How We Can Turn Housing Mobility Into Economic Opportunity

How We Can Turn Housing Mobility Into Economic Opportunity

Regional partnerships are a way to help low-income families gain the advantages of resource-rich areas. There's new support from Washington.

Jeffrey Lubell, Governing, May 13, 2019. Available Here 

There is growing evidence that housing mobility can help families move up the economic ladder, especially if tackled at a regional scale. And Congress is taking notice. A new federal demonstration will provide funding to administer and evaluate regional housing mobility programs. The federal demonstration will provide an important source of funding to support these efforts, but they are worth considering even without new funding.

Housing mobility refers to efforts to help low-income families access resource-rich areas that offer strong schools, low rates of violent crime and other amenities that help children build a solid foundation for the future. While we've long suspected that children who grow up in resource-rich, low-poverty areas achieve better educational and employment outcomes, recent researchhas verified and begun to quantify these positive impacts.

A promising approach to promoting housing mobility is to help families participating in the federal housing choice voucher program find homes in resource-rich areas. Participating families can use their vouchers to defray the costs of renting any moderately -priced apartment whose owner consents to participate. But efforts to promote housing mobility through vouchers are constrained by administrative barriers that make it difficult for families to move from one jurisdiction to another. This is particularly problematic where there are many families with vouchers living in concentrated poverty in one jurisdiction and resource-rich areas nearby but in different jurisdictions.

A regional approach can help overcome these obstacles. For example, local public housing agencies in a region can work together to develop arrangements that make it easier for families to use their vouchers to move from one jurisdiction to the next and then provide "mobility counseling" to help them access opportunities in resource-rich areas. A regional mobility initiative of this nature is currently underway in the Seattle area through a partnership between the Seattle and King County housing authorities.

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