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«Moving to opportunity voluMe 14, nuMber 2 • 2012 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development | Office of Policy Development and Research ...»

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One-half of all sampled households were still waiting to be offered assistance; the other half had been offered assistance within the past year and was living in public housing or in a rental unit leased with a Housing Choice Voucher. The survey asked households currently receiving assistance to report on their housing status both before and after receiving assistance. The analysis focuses on the housing status of waitlisted households at the time they were interviewed and of new admits immediately before being offered assistance. For purposes of this article, both waitlisted and newadmit households are referred to as rental assistance applicants. Because this was a cross-sectional survey, it is not possible to determine if the housing issues experienced by applicants were the same problems that motivated them to apply for assistance or if their housing situation adapted over time.

Exhibit 1 shows the number of households within each PHA that completed a survey. Overall, 1,875 households were sampled, and 1,204 completed a survey. Although the sampling process was intended to screen out applicants with disabilities or who were elderly, 211 respondents were removed from the analysis because they reported having a disability or being elderly. Survey results are based on the responses of the 993 remaining applicants.

The survey had a response rate of 64 percent. The response rate for new admits (71 percent) was higher than that for waitlisted applicants (58 percent). The nonresponses were primarily the result of an inability to locate applicants. The research team was unable to locate 15 percent of new admits and 23 percent of applicants still on a waiting list. Rental assistance applicants are likely to be living in tenuous or transient living arrangements and, not surprisingly, many were no longer living at the address listed on the PHA’s waiting list. An additional 16 percent of the sample refused to be interviewed, were unable to schedule an interview during the data collection period, or had a language barrier or other issue that prevented them from completing the survey.

The low response rate to the survey raises the problem of nonresponse bias. The results may underrepresent the worst off applicants, because homeless or tenuously housed applicants were the The MTW program was implemented as part of the QHWRA. MTW PHAs have the flexibility to implement reforms not generally allowed under HUD regulations. Some MTW sites used this flexibility to implement reforms such as charging all households a flat rent, establishing work requirements, and implementing time limits for housing assistance.

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hardest to locate. Possibly, however, applicants who were not located had applied for assistance less recently but were not necessarily worse off, or applicants who declined to be interviewed were better off and no longer needed or were interested in receiving rental assistance.

Because the survey relied solely on self-reporting, there is also some risk of response bias. Respondents were not required to provide documentation to verify their reported incomes or expenses. In addition, new admits were asked to report on their housing expenses and housing quality both before and after receiving housing assistance. In some cases, new admits may have had a difficult time remembering the condition of their former housing or exactly how much they were paying for rent and utilities. Also, respondents may have underreported their income under the mistaken assumption that the information they reported would be shared with HUD and used to set their monthly rent contribution.

The survey of rental assistance applicants and the population of renters with possible WCN differ in several important ways. First, because the survey of rental assistance applicants was originally

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intended to study the effects of rental assistance on earned income, it excluded applicants with disabilities or who were elderly. By contrast, one-third of WCN households include people who either have disabilities or are elderly (Steffen et al., 2011). Second, unlike the WCN measure, the survey of rental assistance applicants included households that were homeless, were already receiving some form of housing assistance, were living in owner-occupied housing, or had incomes exceeding 50 percent of AMI. Finally, the WCN measure is based on a survey of households, whereas the survey of rental assistance applicants asks questions about the applicant and the family the applicant heads. For cases in which an applicant is living with people with whom he or she will no longer live after receiving assistance, the survey does not capture the household’s total housing cost or income.

Characteristics of Rental Assistance Applicants Because the number of surveyed households is fairly small and not nationally representative, some question exists regarding how comparable they are with the national profile of rental assistance applicants. Unfortunately, no survey collects national data on the demographic characteristics of rental assistance applicants. HUD, however, requires PHAs to report on the characteristics of assisted households. Exhibit 2 compares the demographic characteristics of rental assistance applicants with the characteristics of all nonelderly, nondisabled households in public housing and the HCVP as of 2008. Other than the slightly higher proportion of American Indians among surveyed

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households, the racial and ethnic demographics of the two groups were nearly identical. Adults in surveyed households were slightly younger, which could be a result of the long wait times typical for rental assistance. Survey respondents were also slightly more likely to be men.

Survey respondents reported slightly higher median monthly incomes than assisted households.

This difference could be a result of the high proportion of MTW sites, which were purposively selected because their rent structures were designed to be more attractive to working households (Buron et al., 2010). The income disparity could also emerge, however, because applicants with lower incomes were more likely to be offered assistance because of federal quotas for admitting extremely low-income applicants. In addition, studies have found that household income sometimes decreases after the receipt of rental assistance (Jacob and Ludwig, 2008).

At the time they were interviewed, 48 percent of surveyed households were still waiting for rental assistance and 52 percent had begun receiving assistance within the past 12 months. New admits reported that they spent an average of 2.6 years on the waiting list before being offered assistance, and the average reported wait time for households currently on the waiting list was 2.5 years. A few households with very long waits skew these averages. The median wait time for new admits was 1 year, whereas the median wait time for waitlisted households was 2 years.

New admits may have different characteristics and housing needs than applicants still on the waiting list because of federal income quotas and PHA admissions preferences. Only 4 of the 25 PHAs included in the sample reported that they selected households from their waiting lists on a lottery or first-come, first-served basis. The other 21 PHAs used admissions preferences to prioritize assistance for certain households. The two most common preferences, each cited by 48 percent of PHAs, were for applicants who were displaced by either natural disasters or government action and for applicants who were employed or enrolled in some kind of training program. The next most common preferences were for applicants living within the PHA service area (40 percent) and homeless applicants (24 percent). Only 8 percent of PHAs reported a preference for applicants who were rent burdened or living in substandard housing.

It is unclear what effect these admissions preferences had on whether eligible households applied for or received assistance. Some PHAs reported that the QHWRA income quotas limited their ability to prioritize assisting working households, because these households often do not have extremely low incomes. In addition, local admissions preferences might not have been well understood by potential applicants or well-advertised by PHAs. For instance, only 14 percent of applicants in PHAs with a preference for working households reported being told by their local housing authority that they would receive assistance sooner if someone in their household were working for pay.

Exhibit 3 shows that waitlisted households had higher average monthly incomes than new admits.

Whether new admits had a lower income at the time they were offered assistance or their incomes decreased after receiving assistance, however, is unclear. New admits may have had a greater incentive to underreport their income if they mistakenly believed that their responses would be shared with the local housing authority and used to determine their rent contribution. On the other hand, new admits may have had a greater incentive to report their income accurately if they believed the housing authority data would be validated against the Enterprise Income Verification system. In

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any case, although the difference in incomes was statistically significant, waitlisted households also had low incomes; 75 percent had extremely low incomes and 92 percent had very low incomes.

Exhibit 4 shows the living situations of waitlisted households at the time they were interviewed and of new admits immediately before receiving assistance. Among all applicants, 40 percent were living with family or friends, 38 percent were living independently without government assistance, 16 percent were living independently but receiving some form of housing subsidy, and 7 percent were homeless or living in an institutional setting. Among applicants living independently, 4 percent were owners and the other 96 percent were renters. The survey did not ask doubled-up applicants if they were living in owner-occupied or rental housing.

Households currently on the waiting list were more likely than new admits to report living independently without a subsidy (44 versus 31 percent) and were less likely to report being homeless or living in an institutional setting (4 versus 10 percent).

As shown in exhibit 4, the largest share of rental assistance applicants were living in doubled-up situations with family or friends. Exhibit 5 provides more detail about the living situation of these applicants. Of doubled-up applicants, 80 percent were living with family and slightly more than one-half of these applicants were paying some portion of the household’s housing costs. The other 20 percent of doubled-up applicants were living with friends; one-half of these applicants helped pay rent and one-half did not.

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Note: Information on income was missing for 2 newly admitted applicants, and 131 waitlisted and newly admitted applicants did not know or refused to provide their monthly income.

Source: Buron et al. (2010)

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Exhibit 6 shows the characteristics of rental assistance applicants based on their living situation before receiving assistance. On average, applicants living with family or friends were more than 4 years younger than applicants living on their own without a subsidy (31.1 versus 35.2 years old).

Doubled-up applicants were also more likely to report extremely low incomes than were applicants living on their own without a subsidy (82 versus 72 percent). This factor might explain why a higher proportion of doubled-up applicants were offered assistance compared with applicants living independently—because housing agencies must ensure that a certain percentage of new admits have extremely low incomes. Both groups of applicants had similarly sized households and were almost equally likely to have young children.

On average, rental assistance applicants paid $481 each month for housing, but housing costs varied greatly based on living situation (exhibit 7). Applicants who were living independently spent an average of $771 on housing each month, whereas applicants receiving a housing subsidy spent an average of $434. Applicants who were living with family or friends and helping with the rent spent an average of $401 each month; these applicants paid almost the same in rent as subsidized applicants but paid slightly less for utilities. Also, a large group of applicants who lived with family or friends did not have any housing costs. This analysis does not include the housing costs of applicants who were homeless or living in an institutional setting, because the survey did not collect their housing costs. The survey asked applicants only about the housing costs for the family that they headed and not the total costs of their housing unit, so the total rent of the housing unit is not known.

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Housing Needs This section discusses the incidence of housing needs identified by the household survey, specifically rent burden, homelessness, housing quality issues, and overcrowding. The analysis looks at how housing needs differ based on households’ housing status—living independently, living with family or friends, or other—and, whenever possible, compares waitlisted households with very low-income renters in the same metropolitan areas.

Housing Affordability Exhibit 8 shows the percentage of rental assistance applicants who were rent burdened. The survey did not ask new admits to report their monthly income before receiving rental assistance. Therefore, the analysis of rent burden applies only to applicants who were still waiting to receive assistance.

Roughly one-third of all waitlisted applicants were severely rent burdened, an additional 22 percent were moderately rent burdened, and nearly one-half (46 percent) were not rent burdened. Not surprisingly, the incidence of severe rent burden varied significantly depending on housing applicants’ living situation. Most (55 percent) applicants living independently without a housing subsidy were

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severely rent burdened. Some applicants who were doubled up and paying some rent or receiving a housing subsidy were also severely rent burdened. A substantial portion of applicants did not have any housing costs, however, because they lived with family or friends and did not pay rent.



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