Only 10% of Harris County housing voucher recipients move to more affluent areas

Harris County’s Housing Choice Voucher Program allows low-income people to rent better housing in neighborhoods they could not otherwise afford, but only 10% of the program’s participants actually move to such areas, according to a new study from Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research.

Photo credit: 123rf.com

Photo credit: 123rf.com

“Housing Choice Voucher Mobility in Harris County,” authored by John Park, a Kinder Institute research fellow, and Kyle Shelton, the Kinder Institute’s deputy director, tracks which of these individuals are moving, where they are moving to and from, and whether or not they moved to access better opportunity or to avoid pressures such as gentrification and flood risk.

“We were interested in determining whether or not this program has been successful in relocating individuals to higher-income, less-flood-prone and generally safer areas of the city,” Park said.

Park and Shelton conducted the study with voucher data provided by the Houston Housing Authority (HHA) for 2015, 2016 and 2017. Demographic and neighborhood characteristics were pulled from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. The analysis also used the locations of individual voucher households, identified by program recipients’ home addresses. The researchers looked at a total of 16,227 voucher households.

Although Park found that only a fraction of the program’s participants were using their vouchers to move out of impoverished neighborhoods — as intended by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development — female-headed households, households with children, households with larger family sizes (three or more members) and non-Hispanic black households were among the most likely voucher holders to do so. On average, voucher holders moved about 5 miles from their original residence.

Those who moved with assistance from the voucher program were also more likely to go to low-flood-risk areas, non-gentrifying neighborhoods with higher rents and areas with higher household incomes. Although more voucher holders moved out of areas with a high risk of flooding than into them, Park said a significant number of recipients are still moving to or living in flood-prone areas.

“This definitely suggests that there is still work to be done within the HHA and other housing agencies to continue to make sure clients know about the risk of flooding in certain areas,” Park said.

Park and other researchers from the Kinder Institute plan to continue collecting long-term data on the voucher program, with the ultimate goal of understanding its overall effectiveness.

“As the largest tenant-based affordable housing program in Harris County, it’s important to understand if and how it is working,” Park said.

The report is available online at https://kinder.rice.edu.

About Amy McCaig

Amy is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.