Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Subsidized Housing and Household Hardship among Low-Income Single-Mother Households

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Subsidized Housing and Household Hardship among Low-Income Single-Mother Households

Article excerpt

We investigate associations of housing assis- tance with housing and food-related hardship among low-income single-mother households using data from the National Survey of Ameri- ca's Families (N = 5,396). Results from instru- mental variables models suggest that receipt of unit-based assistance, such as traditional public housing, is associated with a large decrease in rent burden and modest decreases in difficulty paying rent or utilities and residential crowd- ing. Receipt of tenant-based assistance, such as housing vouchers or certificates, is associated with a modest increase in housing stability but also with modest increases in rent burden and difficulty paying rent or utilities. We find no as- sociations between either type of housing assistance and food related hardship.

Key Words: family resource management, housing, instrumental variables, low-income families, single-parent families.

Rental housing assistance programs in the United States are intended to reduce housing costs and improve housing quality for low-income households (Committee on Ways and Means, 2004). Although such programs are not entitlements and reach less than a third of eligible households, they aim to benefit recipients primarily by reducing the proportion of household income spent on rent. Without subsidies, recipients would likely devote much larger portions of their income to rent or reside in lower quality housing (Hartman, 1998; Nelson et al., 2000).

We explore whether housing assistance receipt is associated with reductions in household hardship for low-income single-mother households. We first examine associations between subsidy receipt and the proportion of household income spent on rent. We then examine links between rental subsidies and other forms of housingrelated hardship (difficulty paying rent or utilities, housing stability, and residential crowding). Because publicly subsidized housing is often justified on the grounds that it provides benefits to low-income populations that extend well beyond the direct provision of shelter (Grigsby & Bourassa, 2003), we also investigate whether subsidies are associated with reduced food insecurity. Finally, we examine whether these associations vary for households receiving unit-based (e.g., traditional public housing) or tenant-based (e.g., housing vouchers or certificates) assistance.

Few studies investigate links between housing subsidies and household hardship. Evaluations of the HOPE VI (Buron, Popkin, Levy, Harris, & Khadduri, 2002; Popkin et al., 2004) and Moving to Opportunity (Goering & Feins, 2003) experiments are notable exceptions. These evaluations, however, explore the effects of moving from a public housing unit, often in a poor urban neighborhood, to a voucher-assisted unit in a higher quality, often suburban neighborhood. In contrast, we examine links between housing assistance receipt and household hardship among households eligible for, but not necessarily receiving, subsidies. This research is timely given that the availability of low-cost housing in the United States has diminished in recent years, despite increases in the number of vouchers authorized by the federal government (Khadduri, Shroder, & Steffen, 2003; Mulroy & Ewalt, 1996). In addition, because rental housing assistance programs must compete for limited social service dollars, it is crucial to understand whether they extend beyond their explicit service delivery objectives (Grigsby & Bourassa, 2003).


Measuring Hardship

Selecting constructs that measure household hardship is a difficult task, as there is little consensus as to conditions that constitute unwanted or unintended suffering on the part of a household, as opposed to those that reflect household preferences (Beverly, 2001). Adequate shelter and food, however, are intrinsic needs. Difficulty accessing them may, therefore, reasonably be considered hardship. We operationalize housingrelated hardship both as those conditions that housing subsidy programs directly aim to ameliorate (reducing rent burden and difficulty paying rent or utilities) and those that are less directly targeted by these programs (housing stability and crowding). …

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