Revisiting the Importance of Job Proximity for the Housing Choice Voucher Program

Revisiting the Importance of Job Proximity for the Housing Choice Voucher Program
Michael Lens, Kirk McClure, Brent Mast
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The Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program aims to improve housing affordability and expand neighborhood choice for families with low incomes by providing them with the means to find rental housing they would otherwise be unable to afford. Given the high levels of racial and economic segregation in cities across the United States, a central goal of the program is to improve neighborhood opportunities for families, including access to job-rich areas. Researchers and policymakers regularly cite job proximity as an important factor for defining neighborhood opportunity, but how critical is it to the earning and employment outcomes of HCV households? This study assessed the influence of job location on residential location and employment outcomes for HCV recipients between 2009 and 2014.

Using longitudinal, household-level data from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and block group–level data from the US Census Bureau’s Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics (LEHD) database, researchers explored whether “work-able” HCV households* move more often than HCV households unable to participate in the workforce; whether HCV households who earn income move to more job-rich neighborhoods; and whether these moves result in greater employment and earnings. The researchers limited the analysis to jobs currently held by workers with educational attainment lower than a bachelor’s degree. They also controlled for competition by accounting for other potential job seekers in residential block groups. The study sample included more than 2 million HCV households, of which 1.2 million were “work-able” households. The majority of households were non-white, and more than 65 percent made no earned income. The study did not track households’ means of transportation or assess connections between job location and commute time.

Key findings

  • Work-able households (16.7 percent) were more likely to move neighborhoods in a given year than households unable to participate in the workforce (11.3 percent).
  • On average, work-able HCV households moved away from job-rich neighborhoods, whereas households unable to participate in the workforce moved toward job-rich neighborhoods, but the difference between the two groups was very small.
  • Work-able households experienced small decreases in earned income in 2010, followed by increases of approximately $157 in 2011 and 2012 and more than $300 in 2013 and 2014. During that period between 2010 and 2014, the mean proximity to job-rich neighborhoods decreased each year for work-able households.
  • Among work-able households who moved and saw an increase in earnings, the average change in job proximity was small and negative, suggesting that households who relocated and increased their earnings moved farther away from job-rich neighborhoods. This trend held true even among work-able households who saw the greatest changes in job proximity.

Policy implications

  • The authors conclude that the evidence of the importance of job proximity for HCV households is simply not sufficient to warrant it being as high a priority as other factors, such as safe neighborhoods and access to high-quality schools. They note, however, that HCV households are a diverse group, and for households in the workforce and without access to reliable transportation, proximity to jobs is worth acknowledging, as long as it doesn’t override concerns that evidence suggests may be more important.

*The authors define “work-able” as households with at least one member between 18 and 65 years old who is not listed as disabled or as a full-time student. The authors acknowledge that many individuals with disabilities or who are in school can and do work, but this is the closest they could come to isolating a sample of those HCV households potentially in the workforce.