New Study Offers Insights on Families Who Leave Housing Programs

Posted October 3, 2014, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Housing assistance is a tool many families use to achieve financial stability. The goal of such assistance is to put families on a path to economic mobility and brighter futures for their children. But what happens when families leave housing assistance programs? Do housing assistance policies provide them with sufficient transitional support when they leave because of increased income that makes them ineligible for waivers?

Scant information is available regarding what happens to families who leave for positive reasons such as income increases or negative ones, such as disqualifications because of rule violations.

Building on existing research, the Urban Institute has done a deeper study of what happens to families who leave housing assistance. The Urban Institute’s earlier HOPE VI Panel study from 2001 to 2005 looked at families who left waiver programs, but it used a relatively small sample size. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development added more depth to this knowledge base with a survey that tracked a sample of nearly 5,000 public housing families participating in its Moving to Opportunity for Fair Housing (MTO) program in five cities from 1994 through about 10-15 years after they moved to low-poverty neighborhoods. The hope for MTO was that moving would improve adults’ access to jobs, children’s access to better schools, and economic outcomes overall. The study provides a rich dataset.

The Urban Institute’s new study tracks participants over time to explore factors that cause households to leave assistance and how their experiences compare with those remaining on assistance. The study, which the Casey Foundation supported, supplements data from the MTO final evaluation survey with new, qualitative, in-depth interviews with a small number of families from two MTO sites who left housing assistance. It found that families who leave such programs are better off financially and live in improved housing and neighborhood conditions, but some report lingering hardships, including food insecurity and high debts. Even families who leave for positive reasons report better outcomes overall, but many still face financial challenges.

“The Urban Institute study provides deeper insight into the outcomes families experience after leaving housing assistance programs,” said Cindy Guy, director of research and evaluation at the Casey Foundation. “The research shows that we should pay attention to targeted approaches that support both households that risk losing housing waivers and those that leave programs for positive reasons. The study clearly indicates the need for approaches that will improve outcomes for families transitioning from housing assistance programs.”

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