The concentration of Housing Choice Voucher Program participants in high-poverty neighborhoods has been a concern of practitioners and policymakers for decades. Compelling research by Raj Chetty, Nathaniel Hendren, and Lawrence Katz found that when young children move to “high-opportunity” areas, their prospects for better economic outcomes as adults can greatly improve. These findings catalyzed new support for exploring how federal Housing Choice Voucher program can offer a platform by which low-income families can achieve moves to these neighborhoods by introducing new program services.
Creating Moves to Opportunity (CMTO) is a partnership formed among researchers, public housing authorities, and funders to identify strategies that can deliver on that promise. A test of such strategies was launched in Seattle and King County, Washington, in 2018, where the King County Housing Authority and Seattle Housing Authority 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. To help them move to high-opportunity areas, families were offered education about high-opportunity areas, rental application coaching, housing search assistance, financial supports, and landlord engagement strategies beyond what was typically provided by the two 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 MDRC, MEF Associates, and the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, are leading the evaluation of CMTO services. MDRC led formative fieldwork to inform the intervention design and the implementation study, provided a customized case management system for the program, and supported the housing authorities in designing and implementing program and research procedures. MDRC is also spearheading a new demonstration—called Supporting Moves to Opportunity—that is building evidence on housing mobility services offered in different contexts.