A wave of emerging research by Raj Chetty, Nathaniel Hendren and Lawrence Katz provides new evidence that growing up in a low-poverty neighborhood has a positive effect on a number of important life outcomes.
Overview and Policy Issues
Studying more than five million families who moved across counties in the U.S., researchers Raj Chetty and Nathan Hendren find that every year a child spends growing up in a higher-opportunity neighborhood improves that child’s adult outcomes, including earnings and college attendance. (1) Similarly, the new long-term analysis of the Moving to Opportunity (MTO) experiment by Raj Chetty (Stanford University, J-PAL), Nathaniel Hendren (Harvard, J-PAL), and Lawrence Katz (Harvard, J-PAL), finds that young children whose families were provided housing vouchers to move to low-poverty neighborhoods (2) had substantially better educational and economic outcomes than families who remained in higher poverty neighborhoods. Despite the potential gains from moves to lower poverty neighborhoods, 80% of Housing Choice Vouchers are used in moderate or high poverty neighborhoods. (3)
These results suggest two complementary policy approaches: 1) improve lower-opportunity neighborhoods, and 2) help families with younger children move to high-opportunity neighborhoods. The Creating Moves to Opportunity (CMTO) project focuses on the second approach, and aims to develop and evaluate strategies to facilitate long-lasting moves to opportunity neighborhoods, particularly for families with younger children. As part of CMTO, Seattle and King County Housing Authorities have partnered with researchers to evaluate programs for Housing Choice Voucher recipients with children under 15.
In the Seattle-King County pilot project, researchers will test the efficacy of three interventions to help low-income families with children move to higher-opportunity neighborhoods. This project focuses on strategies that may be particularly effective tools in tight housing markets, like those in Seattle and King County, by reducing information frictions, increasing housing option supply, and eliminating financial barriers related to families’ access to housing in high opportunity areas.
Housing Choice Voucher recipients who choose to participate in the study will be randomly assigned to a treatment or control group. The treatment group will be offered services in the strategy areas noted below; those not assigned to treatment will receive a voucher and standard services provided by the housing authorities.
Timelines and Phases
Creating Moves to Opportunity is a 2.5 year commitment between researchers, Seattle and King County Housing Authorities and CMTO staff to design, implement and improve services to Housing Choice Voucher families with children under 15.
2017: Formative Design Phase
In this year, the project will identify opportunity neighborhoods, hire and train staff, select a housing locator, fine-tune the proposed interventions, test marketing and enrollment process for families, and finalize evaluation details. This planning involves front line staff, families, external researchers, landlords and other stakeholders.
2018: Intervention Phase One
In Phase One, qualified families with at least one child under 15 years old will be drawn from the Housing Choice Voucher waitlist and offered an opportunity to enroll in the study. All intervention strategies will be offered to all families in the treatment group. Anticipated results include preliminary data on moves, as well as information gleaned from interviews with tenants, public housing authority staff, landlords and CMTO staff.
2019: Intervention Phase Two
Phase Two will use Phase One results to refine the interventions that have the greatest impact in helping families successfully move to areas of higher opportunity. Multiple treatment groups will be used in this second phase to understand what interventions are most essential, cost-effective and scalable.
(1) Chetty, Raj and Nathaniel Hendren. 2017a. “The Impacts of Neighborhoods on Intergenerational Mobility I: Childhood Exposure Effects.” NBER Working Paper No. 23001. Available online: http://www.equality-of-opportunity.org/assets/documents/movers_paper1.pdf
(2) Chetty, Raj, Nathaniel Hendren, and Lawrence Katz. 2016. “The Effects of Exposure to Better Neighborhoods on Children: New Evidence from the Moving to Opportunity Experiment.” American Economic Review 106 (4): 855–902.
(3) McClure, Kirk, Alex F. Schwartz, and Lydia B. Taghavi. 2015. “Housing choice voucher location patterns a decade later.” Housing Policy Debate 25, no. 2 (2015): 215-233.