Moving to opportunity?
From an article on NPR
In the 1990's, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) conducted a randomized social experiment among 4600 low-income families with children living in high-poverty public housing projects in five large cities.
The idea was to test whether moving to public housing in low-poverty, relatively affluent areas increased life chances and, in effect, reduce 'ghetto-isation'. Breaking up pockets of poverty by using housing vouchers to encourage low-income families to move to "high opportunity" neighbourhoods.
A vast majority of the participating families were headed by African-American or Hispanic single mothers. Families who volunteered to participate in the program were randomly assigned to 3 groups. One group received housing vouchers that could be used only in low-poverty areas for the first year as well as counseling to help them find units there. After a year, they could use their vouchers anywhere. One group received vouchers that could be used anywhere but no counseling. A third (control) group did not receive vouchers but remained eligible for any other government assistance to which they otherwise would have been entitled.
Results at first were mixed but in 2015, Harvard economists presented their work on the longer-term results. There was strong evidence that the program caused economic gains, with children who moved from high-poverty areas to low-poverty areas when they were less than 13 years old enjoying mean incomes nearly a third higher than children who did not move. The study also found that children who moved when they were older than 13 years old fell behind their peers who stayed in high-poverty areas. This is attributed to the disruptive effects of a move later in adolescence and less time for the benefits of living in a low-poverty area to manifest themselves.
Now a new experiment in the Seattle area is showing promise. Here is some feedback from a radio programme:
Where a child grows up can have a big impact on how well they do later in life. Good schools, safe streets, better environment - all that can make a difference. It's one reason the government has tried to use housing subsidies to encourage low-income families to move to better neighbourhoods.
Monica Rose, a single mother of a 10-year-old, knows how destructive it can be not to have stable housing as a child, attending 14 different schools and dropping out in the seventh grade. She's now 32 and is a victim of domestic abuse. She and her daughter have also had to move a lot, staying with family and friends, even in shelters, as rents around Seattle have soared to among the highest in the nation. But that's about to change.
Any day now, they're moving into a new two-bedroom apartment in northeast Seattle - affordable housing in a low-poverty area. She is benefiting from what many low-income families say is like winning the lottery. She has a housing voucher, or government subsidy, which covers all of her rent over 30% of her income. Almost 2 million families now get such vouchers, but there's a problem. Most end up using them in low-income neighbourhoods where their children are more likely to stay poor. Now a group of researchers is trying to break that cycle.
Part of the experiment, funded by the Gates and Surgo Foundations, involves hiring so-called navigators. They help voucher holders find apartments in what are identified as high-opportunity neighborhoods, places where low-income children have done well as adults - earning more, going to college, having fewer teen births.
The navigators take voucher holders on tours of these neighborhoods. They also guide them through the difficult process of getting an apartment in a hot rental market, showing them how to sell themselves as good tenants, almost like a job interview. They also spend time cultivating landlords who are often reluctant to accept voucher holders, even though it's required by law.
Navigators tell the landlords that with vouchers the rent is guaranteed. The program also helps families with expenses like moving costs. So far, it seems to be working. The initial results released today show that those receiving this extra help are almost four times as likely to move to high-opportunity areas. It costs about $1,700 extra per family. But researchers say it should more than pay for itself in terms of lifetime earnings and taxes that are paid by children who grow up in higher opportunity neighbourhoods.
In fact, they're expected to earn $183,000 more on average and hopefully won't need government aid like their parents. Researchers say one key finding is that poor families don't need that big a push to move. What they saw in Seattle wasn't that they didn't know that some neighbourhoods might be better than others. It's just the concept that it was impossible for them to move there.
Grigory Vodolazov and his wife were pleasantly surprised that their voucher got them a three-bedroom apartment in Bellevue, one of Seattle's most affluent suburbs. The unit is open and bright with new appliances. The couple emigrated from Russia and have two sons, ages 9 and 3. The oldest has autism - one reason that this area with schools and medical facilities that cater to children with special needs means so much to them. What it really offers, though, is hope for their children's future.
Samra Idriss, a Libyan refugee who lives nearby with her husband and three small boys, says people in Bellevue expect to succeed. She says that the kids are different, the neighbourhood is different. Parents are smart and families support the kids. She is already saving for college. It's nothing like their last neighbourhood where kids routinely dropped out of school.
However, almost half of the families in this experiment decided to stay in low-income areas even when told their kids would do better somewhere else. Many wanted to stay closer to jobs or to family and friends. How we achieve creating opportunity in place? That's the question that is not resolved yet.
Read full article here
Benefit caps in the UK have meant a move of people to lower cost areas but shouldn't we stipulate that this has to be a low-poverty area? It could transform young lives.
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