MDRC in the News

Seattle Housing Experiment



Where a child grows up can have a big impact on how well they do later in life. Good schools, safe streets, better environment - all that can make a difference. It’s one reason the government has tried to use housing subsidies to encourage low-income families to move to better neighborhoods. Past efforts have fallen short. But as NPR’s Pam Fessler reports, a new experiment in the Seattle area is showing promise…..

…..Monica Rose is benefiting from what many low-income families say is like winning the lottery. She has a housing voucher, or government subsidy, which covers all of her rent over 30% of her income. Almost 2 million families now get such vouchers, but there’s a problem. Most end up using them in low-income neighborhoods where their children are more likely to stay poor. Now a group of researchers from Harvard, Johns Hopkins and elsewhere has teamed up with the Seattle and King County Housing Authorities to try to break that cycle…..

…..Part of the experiment, funded by the Gates and Surgo Foundations, involves hiring so-called navigators. They help voucher holders find apartments in what are identified as high-opportunity neighborhoods, places where low-income children have done well as adults - earning more, going to college, having fewer teen births. Right now, navigator Sarah Birkebak is showing her colleagues around one such area in Seattle called Northgate. It’s a mixed-income neighborhood with a lot to offer, like mass transit, a children’s hospital and a community center with a preschool program and other activities…..

…..Navigators tell the landlords that with vouchers the rent is guaranteed. The program also helps families with expenses like moving costs. So far, it seems to be working. The initial results released today show that those receiving this extra help are almost four times as likely to move to high-opportunity areas. It costs about $1,700 extra per family. But researcher Stefanie Deluca of Johns Hopkins says it should more than pay for itself. [MDRC is one of the partners in the project.]…..

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