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How Housing Vouchers Can Better Promote Economic Mobility


In House testimony today, CBPP’s Barbara Sard outlined the benefits of helping low-income families use housing vouchers to move to neighborhoods with less poverty and more opportunity and discussed reforms to advance that goal.  Here’s an excerpt from the introduction:

The June 2016 report of the Speaker’s Task Force on Poverty, Opportunity, and Upward Mobility noted that “A major obstacle to housing assistance recipients moving up the economic ladder is the lack of individual choice in housing programs and bureaucracies.”  It recommends that “To combat this, we should enhance the portability of housing assistance vouchers” and reform the “fragmented” system of thousands of public housing agencies.  My testimony will review the evidence concerning the interplay between individual choice and administrative fragmentation in the Housing Choice Voucher program, explain why remedying these problems is important, and recommend solutions Congress could enact.  I will also address two legislative proposals that would be unwise.  In brief, I recommend that Congress:
  • Fund a regional housing mobility demonstration in the final 2017 appropriations legislation. 
  • Direct HUD to permit consortia to have a single voucher funding contract with HUD rather than a separate one for each agency.
  • State explicitly that state laws may not block local housing agencies from forming consortia. 
  • Direct HUD to make greater use of its authority to consolidate poorly performing agencies.
  • Direct HUD to develop and make available technology that could help agencies establish and operate consolidated waiting lists, thereby allowing families that need assistance to submit a single application.  
  • Modify the voucher administrative fee formula to remove disincentives for forming consortia and encourage greater use of vouchers in higher-opportunity areas.
  • Decline to advance or enact H.R. 4816, The Small Public Housing Agency Opportunity Act, which would undermine the goals of increasing efficiency and access to opportunity, and includes other risky provisions.
  • Decline to advance or enact legislation to establish a new federal preference for youth aging out of foster care in all major federal rental assistance programs (Rep. Turner’s proposal).

Click here for the full testimony.