Reducing Work Disincentives in the Housing Choice Voucher Program
Rent Reform Demonstration Baseline Report
Government rent subsidies for low-income families are a vital component of the nation’s social safety net. Yet the traditional rules for calculating and administering rent subsidies can be burdensome and costly for public housing agencies (PHAs) to follow and difficult for families to understand. They can also discourage families’ efforts to work rather than supporting them. To try to find a better way, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is sponsoring the Rent Reform Demonstration, which is testing an alternative rent policy for working-age, nondisabled recipients of tenant-based Housing Choice Vouchers (HCVs). These vouchers are provided directly to qualifying families and subsidize their rent and utilities for housing units they rent from private landlords. HUD selected MDRC to help it develop the new policy and to conduct the evaluation, which uses a randomized controlled trial. The demonstration is under way in four cities. The experimental policy took effect for participating voucher holders in 2015.
This report is the first of several that will be issued over the course of the project. Its purpose is to establish a foundation for future assessments of the implementation, impacts, and costs of the new rent policy. It describes the new policy, the rationale behind each of its critical elements, and the manner in which it is being evaluated. It also describes the process for identifying and enrolling families into the study, the background characteristics of those families, the amounts the families have begun paying for their rent and utilities under new rent rules compared with the existing rules, and the housing subsidies they initially received. Future reports (to be released in 2018 and 2019) will examine the PHAs’ implementation experiences; the relative burden of the new policy on PHAs and the costs they incurred to administer it; the policy’s effects on families’ contributions toward their rent and utilities; and its effects on families’ employment, earnings, and receipt of housing subsidies and other government benefits.