, the opposite was often the case: families who moved with a voucher were often overjoyed by their new neighborhood environments and experienced considerable relief upon leaving high-poverty neighborhoods behind.
Over time, however, profound structural and cultural forces shaped families’ residential trajectories to diminish the contrast between families in the experimental group and those in the control group.