Housing Mobility Programs and Health Outcomes

A woman and her son stand outside their home.

Housing mobility programs, which help people use housing vouchers to move from lower to higher opportunity neighborhoods, are associated with improved health and higher future earnings potential.

What's the Issue?

Housing mobility is a strategy to help low-income families and elderly and disabled people use housing vouchers to move from low-opportunity neighborhoods to neighborhoods that are better resourced. Living in a low-opportunity neighborhood (defined by its concentration of poverty and other factors) is associated with an increased risk of poor overall health, premature mortality, heart disease, obesity, serious mental illness, suicide, unemployment, and dropping out of school. In contrast, moving to a higher opportunity neighborhood can improve health for adults and socioeconomic outcomes for young children.

The now-completed federal mobility demonstration program Moving to Opportunity improved health outcomes for adults and socioeconomic outcomes for young children. Adults who used vouchers to move to better-resourced neighborhoods experienced a lower prevalence of diabetes, extreme obesity, physical limitations, and psychological distress, compared to those who did not move. Children who moved at a young age had substantially higher educational attainment and earnings as adults, compared to those who did not move.

Local and regional mobility programs build upon the federal Housing Choice Voucher Program, providing voucher holders with rental search assistance, financial help with moving costs, and post -move support. Many such programs have been created by court order, and advocates agree that it is important to continue replicating, expanding, and testing them.

Housing mobility programs face myriad barriers. Affordable housing units are in short supply, and in some states, landlords may refuse to accept federally supported housing vouchers. Housing mobility programs also face jurisdictional and bureaucratic hurdles and a scarcity of resources, limiting the scope of their impact to a small proportion of voucher holders.

What's Next?

Absent a federal housing mobility program, advocates support giving state and local housing agencies incentives to achieve better location outcomes for families and creating more state and local laws to prevent landlord discrimination based on source of income. Many housing advocates also support maintaining the Obama-era Small Area Fair Market Rents program, which increases the value of housing vouchers in many metropolitan areas.

Looking ahead, community development experts have noted that, even with substantial increases in funding, mobility programs will not be able to reach most voucher holders, and many may want to remain in their existing communities for a variety of reasons. Therefore, the experts advocate the use of an approach that promotes housing mobility along with comprehensive investments in distressed communities.