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House Approval of Housing Voucher Mobility Demonstration Is Encouraging

House approval this week of a bill authorizing the Housing Choice Voucher Mobility Demonstration marks an encouraging step toward helping more families with Housing Choice Vouchers (HCVs) live in communities with high-performing schools, safe neighborhoods, and jobs. The demonstration would allow public housing agencies (PHAs) to provide robust housing mobility services, including pre- and post-move support (such as financial coaching) for voucher holders who want to move to a high-opportunity area, outreach to landlords to recruit more of them to participate, and housing search assistance.

The 368-19 vote reflected the bill’s strong bipartisan support.  Speaking on the House floor, bill sponsor Rep. Sean Duffy, a Wisconsin Republican who serves on the House Financial Services Committee, said:

We know that low-income children whose families move to areas of lower poverty have higher earnings as adults. We must eliminate the cycle of poverty that keeps generations of families living within the same area with a limited amount of opportunity. Helping people move to better opportunities will increase the chances for them to achieve academic success and reduce intergenerational poverty.

Bill co-sponsor Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Missouri Democrat who serves on the same committee, echoed those remarks and added:

This bill should pass. . . .  All you have to do is read the Harvard research project from Raj Chetty, Nathaniel Hendren, and Lawrence Katz, which spoke about the improved opportunities for children based on their location. Higher opportunity neighborhoods offer just about everything that we would want a child to have growing up in this country.

The House Appropriations Committee included $50 million for the demonstration in its 2019 funding bill for the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development (THUD). These funds, which would go to PHAs on a competitive basis, would create 2,000 vouchers for families with children participating in the demonstration and provide $30 million to PHAs to offer housing mobility services. As the committee’s accompanying report explained:

This demonstration will harness the power of the housing choice voucher platform to help families with children seek housing and successfully move to privately-owned units in lower-poverty areas. A growing body of research finds that when families move to higher opportunity areas with less poverty, more jobs, and quality schools, their children experience significant earnings and educational attainment improvements that persist into adulthood. The persistence of the improved outcomes for children is remarkable and gives hope that family mobility could hold the key to arresting generational poverty in families served by HUD.

Senator Todd Young, an Indiana Republican who serves on the Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, has introduced a similar Housing Choice Voucher Mobility Demonstration bill in the Senate along with co-sponsor Senator Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat who serves on the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee. Unfortunately, the Senate Appropriations Committee’s 2019 THUD funding bill didn’t include funds for the demonstration. Given the strong bipartisan support in the House and the demonstration’s likely positive impact on outcomes for families with children, the Senate should agree with the House to authorize the demonstration and include $50 million in funding in its final 2019 THUD funding bill. The final HUD funding bill crafted by House and Senate negotiators should include the $50 million for the demonstration.