Housing Building

Fair housing policy effects on housing choice voucher’s spatial integration

Center for Community Capital, best in area of economic inclusion

 Louise Veneble Coker Award for best Master’s project in area of housing and community development

Annie Baumann-Mitchell

The history of spatial segregation in the United States involves discriminatory barriers against minorities that limit chances for upward mobility. Unfortunately, government policies to combat residential segregation are often met with little success. One such policy, the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program, was created by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as a way to provide low-income families a form of rental assistance. In reality, HCV households face racial discrimination and financial barriers that bar them from having any real choice in residential matters. As the program does not cover legal protection, HCV holders can do little when faced with discriminating landlords who refuse those using government assistance. Often, landlords may not wish to involve themselves with paperwork required for allowing HCV holders to rent or have negative preconceptions of those who use vouchers. Additionally, as HCV holders are often social and racial minorities, refusing these holders may act as a subtle form of racist or classist discrimination.

The HCV program illustrates the difficulty in creating upward mobility for low-income families. Studies show that many voucher holders live in tracts in which more than 20% of the population is living below the poverty threshold, with as little as 1 in 5 holders living in low-poverty neighborhoods. HCV holders often face burdensome costs (e.g. relocating costs, deposits) in addition to discriminatory practices by landlords that exclude them from viable residential options; thus, HCV holders are still racially and economically segregated.

One possible solution for the HCV program’s increase in effectiveness may be establishing source of income protection laws. When source of income became a protected class in the District of Columbia in 2006, discrimination dropped from 45% to 28% between 2010 and 2013. However, income protection under fair housing laws varies by state and show equally varying results. Income protection laws also do not denote the absence of discrimination, which voucher holders may still face. To determine the role of source of income protection on HCV households, data from four cities were compared, two with source of income protection in their fair housing laws (Grand Rapids, MI in 2000 and Memphis, TN, in 2002) and two without income protection (Chattanooga, TN and Milwaukee, WI).

Eight independent variables under three general groups (economic, demographic, and housing market) were analyzed using a multivariate multiple regression to assess the change in percent voucher households per tract in 2000 and 2016. These included variables such as percent poverty, percent White population, and median gross rent. Dispersion of HCV households would be analyzed by negative or positive trends between 2000 and 2016: tracts with a high percentage of vouchers in 2000 and a lower percentage in 2016 would indicate dispersion of HCV holders, while an increase of voucher holders in 2016 would indicate an increase in the concentration of voucher households.

One key result indicated no statistically significant impact of income protection policies on reduction in percent of voucher holders by tract. Grand Rapids and Memphis both saw a negative relationship between income protection policy and reduction in HCV holders (presence of the policy made way for a larger decrease in the percent of voucher holders in the area), yet Milwaukee and Chattanooga saw a similar decrease in percent of holders between 2000 and 2016. While it may be assumed that the percent of voucher holders decreased for tracts in Grand Rapids and Memphis as a result of income protection, the similar pattern seen in Milwaukee and Chattanooga suggests otherwise. In addition, the idea that tracts with increases in percent of voucher holders under income protection policies would show weaker increases overall proved to be incorrect as well. Grand Rapids and Memphis had increases in concentrations of HCV households, counter to the hypothesis that income protection leads to dispersal of HCV households to different neighborhoods. Nevertheless, it must be emphasized that while income protection laws showed no statistically significant effects, the four cities analyzed may have offered trends not seen in other cities and findings should not be generalized to the overall impact of source of income protection policies made in other cities and states. It still holds true that voucher holders, regardless of the impact of income protection laws, must have legal protection necessary to use their vouchers effectively in any neighborhood of choice, and that financial and social obstacles faced by HCV low-income households should be eliminated as soon as possible.

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