Housing vouchers help millions of American families weather the crushing experience of poverty. With housing choice vouchers, low-income households receive federal aid to pay their rent.
Also known as Section 8, the program has been a simple and effective alternative to America’s troubled experiment with public housing. But Section 8 is showing its age. Landlords hold a great deal of sway over the system: They decide who signs a lease (and who doesn’t). And since there’s much bias surrounding people who rely on section 8, millions of families relying on housing vouchers are denied access to good housing and instead packed into high-poverty areas.
In search of a solution, researchers in Seattle put a twist on the housing voucher system: they provided a random subset of people receiving vouchers for the first time with more than just the rental subsidy. They would also be given information on which neighborhoods promise the most opportunity for their kids, based on the research data. They’d also be assigned “navigators” whose job it was to walk them through the apartment application process, and receive additional financial assistance with down payments if necessary. It’s a simple intervention — and, more than a year in, it looks like it yielded big results.
The experiment found that the additional support raised the share of families moving to high-opportunity neighborhoods from 14 percent to 54 percent. According to economic Raj Chetty, the program had “the largest effect I’ve ever seen in a social science intervention.” For millions of low-income families, this experimental study in Seattle could provide a new path for escaping poverty.