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HUD Funding Bill Will Launch Housing Voucher Mobility Demonstration

The 2019 funding bill for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) includes funds for an important initiative, the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) mobility demonstration. As we’ve written, the HCV program can do much more to help voucher families with children move to safer neighborhoods with high-performing schools. Congress passed the mobility demonstration to help families do so after reviewing compelling research that shows that growing up in low-poverty neighborhoods with higher-performing schools improves children’s academic achievement and long-term chances of success, on average, and reduces intergenerational poverty.

The funding bill, which Congress passed with bipartisan support, includes $28 million to fund the voucher mobility demonstration, which has three components:

  • $20 million for housing mobility support services and operating regional mobility programs. Public housing agencies (PHAs) will use these funds to help families access communities of opportunity by offering services such as landlord outreach, housing search assistance, financial coaching, and post-move support.
  • $5 million for 500 new vouchers for families with children participating in the demonstration. About 500 new vouchers will give agencies an incentive to participate. They’ll also be a first step toward addressing the decline in the number of families with children receiving vouchers.
  • $3 million for research to determine the most cost-effective program components.

Now that the President and Congress have taken the important step of funding regional housing mobility programs, HUD must implement the demonstration program quickly and effectively. Over the next few months, HUD should:

  • Draft a notice defining terms and specifying policies for the demonstration.
  • Draft a notice of funding availability that outlines the requirements for PHAs to apply for the demonstration.
  • Begin working on a research evaluation design and select a contractor(s) to conduct the research.
  • Issue the notice of funding availability and begin the selection process.

While HUD prepares to implement the program, public housing agencies and advocates across the country should begin considering whether participating in it would help families in their area. If so, local agencies and their partners should:

  • Include program staff, landlords, and participants in discussions on how to better help families access a wider range of housing opportunities in the community.
  • Analyze local data on where voucher holders live and what communities might be designated as high-opportunity.
  • Review “portability” policies, which govern how families with vouchers move within the region, and discuss ways to streamline processes.
  • Consider adopting new policies to facilitate moves to higher-opportunity areas, such as enhanced rental subsidy caps, longer voucher search time, or quicker unit inspections.

As part of the competition for funding, agencies and their partners must submit a Regional Housing Mobility Plan that identifies the strategies they would adopt for their local mobility program, and the families they’d target for services. The services offered might include: informing families of the advantages of higher-opportunity areas; working directly with families to address barriers they may need to overcome to move to a higher-opportunity area, such as by providing financial coaching; recruiting more landlords to participate; providing housing search assistance to help families find affordable units that meet their individual needs; and providing post-move services, such as regular check-ins, resource coordination, and landlord/tenant mediation, to help families living in areas of opportunity remain there.

Agencies also could adopt a policy of using housing assistance payments funds for security deposits, which can be a significant barrier for poor families to move to higher-opportunity areas, where landlords require these payments.