evaluation as an objective so outcomes and impacts of new procedures could credibly be determined. An assessment of the first group of participating sites found some evidence of increased employment and rising incomes among affected residents (and no evi- dence of extreme hardship). Interestingly, however, there was no clear relationship between the types of work incentives and supports introduced and the magnitude of employment gains. This raises ques- tions about whether the employment gains could be attributed to the policy changes, but it also suggests that any policies and practices that encourage resi- dents to find and keep jobs have at least some effect (Abravanel et al. 2004).
Provisions that would substantially expand Mov- ing to Work were passed by the House of Represen- tatives in 2007 as part of a larger bill (H.R. 1851) focusing on reforms to the voucher program. Specifi- cally, the House bill would rename MTW the Hous- ing Innovation Program and allow up to 80 PHAs to participate, still without any systematic data collection or rigorous evaluation (Fischer and Sard 2008). Par- allel legislation introduced in the Senate did not include this provision. Although the voucher reform legislation is not expected to be enacted in 2008, pressure from PHAs to expand MTW are likely to continue. Some advocacy organizations oppose the expansion of MTW on the grounds that it puts vulnerable residents at risk of hardship and even dis- placement and that the experimentation by PHAs is unmonitored and unevaluated. They argue that, if MTW is expanded, the number of PHAs authorized to participate should be smaller, and more rigorous evaluation should be mandated.
Critical Policy Challenges and Choices
Until the onset of current foreclosure crisis, hous- ing received scant attention on the domestic policy agenda. Even today, the problems of housing avail- ability, adequacy, and affordability facing low-income renters are largely neglected. Increasingly, however, practitioners, policymakers, and advocates outside traditional housing policy circles are recognizing that decent and affordable rental housing is a key ingre- dient essential to other priority goals, including fam- ily economic success, children’s well-being, smart growth, and equitable development.
As a consequence, some local and state govern- ments are taking steps to boost incomes among low- wage workers (so more working families can afford prevailing rent levels), address the regulatory barriers that stand in the way of rental housing production, and raise new funds to subsidize affordable rental housing (Katz and Turner 2008). On the income side, a growing number of states are enacting minimum wages higher than the federal standard, some of them significantly so.23 And many now have their own earned income tax credit programs, which—like the federal program—supplement the incomes of workers with a refundable year-end tax credit (Nagle and Johnson 2006). On the regulatory side, more than 130 localities nationwide have taken steps to man- date the production of affordable housing through inclusionary zoning ordinances.24 And on the sub- sidy side, 37 states and more than 350 counties and cities have established dedicated sources of public revenue (like taxes and fees) to create housing trust funds for the production and preservation of afford- able housing (Goodno 2002). All these state and local initiatives have value, but their potential impact is limited in the absence of federal policy leadership.
New Vision for Federal Housing Policy
Federal rental housing programs can claim credit for some important accomplishments, but they now suffer from serious failures of design, scale, and imple- mentation. Their most significant shortcoming is reflected in the widening gap between housing needs and subsidy resources. In addition, programs that produce new rental housing continue to focus on inner-city neighborhoods—further concentrating poverty rather than expanding access to opportunity. And the federal government offers few incentives for states and localities to remove the regulatory barriers that raise housing production costs and distort the location of affordable rental housing.
No one level of government can tackle today’s complex rental housing challenges on its own. But a meaningful strategy would have to start with a more vigorous and systematic federal role, because only the federal government has the fiscal capacity to address the consequences of stagnant wage growth and income inequality nationwide. As long as incomes for a sub- stantial segment of the population fall short of what it takes to cover the costs of producing and operating