Academic journal article Cityscape

Driving to Opportunities: Voucher Users, Cars, and Movement to Sustainable Neighborhoods

Academic journal article Cityscape

Driving to Opportunities: Voucher Users, Cars, and Movement to Sustainable Neighborhoods

Article excerpt

Introduction and Overview

Research on the linkages between tenant-based housing assistance and residential outcomes suggests that households receiving vouchers choose to live in a wider range of neighborhoods than public housing residents and unassisted renters (Schwartz, 2010). In the long term, however, voucher holders still face hurdles when trying to secure housing in high-opportunity neighborhoods-those with low poverty rates, high labor force participation rates, high-quality public services, convenient access to employment, and safe and healthful surroundings (Turner et al., 2011). Although transportation plays a widely recognized-even central-role in shaping residential location decisions, studies of voucher users' housing choices curiously have neglected explorations of how cars and transit contribute distinctively to neighborhood choices.

This article reports partial results of a larger study designed to close that gap. It uses data from two major experiments sponsored by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in the 1990s and 2000s to test whether housing choice vouchers propelled low-income households into greater economic security. The Moving to Opportunity (MTO) for Fair Housing demonstration program and the Welfare to Work Voucher (WtWV) program sought to learn whether low-income families benefited from housing mobility through improved neighborhood conditions and better economic and health outcomes.1

Our study finds important, previously unreported connections between automobiles and positive outcomes in these experiments. Automobiles increase the likelihood that voucher participants will live and remain in high-opportunity neighborhoods, a result on which this article reports in depth. Our research also shows in work published elsewhere and in a research note in the current volume of Cityscape that automobiles are associated with greater neighborhood satisfaction and improved economic outcomes.

We begin our article by showing that most studies on voucher users' residential locations assess a limited number of indicators of distress and segregation and by suggesting a broader framework- based on other studies-for assessing the dimensions of neighborhood quality (which we call neighborhood sustainability). After discussing our data and methods, we present the results of two main analyses. First, we show that in the MTO and WtWV study areas, neighborhoods with similar levels of poverty have a wide array of other characteristics that matter differently for different kinds of households. Second, we show using bivariate and multivariate methods that households with access to cars consistently live in neighborhoods with greater neighborhood sustainability on some variables than transit-dependent households-but that these neighborhoods have less sustainability on other important measures, especially those related to walkability and transit access. Our findings suggest a need for more integrated and holistic planning and program development to account for the importance of both cars and transit to low-income households' well-being.

Voucher Users and Neighborhood Sustainability: Background and Research Questions

Past research shows that assisted households live in neighborhoods with higher levels of distress (for example, poverty, joblessness, and dropouts) and higher concentrations of racial minorities than unassisted households (Been et al., 2010; Galvez, 2010). Assisted tenants with the widest array of neighborhood choices, those with housing choice vouchers, live in about four-fifths of metropolitan area census tracts, and most of them live in tracts in which only a small share of other households hold vouchers (Galvez, 2010). Even so, voucher users are less evenly distributed across metropolitan neighborhoods than one would expect based on the supply of affordable housing. They live in neighborhoods with somewhat lower distress and higher opportunity than other low-income households, but on average their neighborhoods are still inferior to those of nonpoor metropolitan households (Cunningham and Droesch, 2005; Galvez, 2010). …

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