Neighbors and Networks: The Role of Social Interactions on the Residential Choices of Housing Choice Voucher Holders

Journal of Housing Economics, 2019 (with Ingrid Ellen and Michael Suher)

Abstract: The housing choice voucher program aims to reduce housing cost burdens as well as to enable recipients to move to a broader diversity of neighborhoods. Prior evidence shows voucher recipients still end up in neighborhoods with relatively high poverty rates and low performing schools. These constrained neighborhood choices can in part be attributed to landlord discrimination and the geographic concentration of units that rent below voucher caps. In this paper, we consider an additional explanation: the role of information and social influence in determining the effective set of potential housing choices. Using a strategy based on proximity of households in origin census tracts, we find evidence consistent with social influence effects being present in the neighborhood choices of voucher holders. Pairs of households living within the same or adjacent buildings are significantly more likely to relocate to the same neighborhood as each other than are more distant households within the same origin neighborhood. Further, we show that voucher holders who move to the same neighborhood as a nearby voucher holder end up on average in neighborhoods that have higher poverty rates, lower levels of labor market engagement, and higher exposure to environmental hazards—in both absolute terms and relative to other voucher holders from their same origin tract.

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