WASHINGTON, D.C.—Americans who use housing choice vouchers are increasingly choosing to live in the suburbs, and as that trend proceeds, metropolitan areas across the country need to work to make sure housing opportunities connect with employment, according to a new report co-authored by UCLA researchers and published by the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program.
The new report, The Suburbanization of Housing Choice Voucher Recipients, analyzes data from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the American Community Survey to show how this trend is proceeding and describe some of its implications.
The housing choice voucher program assists very low-income families, the disabled, and the elderly with paying for housing. The program provides payments to landlords to make up the difference between rents and what the renters can afford. In certain circumstances, vouchers can be used to purchase a home.
“Jobs moved to the suburbs, and people followed,” said Michael Stoll, a non-resident Senior Fellow at Brookings and chair of UCLA’s Department of Public Policy and one of the authors of the report. “Some of those people are poor. Some rely on vouchers to secure affordable housing. We found that, while vouchers are giving people the chance to move where the opportunities are, voucher recipients are not moving into high-opportunity neighborhoods as often as they might.
“While HUD has made the voucher program more flexible, there is more to do,” Stoll said. “The idea was to help get people out of urban poverty pockets, but we don’t want to simply plunk them down into new poverty pockets in the suburbs.”
The report notes lower-income suburbs saw faster population growth, but slower employment growth over the last decade. Voucher recipients, according to the report, did not drive the rapid growth of suburban poverty over the decade, but were part of it.
“We need diversity of opportunity in suburban areas as the population becomes more racially and economically diverse,” said Kenya Covington, Visiting Faculty at the UCLA, Associate Professor of Urban Studies and Planning at California State University, Northridge, and a co-author. “The old lines that distinguished cities and suburbs are blurring, which presents us with a new geography that will require changes in planning and policy.”
Among the report’s findings:
The report recommends providing greater incentives for multi-family housing, re-evaluating local zoning regulations, improving enforcement of fair housing laws, and facilitating the use of housing vouchers in higher-income suburban neighborhoods.
“Just as federal officials need to fine-tune the voucher program, local leaders need to understand how this trend is playing out in their regions, so they can make better land-use and economic planning decisions,” said Lance Freeman, Assistant Professor of Urban Planning at Columbia University, and a co-author. “Where are people going to live? Where are the jobs going to grow? How do we connect the two? Those are fundamental issues to community viability.”
This report is part of Brookings’ Metropolitan Opportunity Series, which documents the changing geography of poverty and opportunity in metropolitan America, analyzes its drivers and implications, and offers policy recommendations to enhance the well-being of lower-income families and communities in both cities and suburbs. For more research in this series, you may visit: http://www.brookings.edu/metro/Metropolitan-Opportunity.aspx .
Read the full Brookings report 
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