Housing Mobility: Back on the Nation’s Agenda?

Originally pioneered as a legal remedy for housing segregation, BPI’s Gautreaux litigation, “housing mobility” — using federal housing vouchers to enable low-income families to move from disadvantaged neighborhoods to higher opportunity ones — suffered through a long dry spell. A five-city, ten-year Congressionally authorized pilot program designed to test the positive Gautreaux results, called Moving to Opportunity (MTO), failed to show Gautreaux-like benefits in jobs, income and schooling. MTO, it was said, proved that housing mobility didn’t work.

Then, in 2015, along came a new study of MTO family experiences, this one not just after ten years following moves but well into adulthood. Conducted by Harvard economist Raj Chetty and colleagues, the study showed that, over the longer time frame, there were significant beneficial outcomes in precisely those areas where the earlier study had found none. For example, young children who moved to an opportunity neighborhood before age 13 earned 31 percent more on average in adulthood and were 32 percent more likely to attend college than non-movers. It now became widely acknowledged that moving from lower-opportunity to higher-opportunity neighborhoods not only improved later-life outcomes but reduced the intergenerational persistence of poverty as well.

Motivated by these findings, Chetty and colleagues set about inquiring how to encourage families with children to move to higher-opportunity neighborhoods, beginning in the Seattle region by offering special housing search assistance to voucher holders. The results of this first effort have just hit the press, big-time. You can read more about it here:

Stream NPR’s recent story, “In Seattle, A Move Across Town Could Be A Path Out Of Poverty,” by clicking on the arrow below:

BPI, with partner agencies, including the Chicago and Cook County housing authorities, is currently arranging a randomized control trial of another form of encouraging moves to opportunity — intensive family counseling in addition to housing search assistance. Our hope is that Seattle, Chicago/Cook County, and perhaps other test sites will lead to a recognition that enabling interested families with children to move to and stay in higher-opportunity neighborhoods is a high-return strategy that can and should become a major part of national housing policy.

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