Academic journal article Cityscape

Transportation Access, Residential Location, and Economic Opportunity: Evidence from Two Housing Voucher Experiments

Academic journal article Cityscape

Transportation Access, Residential Location, and Economic Opportunity: Evidence from Two Housing Voucher Experiments

Article excerpt

Introduction

In the 1990s and early 2000s, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) sponsored two major housing voucher experiments to assess whether low-income families benefited from living in lower poverty neighborhoods-either through improved neighborhood conditions or better economic and health outcomes. Launched in 1994, the first of these experiments, the Moving to Opportunity (MTO) for Fair Housing program, was designed to move lowincome families from high-poverty to lower poverty neighborhoods. In 1999, Congress initiated the Welfare-to-Work Voucher (WtWV) program, another tenant-based housing voucher program. This second experiment aimed to help families who received or were eligible to receive welfare to transition from public assistance into the labor market. Combined, these two programs produced experimental data (with treatment and control groups) for voucher participants in 10 major U.S. metropolitan areas: Baltimore, Maryland; Boston, Massachusetts; Chicago, Illinois; Los Angeles, California; and New York City, New York (from MTO); and Atlanta, Georgia; Augusta, Georgia; Fresno, California; and Houston, Texas (from WtWV).1

To date, transportation has not been a major focus of the research related to housing vouchers. Yet, evidence is growing that shows transportation-particularly access to automobiles-shapes the residential location choices and the economic outcomes of low-income households. Automobiles and high-quality public transit services can enable participants to better search for housing as well as provide improved access to potential employment, services, and other opportunities within a reasonable travel time.

Transportation was the focus of the research reported in Driving to Opportunity: Understanding the Links among Transportation Access, Residential Outcomes, and Economic Opportunity for Housing Voucher Recipients (Pendall et ah, 2014) a project funded through HUD's Sustainable Communities Research Grant Program.2 The research on voucher users, cars, and neighborhood sustainability is summarized in an article included as part of this symposium (Pendall et al, 2015). In this article, we review the major findings of our research on the role of transportation in influencing the employment outcomes of housing voucher program participants.3 We draw on survey data from the two voucher experiments and supplement those data with information on the characteristics of the neighborhoods in which program participants live, including their access to public transit. We then use statistical models to examine the relationship between transportation measures (access to automobiles and public transit availability) and two outcome measures (employment and earnings) controlling for other potential determinants of these outcomes. As one of our control measures, we include experimental group status: whether participants were in the experimental, control, or-in the MTO experiment-the Section 8 group.

Our findings underscore the role of automobiles in achieving desirable outcomes for all subsidized housing recipients. Access to automobiles is associated with improved economic outcomes for all program participants and facilitates job acquisition, job retention, and earnings better than public transit. Being part of the experimental group of these programs and moving to lower poverty neighborhoods did not improve participants' employment outcomes alone or in combination with transportation. The reason for this null effect may reflect that participants (1) spent relatively little time in lower poverty neighborhoods and (2) had inadequate transit service in these neighborhoods. Most, if not nearly all, MTO households eventually moved back into higher poverty neighborhoods and thus spent a significant amount of time during the course of the experiment in neighborhoods with poverty rates higher than 10 percent, the program's target threshold. For instance, during the 1994-to-2010 period, even households that successfully leased up within the MTO experimental group were exposed to an average degree of poverty of 19 percent, much higher than the 10-percent target. …

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