Living in high-poverty, highly segregated neighborhoods can adversely impact the safety, health, mental health, educational performance, and longer-term economic mobility of low-income families. At the same time, compelling new research by Raj Chetty, Nathaniel Hendren, and Lawrence Katz suggests that when young children move to “high opportunity” areas, their prospects for better economic outcomes as adults can greatly improve. The existing federal Housing Choice Voucher program can offer a platform through which very low-income families can achieve such moves, while also helping opportunity neighborhoods reduce income and racial segregation.
In 2016, a new initiative known as Creating Moves to Opportunity (CMTO) was formed between researchers, housing authorities, and funders to identify strategies that can deliver on that promise. The first test of such a strategy under CMTO was launched in Seattle and King County, Washington, in 2018, where the Seattle and King County Housing Authorities partnered to make available a bundle of services targeted to support families receiving the offer of Housing Choice Voucher Program assistance for the first time in moving to high opportunity areas. These services include new housing mobility education, rental application coaching, housing search assistance, financial supports, and landlord engagement strategies beyond what is typically provided by the two housing authorities, with the aim of coaching interested families to successful use of their voucher by leasing housing in opportunity areas identified by Opportunity Insights and the housing authorities.
The Seattle and King County intervention model is being tested by a randomized controlled trial in two phases that began enrolling families in 2018. Principal investigators at Harvard University’s Opportunity Insights, with support from the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, are leading the overall study and its impact, cost, and qualitative components. MDRC led formative fieldwork to inform intervention design, provided a customized case management system for the program, and designed and supported the housing authorities in implementing study enrollment procedures in the randomized controlled trial. MDRC continues to provide program monitoring and technical assistance and is leading the implementation study. MDRC is also spearheading a CMTO expansion effort to build strong evidence about what works in different contexts.