Varady, David P. and Carole C. Walker. Neighborhood Choices: Section 8 Housing Vouchers and Residential Mobility.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Goetz, Edward G.
Pub Date: 06/22/2009
Publication: Name: Canadian Journal of Urban Research Publisher: Institute of Urban Studies Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 Institute of Urban Studies ISSN: 1188-3774
Issue: Date: Summer, 2009 Source Volume: 18 Source Issue: 1
Topic: NamedWork: Neighborhood Choices: Section 8 Housing Vouchers and Residential Mobility (Nonfiction work)
Persons: Reviewee: Varady, David P.; Walker, Carole C.
Accession Number: 229218951
Full Text: Varady, David P. and Carole C. Walker.

Neighborhood Choices: Section 8 Housing Vouchers and Residential Mobility.

New Brunswick, NJ: Center for Urban Policy Research, 2007. 184 pp.

ISBN: 0882851802.

American housing policy has veered over the past number of years toward efforts to spatially deconcentrate subsidized households, dispersing them in an effort to achieve greater levels of racial and class integration. The chief tool used in this effort is the Section 8, or Housing Choice Voucher program. The Section 8 subsidy is a portable housing allowance that families can take with them and, with some restrictions, use on the market to lease-up apartment units from private owners. The program has steadily gained prominence among U.S. housing program providers because it allows greater choice for subsidized households than do traditional project-based subsidies, and has resulted in a greater dispersion of subsidized families than other forms of housing assistance.

Since the 1990s, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has begun to convert many of its project-based subsidies into vouchers, a process called 'vouchering out.' The dispersal potential of Section 8 is limited, however, because the vouchers can only be used on units that are at or below a rent threshold, and can only be used where landlords agree to accept the voucher. In practice, this has generally limited Section 8 voucher holders to poorer neighborhoods within metropolitan areas. Seeking to increase the geographic dispersion of subsidized households, HUD has gone beyond the basic Section 8 program to create special 'mobility programs' such as the Gantreaux program and the Moving To Opportunities (MTO) program. These programs provide vouchers that can only be used in low-poverty (in the case of MTO) or racially-integrated neighborhoods (in the case of the Gautreaux program) along with mobility counselling that will help low-income families make such moves. The ironic tradeoff is that program participants actually enjoy less choice in these mobility programs than they do in the regular Section 8 program because they are forced to use their vouchers only in certain approved neighborhoods.

David Varady and Carole Walker have written a short book that provides empirical evidence on how poor families use the Section 8 subsidy, and they conclude that HUD's insistence on geographic dispersion via mobility programs is both unnecessary and unwise. The book presents findings from two separate studies the authors carried out for HUD. The first is a study of vouchered-out projects in four cities. Varady and Walker tracked residents who were forced to move and given Section 8 vouchers in the process. The second study is an examination of the regular Section 8 program in Alameda County, California. Alameda is the county that encompasses Oakland, California and its surrounding communities, and it has been much more successful in getting Section 8 voucher recipients into the suburbs than most.

The chapter on the vouchered out projects provides important information on how families react when forced to move away from their subsidized homes. The four projects studies were chosen for vouchering out based on how distressed the families were, fiscally, physically, and socially. families dislocated in the process tended not to move far away from the original site. In that regard, they probably disappointed HUD policymakers who might have hoped for a greater degree of suburbanization or relocation to what dispersalists like to call "neighborhoods of opportunity." Varady and Walker show, however, that longer moves and relocation into such neighbourhoods are not necessary for residents to report higher levels of housing and neighbourhood satisfaction.

In the chapter presenting the findings from the Alameda County study, the authors report that families who managed to use their Section 8 voucher to move to the suburbs had no more difficulty finding a unit than did other families, nor were they more likely to have problems adjusting to their new neighbourhoods. Nevertheless, suburban movers did relocate to neighbourhoods with higher socioeconomic status than those who remained in the central cities. Oddly, the reasons for Alameda County's success in getting families into the suburbs is not one of the research questions pursued by the authors or by HUD.

In between these major findings is a wealth of detail and data on the housing searches of Section 8 households, the neighbourhood characteristics valued by the families studied, and their degree of housing and neighbourhood satisfaction as it relates to their neighbourhoods of origin and their ultimate destinations. Stylistically, the book is heavy on data reporting. It reads a bit like a research report in that respect. However, the literature review in the first chapter sets the stage nicely for the specific analyses to follow. These findings have been reported in journal articles before, but having them together in this format makes the book a useful reference.

Edward G. Goetz, Professor

Director, Urban and Regional Planning Program

University of Minnesota

Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs
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