Northview Heights Tenant Council President Marcus Reed pictured in his office Dec. 7, 2019. As a member of the community since 1982, he said he’s trying to make sure the kids growing up there today have more options than he did. (Photo by Hali Tauxe/PublicSource)
Chuck Rohrer, HACP’s communications manager, said the authority is trying to expand access, not reduce resources in neighborhoods in need.
“This is not replacing what we already do,” Rohrer said. “Our overarching goal is simply to create as many safe and accessible affordable housing opportunities as possible.”
Since Sept. 1, three units have been leased to tenants in the identified neighborhoods, HACP said in early December. “We've also received substantial interest from landlords and intend to promote the program to our clients and landlords throughout 2020,” Rohrer wrote by email.
Rohrer said HACP’s initiative is informed by research such as a 2019 Seattle study authored by a team including Raj Chetty of Harvard University. The researchers, in conjunction with the Seattle and King County housing authorities, looked at the impact of issuing housing choice vouchers for higher-income areas to 420 low-income and primarily single-parent families over the course of one year, starting in April 2018.
According to a survey conducted after the experiment, roughly 68% of families said they were “very satisfied” with their new neighborhood.
“Our experimental results imply that most low-income families do not have a strong preference to stay in low-opportunity areas; rather, barriers to moving to high-opportunity areas play a central role in explaining neighborhood choice and residential sorting patterns,” the researchers wrote.
This study follows the Moving to Opportunity for Fair Housing project [MTO], a similar project with a larger scope conducted from 1994 to 1998 through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development [HUD]. The project tracked 4,600 low-income families, including a group given housing vouchers that could only be used in areas with less than 10% of the population living in poverty, a group with no geographic restrictions on their vouchers and a control group that did not move with vouchers but still received housing subsidies. The government chose residents in five major cities: Baltimore, Los Angeles, New York City, Boston and Chicago.
“Our experimental results imply that most low-income families do not have a strong preference to stay in low-opportunity areas; rather, barriers to moving to high-opportunity areas play a central role in explaining neighborhood choice and residential sorting patterns.”
Participants felt “safer and more satisfied” with their new home neighborhoods and some saw improvements to their health, but, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the MTO program had no effect on children’s reading and math proficiency, the labor market and the use of social programs.
However, Chetty and others authored a study in 2016 that indicated children younger than 13 who moved as a part of the federal MTO project were more likely to go to college and make significantly more money. These children were also less likely to be single parents as adults, which implies more benefits could potentially be seen over time.
Still, economic outcomes for adults were again found to be largely unaffected. And teenagers saw slightly negative impacts after the move, such as an average $967 drop in expected adult yearly income. The researchers speculate this could be because moving disrupts teenagers lives by, for example, fracturing social relationships teenagers had formed in previous neighborhoods.
Longtime Northview Heights resident Marcus Reed, 47, is skeptical of the idea of incentivizing relocation. The community, which is predominantly Black and mostly composed of public housing, is one of the poorest in Pittsburgh. For Reed, it’s home.
“I know families been up there since the ’60s, since it started; it was built in 1955. You got families, I know, my cousin been up there before they even had concrete on the road, know what I mean?” Reed said.