Academic journal article Cityscape

Increasing the Value of MTO Research for Housing Policy Development

Academic journal article Cityscape

Increasing the Value of MTO Research for Housing Policy Development

Article excerpt


The Moving to Opportunity (MTO) for Fair Housing demonstration has estimated the effects of two concrete reforms of low-income housing policy on one important group those reforms affected. Reforms of this type have received, and will continue to receive, serious consideration in housing policy debates. At this stage, estimating the effects of the MTO reforms on all the people they affected significantly is not feasible. Estimating the effects of two similar reforms that would have almost the same effect on the families studied in MTO, however, is feasible and desirable. These reforms would have no effect on the number of families who receive housing assistance. Instead, they would affect the nature of the housing assistance offered and the taxpayer cost of providing the assistance. One alternative reform would almost surely have generated cost savings and additional revenue exceeding the cost of the vouchers, thereby providing greater benefits than the current system at a lower taxpayer cost. The MTO results supplemented with estimates of the taxpayer cost of either reform would provide a reasonably comprehensive analysis of its effects. This article suggests how to estimate the taxpayer costs of the alternative reforms. Doing so would significantly increase the value of MTO research for housing policy development.


The primary purpose of the Moving to Opportunity (MTO) for Fair Housing demonstration was to study the effects of better neighborhoods on a wide range of individual outcomes. However, it also produced results that are relevant for assessing the likely effects of major reforms of low-income housing policy. Literally, the final impacts evaluation (Sanbonmatsu et al., 201 1) reported the effects of offering housing vouchers to families with children living in subsidized housing projects in census tracts with high poverty rates as opposed to the effects of alternatives that would have been available to these families in the absence of this offer.

Political leaders have proposed similar reforms, and some have been implemented. The Clinton Administration proposed comprehensive legislation for phasing out project-based assistance (HUD, 1995) and, in his campaign against President Clinton, Robert Dole also proposed vouchering out public housing. Although the Clinton proposals were not adopted, the Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act oj 1 998 (Title V, Public Law 105-276) mandated demolishing public housing projects and providing housing vouchers to their residents under certain circumstances and allowed these actions under other circumstances. Furthermore, HOPE VI grants and other sources have funded the redevelopment of many public housing projects in census tracts with high poverty rates, and the families whose projects have been demolished have almost always been offered housing vouchers.

Although MTO has produced evidence on important effects of its reforms on members of the families offered vouchers, this evidence is inadequate to judge the desirability of the reforms because MTO also affected taxpayers and the families who replaced MTO voucher recipients in subsidized housing. To maximize the benefit from MTO's enormous investment in data collection, it is important to supplement the results in the final impacts evaluation with evidence on the effects on other individuals.

This article argues that, at this stage, producing the information needed to estimate the effects on all groups of the exact reforms MTO implemented is not feasible, but that the MTO results are applicable for assessing several similar reforms whose primary effects on other people could be estimated with reasonable effort. MTO provided substantial benefits to the families who moved into the public housing units vacated by those who accepted an MTO voucher, but it did not collect information relevant for assessing the effects of the reform on this group, and it is not feasible to assemble it now. …

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