Do Housing Choice Voucher Holders Live Near Good Schools
Journal of Housing Economics 23(1), 2014: 28-40. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jhe.2013.11.005
Ingrid Gould Ellen, Amy Ellen Schwartz, and Keren Horn
The Housing Choice Voucher program was created, in part, to help low income households reach a broader range of neighborhoods and schools. Rather than concentrating low income households in designated developments, vouchers allow families to choose their housing units and neighborhoods. In this project we explore whether low income households use the flexibility provided by vouchers to reach neighborhoods with high performing schools. Unlike previous experimental work, which has focused on a small sample of voucher holders constrained to live in low-poverty neighborhoods, we look at the voucher population as a whole and explore the broad range of neighborhoods in which they live. Relying on internal data from HUD on the location of assisted households, we link each voucher holder in the country to the closest elementary school within their school district. We compare the characteristics of the schools that voucher holders are likely to attend to the characteristics of those accessible to other households receiving place based housing subsidies, other similar unsubsidized households and fair market rent units within the same state and metropolitan area. These comparisons provide us with a portrait of the schools that children might have attended absent HUD assistance. In comparison to other poor households in the same metropolitan areas, we find that the schools near voucher holders have lower performing students than the schools near other poor households without a housing subsidy. We probe this surprising finding by exploring whether differences between the demographic characteristics of voucher holders and other poor households explain the differences in the characteristics of nearby schools, and whether school characteristics vary with length of time in the voucher program. We also examine variation across metropolitan areas in the relative quality of schools near to voucher holders and whether this variation is explained by economic, socio-demographic or policy differences across cities.