Advancing Choice in the Housing Choice Voucher Program: Source of Income Protections and Locational Outcomes

Ingrid Gould Ellen, Katherine M. O'Regan, and Katharine WH Harwood
Housing Policy Debate

An elusive goal of HUD’s Housing Choice Voucher program is to provide more – and better – locational choices for recipient households. Landlord discrimination against voucher recipients is one potential barrier, particularly in areas of greater opportunity. Using a difference-in-difference design (and confirmed with event-study results), this paper evaluates the effectiveness of source of income laws in 38 jurisdictions enacting such laws between 2007 and 2018 in improving locational outcomes for voucher households. We find consistent evidence that such laws lead to more upwardly mobile moves (or greater improvement in neighborhoods) among existing voucher holders who move. Specifically, existing voucher holders who move post enactment experience greater reductions in neighborhood poverty rates and in voucher household shares. We also find that after SOI laws pass, voucher holders move to neighborhoods with larger white population shares. Effects are modest, but hold for households whose head is Black as well as for families with children, two groups who may face greater challenges in housing markets. We do not find any change in the neighborhoods where new voucher holders lease up after the passage of SOI laws, but this may be confounded by a compositional change in the neighborhoods where successful voucher holders originate.