Who Really Cares about Neighborhood Mobility? Testing Assumptions about Housing Choice Voucher Holders' Neighborhood Preferences

WCPC Seminar Series on Poverty and Public Policy: Fall 2011

Presented by Martha Galvez
Research Supervisor
Washington Department of Social and Health Services, Research and Data Analysis Division
Affiliate Assistant Professor of Public Affairs
University of Washington
Monday, November 14, 2011;  12:30 - 1:30 p.m., questions / discussion until 2:00 p.m.
Parrington Hall Commons, Room 308
University of Washington


Martha Galvez is a researcher with Washington State’s Department of Social and Health Services. Her current research centers on housing and homelessness, with a focus on neighborhood choice and mobility, and housing stability among low-income families. Prior to joining DSHS, Galvez was a Research Associate at the West Coast Poverty Center, Senior Policy Analyst at the Seattle Housing Authority, and Director of Strategic Planning at the New York City Department of Small Business Services. Galvez holds a PhD in Public Policy and a Masters in Urban Planning from New York University, and BA in Sociology from Wesleyan University.


The Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) Program subsidizes the private market rents of about 2 million poor households nationwide. In theory, the voucher serves as a “mobility” tool in addition to a rent subsidy, allowing recipients to reach more and better quality neighborhoods than they would have been able to otherwise. In practice, it’s not clear that vouchers lead to improved neighborhood quality, and a persistent policy concern is whether neighborhood outcomes reflect voucher holders’ own location preferences. Using survey and administrative data this paper tracks a sample of new Seattle voucher holders’ location outcomes and tests theoretical arguments regarding neighborhood preferences. Results show the majority of the sample moved to new neighborhoods, but few experienced improvements in neighborhood quality as a result of the move. Place attachments and perceptions of housing options did not appear to play primary roles in move preferences. In contrast, satisfaction with pre-program neighborhood quality appeared to be important to both preferences and outcomes. However, there was little correlation between neighborhood satisfaction and quantitative measures of neighborhood quality. Results suggest researchers and program administrators may overstate the extent to which voucher holders are attached to pre-program neighborhoods. Instead, the Seattle sample’s relatively high satisfaction with low-opportunity neighborhoods may help explain disappointing “mobility” outcomes.


See the slides from this presentation here.