Mills, G., Gubits, D., Orr, L., Long, D., Feins, J., Kaul, B., Wood, M., Jones, A., Cloudburst Consulting Associates, & the QED Group. (2006). Effects of housing vouchers on welfare families: Final report. Prepared for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Policy Development and Research. Cambridge, MA: Abt Associates Inc.
- The study’s objective was to examine the impact of providing low-income families with private market housing vouchers on employment, earnings, receipt of public assistance, and receipt of education and training. It also examined impacts on several measures of housing security, which are not included in this review.
- The authors implemented a randomized controlled trial and estimated regression models to compare outcomes of treatment and comparison families.
- The study found that treatment group members received more Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash benefits and food stamps than control group members. There were no statistically significant effects of the program on employment, earnings, or receiving education or training.
- The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is high because it was based on a well-implemented randomized controlled trial. This means we are confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the housing voucher, and not to other factors.
The Welfare-to-Work Voucher Program
Features of the Intervention
The Welfare-to-Work Voucher program aimed to provide low-income families with housing assistance to help them successfully transition from welfare to work. Rental assistance vouchers could be used to rent any unit in the private rental market, as long as it met U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development standards and was priced similarly to unassisted units in the same market. Housing agencies could terminate rental assistance if clients did not participate in work or training activities as required by the Welfare-to-Work program.
Features of the Study
The study was based on a randomized controlled trial in which 8,731 low-income families eligible to receive a Welfare-to-Work voucher were randomly assigned to either the treatment group, which received the rental assistance voucher, or the control group, which did not receive the voucher but could receive other housing assistance typically offered to welfare clients. Study participants were predominantly female, never married, and were ages 19 to 44. Nearly half of the participants were black non-Hispanic, 21 percent were Hispanic, and 20 percent were white non-Hispanic. Nearly 57 percent had a high school diploma or a General Education Diploma.
Data sources included quarterly unemployment insurance wage records, monthly TANF records, and surveys administered to study participants. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Public Housing Information Center system provided data on whether treatment and control group members received a rental assistance voucher and used it successfully. To estimate the effect of the vouchers on outcomes of interest, the authors compared the outcomes of treatment and control group members.
The study took place at six housing choice voucher program sites:
- Atlanta, Georgia
- Augusta, Georgia
- Fresno, California
- Houston, Texas
- Los Angeles, California
- Spokane, Washington
- The study found that treatment group members were more likely to receive quarterly TANF cash benefits than control group members in almost all periods examined. They also received 0.30 more quarters of TANF payments and $289 more in TANF payments across the full 3.5-year study period than the control group.
- Treatment group members received food stamps for 0.33 more quarters and received $397 more in total TANF payments than those in the control group over the life of the study.
- There were no statistically significant effects of the housing vouchers on employment, earnings, or receipt of education or training.
Considerations for Interpreting the Findings
Although control group members did not receive a voucher at the time of random assignment, they could elect to remain on a waiting list for a housing voucher; 41 percent of control families used a housing voucher at some point during the follow-up period. Meanwhile, only 67 percent of treatment families actually used a voucher. Because the two groups were so similar in their use of housing vouchers, this likely made it more difficult to detect impacts of the program.
Causal Evidence Rating
The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is high because it was based on a well-implemented randomized controlled trial. This means we are confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the housing voucher, and not to other factors.
Wood, M., Turnham, J., & Mills, G. (2008). Housing affordability and family well-being: Results from the Housing Voucher Evaluation. Cambridge, MA: Abt Associates Inc. Retrieved from http://www.abtassociates.com/reports/Woods_Turnham_Mills_%5B11%5D_HPD.pdf.