Research findings indicate that vouchers are a highly effective form of housing assistance. A 2002 report by the U.S. General Accounting Office found that vouchers are more cost-effective than federal programs that build affordable housing for low-income households. In addition, research shows that housing vouchers promote positive outcomes for families.
- Protecting children from homelessness and housing instability. A 2006 study found that families with children who were issued vouchers experienced sharply lower rates of homelessness compared to a control group, with the strongest effect on families with children under age 6. The same study found that vouchers greatly reduced the number of times families moved from apartment to apartment. Both homelessness and housing instability have been linked to a variety of developmental and health problems in children.
- Helping families move out of high-poverty neighborhoods. Vouchers have been shown to help families move from areas with high poverty rates to neighborhoods with lower poverty and higher employment. Researchers have found that using a voucher to move to a low-poverty neighborhood produces a range of positive effects on family well-being, including lower rates of some mental and physical health problems. The effects on mental health — including depression, anxiety, and sleep problems — were particularly striking. By some measures, using a voucher to move to a low-poverty area reduced mental health problems as much as the most effective clinical treatments and medications.
- Lifting families above the poverty line. Vouchers substantially reduce the number of families living in poverty (when near-cash income like housing subsidies is taken into account along with cash income), enabling families to spend more on other basic needs. Among the most vulnerable families with children, for example, vouchers have been found to lower the incidence of food insecurity and reduce the number of families that went without dental care because they could not afford it.
- Supporting work. Vouchers and other housing assistance play a key role in helping low-income working families make ends meet. Critics have argued that because rents under the voucher program rise as a family’s income increases, vouchers may discourage work. But the most rigorous study to date of families with vouchers refuted this theory, finding no significant negative effect on earnings or employment. Moreover, some studies indicate that vouchers and other housing assistance can promote work, particularly when linked to well-designed welfare reform initiatives or other work incentives and employment services.
Based on such findings, the housing voucher program has received longstanding bipartisan support. For example, the Bush Administration noted in its fiscal year 2008 budget documents that “based on an assessment of the [voucher] program, this is one of the Department’s and the Federal Government’s most effective programs” and that the program “has been recognized as a cost-effective means for delivering decent, safe, and sanitary housing to low-income families.” The bipartisan, congressionally chartered Millennial Housing Commission strongly endorsed the voucher program in its 2002 report, describing the program as “flexible, cost-effective, and successful in its mission” and calling for a substantial increase in the number of vouchers.