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What Housing Vouchers Mean to Minority Families, Part 1: They’re Better Able to Live in Low-Poverty Neighborhoods

October 20, 2014 at 2:38 PM

The Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program falls short of its potential to expand children’s access to good schools in safe neighborhoods, as I’ve explained.  Although a voucher makes little difference in a poor white family’s ability to live in a low-poverty neighborhood, it makes a large difference for minority families.

Among poor families, more than twice the share of black children — and close to double the share of Hispanic children — using housing vouchers lived in low-poverty neighborhoods (those with less than 10 percent poverty) in 2010, compared with poor black and Hispanic children generally (see chart).  In contrast, poor white children in families with vouchers were slightly less likely to live in low-poverty neighborhoods than poor white children overall.

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For minority families, using a voucher to rent housing also slightly improves the schools that their children are likely to attend, compared with their poor counterparts.  The median school nearest to both black and Hispanic voucher holders ranked higher on math and reading tests than the median school nearest to poor black and Hispanic households generally.

At least some of this positive impact of voucher assistance on black and Hispanic families’ access to low-poverty communities likely results from moving to low-poverty suburban neighborhoods.  The share of black HCV recipients living in the suburbs of the 100 largest metropolitan areas rose by more than 12 percent between 2000 and 2008, helping to drive the overall increase over that eight-year period in the share of metropolitan vouchers used in suburban areas.

These are positive trends, but more low-income families should be able to use their housing vouchers to live in high-opportunity neighborhoods and to access high-performing schools.

We’ll discuss how vouchers affect minority families’ ability to avoid extreme-poverty neighborhoods in another post later today.


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