9 Groups Receive Grants for How Housing Matters to Families & Communities Program
February 7, 2011 | Article | Housing Policy Research, Housing


Boston College, Lynch School of Education

Housing Contexts and Low-Income Children's Development

$900,000 over three years
Principal Investigator:
Rebekah Levine Coley

Linda Burton & Tama Leventhal

Background: Overwhelming evidence reveals that low-income families face constraints and opportunities across numerous life contexts. Surprisingly, however, little is known about the key context of housing, and the mechanisms through which housing context contribute to children’s development. With limited financial resources and constrained housing options, poor families must balance resources devoted to housing with those for other basic needs, such as food, medical care, and safe neighborhoods.

The primary goals of this research are to explicate the constraints and opportunities that low-income families face in relation to housing and other social and economic needs, and to rigorously test the unique role that housing plays in influencing child well-being from infancy through middle childhood. Specifically, it will 

  1. examine the tradeoffs that low-income families make in regards to housing, considering aspects of physical quality, crowding, stability, homeownership, subsidies, and affordability;
  2. assess how poor families prioritize housing in relation to other important needs, such as safe neighborhoods, adequate food, and medical care; and 
  3. refine and rigorously test a conceptual model of the family processes through which housing influences low-income children’s physical, cognitive, and socio-emotional development.

Design: This mixed-methods research employs rich, multi-source data from the Three-City Study, which followed a representative sample of more than 1,200 low-income children and their families from poor urban neighborhoods in Boston, Chicago, and San Antonio from 1999 to 2006. Data from extensive surveys, direct assessments, teacher reports, administrative data, and an intensive ethnographic study will be analyzed through an iterative process incorporating cluster, trajectory, and growth model analysis of the quantitative data and modified grounded theory analyses of the qualitative data.

Outcomes: A central component of this project is a partnership with housing policymakers and practitioners to help translate the research findings into policy recommendations. Research findings will help to inform social policy efforts to create efficient and effective local, state, and federal housing supports policies and programs for low-income families. It will also inform broader policy debates concerning social policies for children and families such as food, medical, and employment programs.

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Brown University, Department of Economics

Estimating the Impact of Housing Subsidies on Family Outcomes: Evidence from Mexico's Housing Subsidy Programs

$500,000 over three years
Principal Investigator:
Justine Hastings (email) &
Oliver Azuara (email)

Background: In 1997, in an effort to promote family wellbeing, formal labor force participation, and community responsibility, Mexico created a system of forced savings for home purchases through a payroll tax on formal sector employment under which employers contribute 5 percent of a worker's base salary into a specific housing sub account in the worker's private social security account. Once an employer contributes to a worker’s housing account for at least 18 months, the worker may attain credit through a subsidized loan and use the housing sub account funds as a down payment towards the purchase of a new home.

  1. This study will examine the relationship between housing subsidies and economic and family outcomes along two key lines of analysis:Does home ownership contribute to improvements in labor market outcomes and investments in public goods? and;
  2. Among those eligible for housing subsidies, which types of individuals take advantage of the program, and how do the findings inform current debates over the design of the program?

Design: The study will use detailed administrative data on labor force participation, housing account balances, and the use of loans under the housing subsidy program to estimate the impact that this program, and housing subsidies more generally, have on labor force participation. This analysis will be supplemented with data from several Mexican household surveys to examine the effect of home subsidy programs on family structure, childhood education, and civic participation through their impact on home ownership rates. A new and unique household survey of financial decisions, demographic, and behavioral characteristics that is linked to administrative records on pension and housing accounts will also be used, to identify characteristics that determine usage of and knowledge about the program.

Outcome: This research will provide direct evidence to policymakers in Mexico as they undertake debate on key reforms to the housing subsidy program aimed at increasing homeownership. It also will provide policymakers in the U.S. and abroad with information about whether or not home ownership increases labor market participation, job stability, childhood education, and family stability.

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Harvard University, Department of Sociology

The Milwaukee Area Renters Study

$300,000 over two years
Principal Investigator:
Matthew Desmond

Background: Eviction is perhaps the most understudied process affecting the lives of the urban poor. A rigorous analysis of eviction’s antecedents, consequences, and social ramifications, which will advance our knowledge about urban poverty and low-income housing, is fundamental to developing effective policy initiatives. This study seeks to determine how eviction and other low-income housing dynamics affect a variety of outcomes associated with residential stability, poverty, health, community, and intimate life.

Design: The Milwaukee Area Renters Study (MARS)—an original, in-person survey of low-income tenants in Milwaukee’s private housing sector—will use more than 250 unique items to collect data on the causes and consequences of eviction and on other matters pertaining to housing in low-income neighborhoods.

Outcomes: This research responds to three important policy needs:

  1. the need to identify the major causes of eviction and to understand the prevalence and consequences of involuntary moves;
  2. the need to document and eradicate housing discrimination in the eviction process; and
  3. the need to understand how housing dynamics are implicated in urban poverty and other social problems.


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Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City on behalf of the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development & Columbia University

The NYC Housing and Neighborhood Demonstration Project

$1,000,000 over three years
Principal Investigator:
Elyzabeth Gaumer (email) & Jeanne Brooks Gunn, (email)
- New York City, Department of Housing Preservation & Development
- National Center for Children and Families


Background: The NYC Housing and Neighborhood Demonstration is an experimental study of 3,000 households that will quantify the effects of newly-constructed in-place subsidized housing on the health and well-being of near-poor households. The study will:

tease apart the impact of mobility to subsidized housing independent of neighborhood location;
address a less-studied, near-poor population that does not receive other forms of assistance;
evaluate the impact of housing on all types of households, not only those with children; and
compare different types of affordable housing strategies.
In so doing, this study will help policymakers address key questions about how, where, and to whom resources should be directed—particularly, whether it is better to invest in programs that provide safe and affordable housing regardless of location, or to invest in programs that seek to relocate households to higher-quality neighborhoods where deeper subsidies may be required.

Design: The proposed study will follow a cohort of households from the time of application for subsidized housing through the first 18 to 24 months of intervention, with data collection at both baseline and follow-up. The design facilitates three types of comparisons that are unique among experimental studies:

  1. the impact of receiving subsidized housing relative to those who remain in the private market without assistance;
  2. the impact of moving to subsidized housing in a new neighborhood compared to receiving such housing in the neighborhood of origin; and
  3. receipt of subsidized housing in a mixed-income development compared to housing in a building of all-subsidized units.

The research will include a telephone follow-up survey of householders, and will supplement in-home interviews with caregivers and children, including objective health measurements and interviewer observations about the home, building, and blockface.

Outcomes: This study will evaluate New York City’s New Housing Marketplace Plan—an $8.5 billion initiative to build or preserve 165,000 units by 2014. The project will examine several sets of outcomes, including financial stability, social connectedness, health, and well-being for all households and also will examine child-specific outcomes for the subset of families with at least one co-resident child. The study team comprises a unique collaboration of academic and municipal partners that will make it possible for the findings to directly influence local programming and contribute to the broader scientific debate in the fields of housing, health, and child well-being.

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New York University's Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy and NYU's Institute for Education and Social Policy

The Effects of Housing Instability on Children's Educational Outcomes

$800,000 over three years
Principal Investigator:
Vicki Been (email)
Ingrid Gould Ellen, David Figlio, Ashlyn Aiko Nelson, Stephen L. Ross, Amy Ellen Schwartz, and Leanna Stiefel
Furman Center

Background: The enormous upheavals in the housing arrangements of many American families over the last decade exposed millions of children to housing instability. Yet policymakers know surprisingly little about how such instability, and resulting home or school moves, affect children. They are therefore hampered in their ability to craft appropriate responses. Past research has focused on home or school moves precipitated largely by changes in family circumstances (both positive and negative) and has been limited by concerns that the effects attributed to such moves could not be separated from the effects of unobserved characteristics of the families that move and of the neighborhoods to which they move.

Design: The research will test whether and how housing instability affects students’ educational outcomes using longitudinal data that links foreclosures and other kinds of housing upheavals to individual public school student records in four major markets suffering from unusual housing instability—New York City, San Diego, and Fresno counties in California and Pinellas County, Florida. Because current housing instability often is attributable to changes and volatility in mortgage and housing markets rather than to changes in a family’s own characteristics, researchers can use a variety of empirical strategies to separate the effects of housing instability from the effects of unobserved family characteristics. The primary strategy will be to compare the educational outcomes of students who have experienced housing instability to those of otherwise-similar students who have not experienced such instability, before and after the instability. Various instrumental variable strategies to examine the causal relationships between housing instability and educational outcomes will be employed, along with several different strategies to better understand the mechanisms by which housing instability affects children’s educational outcomes.

Outcomes: Research findings will provide federal, state, and local housing, mortgage finance, and education policymakers with information about whether, when, and how they should intervene in housing markets or tailor educational processes to try to reduce the negative effects that housing instability may cause. The findings also will help policymakers at every level of government to better estimate the benefits of providing more stable housing.

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RAND Corporation

The Influence of Economic Integration on Social Networks

$600,000 over two years
Principal Investigator:
Heather Schwartz

Background: Although many social scientists and policymakers agree that low-income households derive substantial benefits from living in economically-integrated neighborhoods and attending low-poverty schools, the mechanisms through which integrated housing may improve outcomes are largely unknown. It has been postulated that social networks—the complex web of individuals’ social relationships—may be an important mechanism that shape outcomes among public housing residents. Networks may lead to shared social norms, and economically diverse networks may increase access to information and opportunities. Networks have been increasingly linked with health outcomes, such as rates of obesity and smoking, and with educational performance. This project will test whether adults and children living in economically-integrated public housing have more socioeconomically integrated social networks than do adults and children living in public housing family developments, and whether the length of residence in the neighborhood modifies the composition of their social networks. The study also will explore whether or not economically-integrated public housing is associated with significant differences in adults and children’s health and educational outcomes.

Design: Researchers will survey 500 adults and 330 children living in public housing that is both randomly assigned to applicants who are alternately scattered into market rate subdivisions located throughout more than 100 neighborhoods in Montgomery County, or clustered within five public housing developments. This approach will allow investigators to reliably compare public housing families’ social networks across two kinds of microneighborhoods: those largely populated by market rate residents; and subdivisions occupied solely by public housing families. It is hypothesized that integrated housing allows residents to interact and form friendships over time with their non-poor neighbors. Alternatively, people living in integrated housing may experience greater social isolation and decreased social support that could counteract other presumed advantages of higher income communities.

Outcomes: The results from this study are relevant to concerns about affordable housing programs in general and, more specifically, to HUD’s two largest subsidized housing programs—Housing Choice Vouchers and public housing—and they could inform both public housing authorities and subsidized housing recipients about the potential consequences of affordable housing dispersed into low-poverty places.

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University of Chicago, Harris School of Public Policy Studies

Long-run Impacts of Childhood Housing Instability on Attainment, Health, and Behavior

$200,000 over two years
Principal Investigator:
Ariel Kalil

Background: Low-income children face significant developmental challenges to their physical health, school readiness,and achievement, and social and emotional well-being that may be compounded by their families’ housing experiences. Although the socioeconomic environment in which children are raised may have far-reaching implications for health and attainment in adulthood, the long-term effects of childhood housing instability remain understudied. The key goals of this research project are to

  1. estimate the long-run impacts of childhood housing instability on attainment, health, and behavior across the life course;
  2. identify which stage (or stages) of childhood are especially sensitive periods for experiencing housing instability; and
  3. provide evidence on the causal linkages between childhood housing instability and outcomes across the life course.

Design: Researchers will use high quality, nationally representative panel data (the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) and its Child Development Supplement, and Transition to Adulthood Supplement) to examine the effects of childhood housing instability on attainment, health, and behavior across the life course using multivariate regression analysis. The longitudinal structure of the data will make it possible for researchers to:

  1. create a data file including every PSID respondent born between 1968 and 1980;
  2. measure housing conditions in every year of a child’s life from the prenatal period through age 15;
  3. distinguish housing instability that occurs early in life (birth through 5th year) from housing instability in middle childhood and adolescence;
  4. distinguish voluntary from involuntary moves, and the number of such moves across childhood; and
  5. include a wide set of very high-quality outcome measures and a rich set of control variables.

Outcomes. There are several known policy needs for which the evidence produced by this research can be put to use by key policy actors. It will target the relevant housing, education, and child welfare policy audiences that are engaged in current major efforts to improve the circumstances of low-income highly-mobile families.

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University of Maryland, College Park

The Impact of Children's Housing on Their Long-Term Employment and Earnings

$700,000 over three years
Principal Investigator:
John Haltiwanger
Fredrik Andersson, Mark Kutzbach, Henry Pollakowski, Daniel Weinberg

Background: The core question that this research will address is how the type and characteristics of housing in which children live affect their adult employment and earnings---in particular, the long-term effects of living in federally-assisted versus unsubsidized housing and homeowner versus rental housing. Through a research partnership of economists at the University of Maryland and Harvard University and specialists at the Census Bureau, this project will explore these long-term relationships in a manner not previously possible.

Design: At the core of the study approach is the use of the confidential Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics data infrastructure which permits the longitudinal tracking of labor market outcomes for virtually all U.S. workers from the mid-1990s to the present. These data will be combined with other Census Bureau datasets such as the 2000 decennial census long form that will provide data on residential location, housing and household characteristics, and neighborhood characteristics, and a match to HUD’s records of all housing units receiving federal rental housing assistance. The data provide rich measures of characteristics of neighbors, job accessibility, and the presence of nearby subsidized and owned dwellings, allowing researchers to closely examine the interplay between the effects of structural characteristics and neighborhood characteristics. This research will, for example, be able to follow a one-in-six national sample of 17-year olds in 2000 for the subsequent 10 years, including quarterly information on employment, unemployment spells, earnings, industry, and job location. For employed workers, residential location also will be tracked.

Outcomes: This research will shed light on children’s outcomes from a range of federal housing programs. For example, the work will provide evidence on how living in different types of assisted housing (e.g., public housing, rental vouchers, subsidized homeownership programs) during one’s childhood affect subsequent employment and earnings.

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University of Wisconsin, Institute for Research on Poverty

Measuring the Impacts of Federal and State Policies on the Ability of Vulnerable Populations to Retain Owner-Occupied Housing and on Child Maltreatment

$700,000 over three years
Principal Investigator:
Timothy Smeeding (email)
Lawrence M. (Lonnie) Berger & J Michael Collins
Institute for Research on Poverty

Background: This project will provide a better understanding of the joint effect of social income transfer benefit programs on housing stability and affordability, and the effects of mortgage default and foreclosure on family well-being. The main thesis is that income benefit policies are also housing stability policies, in that they help families maintain payments for mortgages and rent and thus avoid the negative effects that housing changes have on family well-being. The income policies available to help those affected in weathering the housing crisis vary significantly over time and by state. While such programs are not targeted at homeowners per se, they may have contributed to maintaining homeownership in communities ravaged by losses in manufacturing and other layoffs.

Design: A variety of panel datasets will be used to test for main research questions:

  1. How do federal and state income support policies help families maintain their homes and avoid foreclosure, involuntary moves and poverty over the Great Recession?
  2. Are child neglect and maltreatment reports more likely before, during, and after families enter the judicial foreclosure process?
  3. Do owner occupied housing payment problems, or economic stresses from joblessness, defaults, evictions, or foreclosure, have measurable negative effects on poverty status, health, and social indicators, and do they increase probabilities of negative family events and child misbehavior?
  4. When housing changes are involuntarily, how do these changes affect subfamilies and recipient families, for instance, crowding and multigenerational living?

The Corporate Trust Services (CTS) database provided by Wells Fargo on investor remittances, will be matched to Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) data to provide borrower income and race at origination for more than one million borrowers. Outcomes from foreclosure and eviction for families and children will be examined using secondary data from the 2008 Panel of the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) and the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID). State administrative data for Wisconsin (including data on foreclosure filings, evictions, criminal cases, civil and family cases, judgments, tax and hospital liens and other filings) will be matched to the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families data on child maltreatment to determine impacts. Both observed and unobserved individual and family characteristics that may affect both mortgages and well-being, and other potential confounding factors will be addressed using economic techniques (e.g., fixed-effect and instrumental variables).

Outcomes: Researchers will be able to assess the effects of income support payments on family residential stability in the face of falling housing prices and long term joblessness. The American Relief and Recovery Act (ARRA) helped stabilize incomes and reduce poverty, and this research can determine how it also helped families stay in their homes and avoid the instability of one or more forced moves. The findings of this research will be of particular interest to organizations that support low-income homeownership and mitigate mortgage default, policymakers and child and protective service practitioners who seek to prevent negative outcomes from housing loss.

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