Constrained Compliance: Solving the Puzzle of MTO’s Lease-Up Rates and Why Mobility Matters
Kathryn Edin, Harvard University
Stefanie DeLuca, Johns Hopkins University
Ann Owens, Harvard University
The Moving to Opportunity (MTO) for Fair Housing demonstration provided an opportunity for low-income renters to move to low-poverty neighborhoods. Many of these renters, however, did not move with their vouchers, and many of those who moved did not stay in low-poverty neighborhoods. In this article, we explore the mechanisms behind these residential outcomes and what they mean for housing policy. First, we review evidence suggesting that MTO families wanted to live in low-poverty “opportunity areas.” We then describe how some aspects of the Housing Choice Voucher Program, the structural features of the housing market, and the beliefs and coping mechanisms of low-income renters—shaped by years of living in extreme poverty—prevented these families from achieving their goals of residential mobility. Finally, we consider the negative consequences on the life chances of the poor if housing policy does not address constraints to mobility and identify potential policy solutions that might lead to opportunities for low-income renters to live in low-poverty neighborhoods.
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