How A Policy Change In The 1990s Moved Millions Of Poor Into America's Suburbs


Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Thanks to relaxed rules on where government-issued housing choice vouchers can be used, there has been an influx of HCV recipients into the suburbs since 2000, according to a study by the Brookings Institution.This coincides with rising rates of poverty in the suburbs of many major metropolitan areas, and signals a change from America pre-1990, when it was very difficult to use HCVs outside of the housing district they were issued—generally inner-city, low-income areas.

Because of these rules, families on vouchers were unable to follow jobs out to the suburbs, and their ability to do so now marks a big reason for the increase in suburbanization. (However, there is evidence that these jobs may soon disappear.)

Some of those metropolitan-area suburbs that saw the greatest rise in poverty also assimilated the most HCV recipients, including Stockton, Boise and Phoenix. And though blacks saw the biggest bump in suburbanization out of any ethnicity receiving HCVs, their numbers are still smaller than those of whites and Latinos.

Generally, families are eligible for housing choice vouchers if their income falls below 50% of their area’s median income, and if they receive HCVs, they aren’t permitted to spend less than 30% or more than 40% of their adjusted monthly income on rent. And though this migration does change the make-up of suburban areas, the Brookings Institution recommends that the government continue to encourage such movement, as it allows lower-income families a better chance of improving their livelihoods.

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