out of high-poverty neighborhoods in five cities, so far finds no effects on employment or earnings (Cove et al. 2008). This may be because most MTO families moved to low-poverty central-city jurisdic- tions rather than to job-rich suburban communities, or because few remained in their new neighborhoods long enough to benefit.27 Future efforts to promote economic success among voucher families should focus on helping them move to locations that offer good access to jobs, supplementing mobility assis- tance with employment counseling and work supports (potentially using FSS resources), and (in MTW sites) experimenting with modifications to the voucher subsidy formula to explicitly reward work and earn- ings gains.
Housing Assistance and the Well-Being of Poor Children
There are good reasons to think that living in assisted housing should contribute to improved outcomes for children in low-income families. In particular, affordable rent payments should increase a family’s residential stability, reducing the frequency of in- voluntary moves, evictions, and homelessness; res- idential instability is known to undermine children’s well-being (Lovell and Isaacs 2008; Rhodes 2005; Rumberger 2003). And spending less for housing may enable families to spend more of their very limited budgets on food and other necessities for their chil- dren. Indeed, recent evidence confirms that vouchers reduce the likelihood that welfare families will double up or experience homelessness and increase family expenditures for food (Mills et al. 2006). However, there is no convincing evidence that housing assis- tance alone improves (or undermines) children’s educational success (Mills et al. 2006; Newman and Harkness 2000).
One likely explanation is that the effects of hous- ing assistance on children’s well-being depend upon the characteristics of the neighborhood where the housing assistance is provided. Living in public or assisted housing in a distressed neighborhood, with high rates of crime and violence and failing schools, probably undermines outcomes for children (Ellen and Turner 1997), while receiving a voucher or liv- ing in an affordable apartment in a safe, well-served neighborhood may enhance children’s chances for success. Gautreaux research found striking benefits
for children whose families used vouchers to move from central-city Chicago to suburban neighbor- hoods. Children were substantially more likely to complete high school, take college-track courses, attend college, and enter the workforce than chil- dren from similar families who moved to neighbor- hoods within Chicago (Rosenbaum 1995).
MTO families moved to dramatically safer neigh- borhoods than their original public housing projects, and both mothers and girls are enjoying improved mental and physical health as a result.28 In addition, moving to a lower-poverty environment appears to have reduced crime, delinquency, and risky behavior among teenage girls, though not among boys. To date, however, there is no evidence that MTO moves have led to better educational outcomes, possibly because so few children are attending significantly better schools (Turner and Briggs 2008). These findings suggest that it makes sense to expand the mobility counseling and search assistance that encour- ages voucher recipients to move to opportunity-rich neighborhoods, but that future mobility initiatives should focus more explicitly on helping families find, move to, and remain in neighborhoods where the public schools are high performing. In addition, service providers should look for ways to help boys adapt successfully to their new neighborhoods, help- ing them overcome the social, emotional, and insti- tutional barriers that stand in their way.
One little-known program explicitly targets housing assistance to support children’s welfare. The Family Unification Program (FUP), launched in 1992, provides special housing vouchers (plus supportive services) targeted to prevent children from entering or remaining in foster care unnecessarily on account of their families’ housing problems, and to remedy the potential homelessness of children leaving foster care upon reaching their 18th birthday. Under the program, federal funds are competitively awarded to local partnerships, consisting of PHAs that provide the vouchers and child welfare agencies that provide case management services. The program is small, totaling only 39,191 vouchers nationwide. Proponents of the program argue that the cost of foster care far exceeds the cost of housing vouchers, and evidence suggest that most families that received FUP assistance were able to remain together.29 In 2008, Congress appropriated $20 million for approximately 2,800 new FUP vouchers.
Federal Programs for Addressing Low-Income Housing Needs