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 1015 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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