Revised August 7, 1998
Regional Opportunity Counseling (ROC):
Realizing the Promise of Section 8 Mobility
For fiscal year 1999, the Administration has requested a modest expansion of HUD's Regional Opportunity Counseling (ROC) program, which promotes residential opportunities for Section 8 certificate and voucher holders through landlord outreach, counseling of subsidy holders, and housing search assistance. Currently operating in 16 regions, ROC contributes to the deconcentration of poverty and welfare-to-work efforts by helping families move to communities with better education and employment opportunities. ROC also assists the housing search of disabled renters and fosters region-wide cooperation among public housing authorities (PHAs) and between PHAs and non-profits. Finally, ROC helps to educate landlords about the benefits of the Section 8 program and to promote awareness among landlords of program reforms made in recent appropriations acts that are not yet widely known.
The House appropriations bill allocates $10 million for ROC, which CBO scores as generating $5 million in outlays in FY 1999. The Senate bill contains no funding for ROC. The Administration requested $20 million for the proposed ROC expansion, which it estimated would serve 13,000 families.
ROC helps the federal government get more for its Section 8 dollars by improving the quality of the housing and neighborhoods secured with Section 8 vouchers and certificates. At $20 million to serve 13,000 families, the program is bargain and should be fully funded. At a minimum, conferees should support the House level of $10 million.
ROC Helps Families With Children To
Move Out of High-Poverty Neighborhoods
The Section 8 certificate and voucher programs provide subsidies to low-income households to rent apartments in the private market. Because these subsidies are portable and not tied to a particular structure or area, they have the potential to help low-income families with children move from high-poverty neighborhoods to communities offering better education and employment opportunities. ROC helps the certificate and voucher programs to realize their potential by providing funds to recruit landlords outside areas of high-poverty concentration and to educate certificate and voucher holders about residential opportunities throughout the metropolitan region in which they reside. ROC funds are awarded on a competitive basis to applying PHAs and their non-profit partners.
Landlord outreach and recruitment are necessary in some regions because the certificate and voucher programs depend on the voluntary participation of private landlords. While in many areas of the country, there are enough landlords willing to rent to certificate and voucher holders, there is a shortage of participating landlords in other areas. Moreover, in some of the areas in which there are sufficient landlords to rent to all subsidy holders, the landlords are located primarily in high-poverty neighborhoods, limiting the residential options of subsidy holders and thwarting the potential of Section 8 to provide access to communities offering better employment opportunities. Through locally-developed strategies primarily involving education and outreach, ROC recruits participating landlords outside areas of high-poverty concentration.
Outreach is also necessary to educate landlords about changes made to the Section 8 program in recent appropriations acts, which were intended to make the certificate and voucher programs more attractive to landlords. Many landlords remain unaware, for example, that Congress has introduced a fixed-term lease that gives landlords the option to leave the program after a year and has suspended the requirement that a landlord accepting one Section 8 family agree to take others. Through landlord education and outreach, ROC can help increase awareness of these program changes and improve the image and acceptance of Section 8.
Certificate and voucher holders, in turn, benefit from counseling that advises them of residential opportunities in unfamiliar neighborhoods (particularly areas of lower-poverty concentration), provides transportation to apartment interviews, and assists with the process of relocating to their new communities. While ROC encourages families to move to lower-poverty neighborhoods, it is a voluntary program; families are not required to accept counseling or move into an apartment they do not desire.
ROC Helps Low-Income Families Access Education and
Job Opportunities, Contributing To the "Welfare-to-Work" Effort
Although ROC is only a few years old (it was launched in late 1996), similar outreach and counseling programs have been in place in various regions for many years with impressive results. Research shows that heads of households that used Section 8 certificates to move to neighborhoods with low-poverty concentrations were more likely to be employed than those who stayed in high-poverty communities. The improvement in employment outcomes was most pronounced among those who had never been employed prior to their move, who are typically the hardest to serve and the focus of welfare-to-work efforts.(1)
The children of families moving to areas of low-poverty concentration also benefit: research shows they are more likely to be employed, with higher wages and better benefits, more likely to graduate from high school, and more likely to go to college than children of families that remain in high-poverty areas.
These data suggest that ROC can make a significant contribution to welfare reform. By enabling families on welfare to move to areas with better employment and education opportunities, ROC can help them make the transition from welfare to work.
ROC Assists the Housing Search of Disabled Households
The housing search of disabled certificate- or voucher-holders poses unique challenges. It frequently is physically more difficult for disabled households to search for housing; in many cases, they also have limited housing options that increase the length and difficulty of the search. These obstacles, however, can often be overcome by intensive housing search assistance.
The priorities for ROC counseling are set locally by the PHAs that choose to participate. A number of the current ROC programs include disabled families among the populations targeted for ROC counseling.(2)
ROC Promotes Region-Wide Cooperation Among PHAs
and Between PHAs and Non-Profit Organizations
Most metropolitan areas are served by at least two different PHAs, with some areas hosting Section 8 programs sponsored by as many as 60 different PHAs. ROC fosters cooperation among PHAs within metropolitan areas and helps introduce economies-of-scale to landlord outreach and tenant counseling activities.
Applicants for the initial round of ROC funding were encouraged to form partnerships between two or more PHAs in a single region; such partnerships are a prominent feature of most ROC programs. These partnerships offer multiple benefits, including the sharing of lists of participating landlords and administrative savings through the consolidation of outreach and counseling services. The partnerships that ROC engenders may help lay the groundwork for future cooperation among PHAs and the extension of economies-of-scale to other PHA functions.
ROC also builds cooperation between PHAs and non-profit organizations. All ROC programs utilize non-profits to provide the bulk of the landlord recruitment and housing counseling services.
ROC Maximizes the Value of Existing Section 8 Subsidies
ROC does not create new housing units or rental subsidies. It is instead a "value maximizer" that helps the Government get more for its Section 8 dollars by improving the quality of the housing and neighborhoods secured with Section 8 subsidies. By providing housing search assistance, ROC also helps to improve "lease-up" rates (the percentage of families issued certificates and vouchers that succeed in finding a willing landlord). This makes the subsidies more useful to the families that initially receive them and lowers administrative costs by reducing the number of families that PHAs need to screen and qualify.
The beneficiaries of ROC extend beyond those directly counseled. ROC's landlord outreach enlarges the pool of landlords participating in the Section 8 program, potentially benefitting families served by non-participating PHAs in the same region. Similarly, landlords not directly contacted by ROC counselors may learn of the Section 8 program from those who were contacted, amplifying the effect of ROC outreach efforts.
ROC is an inexpensive way of expanding residential opportunities for certificate and voucher holders, deconcentrating poverty, and helping families move from welfare to work. It also assists disabled renters, fosters region-wide cooperation among PHAs, and improves the quality of the housing secured with existing Section 8 subsidies. ROC is a smart investment that should be funded in full.
1. Goering, John et. al., Promoting Housing Choice in HUD's Rental Assistance Programs: A Report to Congress. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 1995; Rosenbaum, James E., "Changing the Geography of Opportunity by Expanding Residential Choice: Lessons from The Gautreaux Program," Housing Policy Debate Vol. 6 No. 1, 1995: 237-38; Alexander Polikoff, ed., Housing Mobility: Promise or Illusion?, 1995.
2. Under current law, housing authorities are obligated, on request, to assist the housing search of disabled subsidy holders; however, they do not receive any special funds to do so. Housing search assistance provided to the disabled through ROC is likely to be more intensive and effective than that conducted pursuant to the unfunded legal requirement.
Additional housing reports.