Where to live is one of the most important decisions the leader of a household has to make. But for the most vulnerable families in the nation, there really isn’t any choice at all.Families with children who receive federal housing aid often live in neighborhoods with higher levels of poverty and lower opportunity. The decision’s just not up to them. Landlords decide. Specifically, landlords who refuse to rent to tenants that use Housing Choice Vouchers, via a federal program more commonly known as Section 8, have great sway over outcomes for these families.
There’s a bill before Congress that would prohibit landlords from discriminating against renters based on the source of their income, a cause that is already finding purchase (both for and against) at the city and state level. The problem warrants federal action: Discrimination against voucher holders exacts a heavy toll on cities. The biases of landlords are shaping inequality across the country.
That’s one takeaway from a new mapping project on families and vouchers from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Poverty & Race Research Action Council. This research shows how landlords’ decisions contribute to deep patterns of inequality and segregation. The interactive mapping tool—which shows the distribution of households that use Housing Choice Vouchers across America’s 50 largest metro areas, with a focus on families with children—reveals clear patterns of discrimination.For example, the researchers (Alicia Mazzara and Brian Knudsen) compile a variety of data to track housing units that are affordable to families using vouchers. Voucher-affordable units can be found all over most major metro areas. Yet families with vouchers cluster in majority-minority neighborhoods with fewer jobs, worse schools, and poor access to public transit.
This shouldn’t be the case, judging by the distribution of homes on the map. On average, 18 percent of all voucher-affordable housing units are located in high-opportunity neighborhoods (rated so by an index of jobs, schools, and other factors). Low-opportunity neighborhoods account for 21 percent of voucher-affordable homes, a similar share. But only 5 percent of families with vouchers actually live in high-opportunity areas—whereas 40 percent live in low-opportunity areas.