Last year the Washington Post covered a proposed rule change from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD):
…that would remake this system, adjusting the maximum value of vouchers in many major markets to account for the wide variation in what it costs to live in different neighborhoods. Instead of setting “fair market rent” standards at the metropolitan level, in about 30 major metros including Washington, New York and Chicago, HUD will set them by ZIP code instead. That shift will mean significant change for a program that serves 2.2 million households, more than live in public housing projects.
The policy is designed to enable low-income families to use their housing aid to move to neighborhoods with less poverty, lower crime and better schools — an opportunity that research has shown can boost prospects for poor kids. Until now, the voucher program that was supposed to give families a chance to move out of deeply poor housing projects has largely concentrated them instead in deeply poor neighborhoods. In cities such as the District, a voucher just isn’t worth enough to afford entry into truly “high opportunity” places.
Social theorists have long tried to figure out whether or not lower-income families can be boosted, not by more money in their pockets, but by their proximity to people that do have it. That’s essentially the logic behind school vouchers and it’s also the case here. Is there truly more opportunity simply by living in wealthier areas? If an adult wants to work close to home, the available jobs for those without a college education or specialized training are mostly going to be in the service industry. Where the true benefits apply are with better schools and lower crime rates. So ultimately, it’s about the children of these families and improving the environment in which they are raised.
As for the potential of this proposal to work, the article ends on a positive note
HUD is clear about what all of this will mean. The government will start paying more in low-poverty neighborhoods, and less in high-poverty ones. And the people who stand to lose out will no doubt object. Critics warn that poor renters will be evicted when landlords realize their vouchers are suddenly less profitable. But Collinson and Ganong didn’t see much evidence that this happened in Dallas. And in the long run, if some landlords decide the voucher program is no longer worth it to them, that may not be such a bad thing.
My question for readers is this: Can this work? What is your perspective on the effectiveness of housing policy in your location? What cultural factors, if any, play a role in the debate?