Housing Subsidies and Child Outcomes

A hearty crowd of economists, policymakers, and other guests learned more about the aligning research of 3 economists who each spoke about the impacts of housing vouchers on childhood outcomes in different urban areas of the United States.

Many low- and moderate-income Americans are unable to secure high-quality housing with access to public amenities. This situation can affect the welfare of the entire household. Housing voucher programs can be found in most cities in America and are meant to act as a supplement to aid in housing expenses for qualifying families. In this session, the panel of economists explored the effects on children of growing up in a family on a housing voucher program. There’s a question that many researchers pose: Do housing voucher programs positively affect the families and, more importantly, the children who qualify for them?


Policy Summit guest J. Rosie Tighe, an assistant professor in the Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University, acknowledged the economists for their quality research but also pointed out the need for acknowledging some of the social issues surrounding housing vouchers that were not addressed by the data.

“It’s important to understand that housing law and policy are not only constrained by regulations and zoning but also by legal and illegal discrimination. Landlords don’t have to accept a voucher as payment. There are barriers to access that aren’t necessarily shown in the data,” Tighe noted.

One participant commented, “It’s great to see more data being brought into the discussion, but we need to acknowledge that for tenants, there’s not much ‘choice’ in Housing Choice Vouchers. It’s not that people don’t want to move to better neighborhoods; it’s that they can’t. What about factors like discrimination and neighborhood resistance? How can we make sure vouchers are more universally available and that voucher recipients are more accepted in good neighborhoods? And how can we get rental housing built in high-opportunity neighborhoods?”

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Across the board, the speakers in this session found that children who lived in families with housing vouchers generally lived in areas with lower poverty and less crime, a circumstance which led to better labor market outcomes in adulthood, a lower likelihood of arrest for violent crimes, and notably better academic performance in both math and English.