Barriers and opportunities in the housing voucher program: The importance of race in the housing search process
Even though the federal Housing Choice Voucher Program's overarching policy goal is to enable households to access a diverse set of neighborhoods, voucher households are concentrated in high-poverty and racially segregated neighborhoods, with nonwhite voucher holders disproportionately residing in such places. Across the country and in the Greater Boston metropolitan area, voucher recipients have limited access to higher-opportunity areas—neighborhoods that positively influence residents' health and social and economic well-being. We analyze survey data of voucher-assisted families residing in both higher- and lower-opportunity neighborhoods across Greater Boston to explore how housing search factors such as information, preferences, and discrimination impact voucher holders' search process and experiences while searching and, ultimately, where they use their vouchers. We find that while most voucher holders express a preference for similar types of neighborhoods—safe and economically mixed communities—household race, information and strategies used during the housing search, and discrimination by property owners and managers impact housing location outcomes. These outcomes vary significantly by race, with black families experiencing the greatest access barriers to higher-opportunity communities, regardless of the strategies they use. Finally, we discuss changes in housing policy and practice that can lead to greater access to opportunity for voucher-assisted families.