Growing up in high-poverty, highly segregated neighborhoods can limit the future prospects of young children. But low-income families with children often lack sufficient resources and face other systemic barriers to choosing freely what neighborhoods they live in. The federal government’s Housing Choice Voucher Program, which subsidizes rent for some low-income families, helps only a small fraction of families with children to use vouchers to live in low-poverty areas. Encouraging findings from recent studies conducted by Harvard University researchers suggest that young kids who move to certain types of neighborhoods, called high-opportunity neighborhoods, are likely to earn more money as adults and are more likely to attend college, compared with their peers who live outside of high-opportunity neighborhoods. How can the Housing Choice Voucher program help more families move to, remain in, and thrive in high-opportunity neighborhoods and increase their chances of economic success?
As part of Creating Moves to Opportunity (CMTO), researchers at Harvard’s Opportunity Insights—in partnership with MDRC and other researchers—are testing whether delivering services to families in the voucher program in Seattle and King County, Washington, can help foster moves to high-opportunity areas. Early positive results from CMTO have sparked interest in testing new mobility initiatives that lead to larger and more sustained moves to high-opportunity areas in other contexts around the country, particularly those with historically high patterns of racial segregation in housing markets.
MDRC, as part of the Supporting Moves to Opportunity (SMTO) demonstration, is spearheading a next generation of mobility initiatives. In partnership with public housing agencies and service providers in three regions (Chicago-Cook County, IL; Milwaukee, WI; and St, Louis, MO), SMTO will build on earlier efforts and test the effects of initiatives that offer services and supports either before or after families move—developing evidence that will inform federal efforts to expand housing choice policy.
The St. Louis and Milwaukee programs began enrolling families in 2020. Enrollment is slated to begin in Chicago-Cook County in early 2021.