October 1, 2004
John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

The study of adult economic and health outcomes in the Moving to Opportunity (MTO) demonstration is a randomized housing mobility experiment in which families living in high-poverty U.S. public housing projects in five cities were given vouchers to help them move to private housing units in lower-poverty neighborhoods. An “experimental” group was offered vouchers valid only in a low-poverty neighborhood; a “Section 8” group was offered traditional housing vouchers without geographic restriction; a control group was not offered vouchers. Our sample consists largely of black and Hispanic female household heads with children.

Five years after random assignment, the families offered housing vouchers through MTO lived in safer neighborhoods that had significantly lower poverty rates than those of the control group not offered vouchers. In finding there are no significant overall effects on adult employment, earnings, or public assistance receipt. In contrast, there is a significant mental health benefit of the MTO intervention for the experimental group. While demonstrating a more general pattern for the mental health results using both voucher groups of systematically larger effect sizes for groups experiencing larger changes in neighborhood poverty rates. In the analysis of physical health outcomes, there is a significant reduction in obesity for the experimental group, but no significant effects on four other aspects of physical health (general health, asthma, physical limitations, and hypertension) or on the summary measure of physical health.

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