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Study Finds Wide Resistance To Accepting Federally Issued Vouchers To Pay For Rental Housing

A new pilot study by the nonprofit research organization Urban Institute, sponsored by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, found that housing vouchers issued by the federal government, which in theory can be used anywhere in the country, are difficult to use. 


The vouchers in question are from the Housing Choice Voucher program, which is the federal government’s largest rental housing assistance program. Participants are responsible for finding housing in the private market, but landlords can decide whether to accept or refuse voucher tenants, the report said.

Studies show difficulties can be encountered every step of the way for a would-be tenant, including identifying available units, finding landlords willing to accept vouchers, or even meeting with landlords to view available housing options. 

The Urban Institute conducted over 4,000 tests in which the field team attempted to use vouchers as would-be tenants over a 16-month period. 

Though many landlords refused to accept vouchers, the pattern of denial is uneven. According to the report, denial rates were highest in Fort Worth, Texas (78%), and Los Angeles (76%) and only somewhat lower in Philadelphia (67%). Rates were substantially lower in Newark, New Jersey (31%), and Washington, D.C. (15%). 

Rejection rates were higher in lower-poverty neighborhoods, suggesting that voucher holders who want to find housing in an area closer to higher-quality schools, jobs and transportation will probably be out of luck.

Not only that, the report found that the search for housing using a voucher required sifting through numerous advertisements, making several calls and facing frequent rejection. 

For example, the Urban Institute's field team sifted through more than 341,000 rental ads for the five study sites to identify 8,735 units that were available and met both the testing parameters and local voucher program rent limits. On average, the team screened 39 ads to identify one potentially eligible unit.

Voucher holders aren't a protected class under the Fair Housing Act, but because the voucher program disproportionally serves members of protected classes — such as families with children, racial and ethnic minorities, and people with disabilities — the program's outcomes have fair housing implications, the report states.

Urban Institute has recommended a number of changes to make housing vouchers easier to use. The government can encourage landlord participation and recruit landlords, particularly in low-poverty neighborhoods, by adding incentives or removing perceived disincentives. It can also provide search assistance for voucher holders.