Moving to Opportunity in Boston: Early Results of a Randomized Mobility Experiment
Industrial Relations Section Working Paper No. 441
52 Pages Posted: 30 Jun 2000
Date Written: June 2000
This paper examines the short-run impacts of a change in residential neighborhood on the well-being of low-income families, using evidence from a program in which eligibility for a housing voucher was determined by random lottery. We examine the experiences of households at the Boston site of Moving To Opportunity (MTO), a demonstration program in five cities. Families in high poverty public housing projects applied to MTO and were assigned by lottery to one of three groups: Experimental - offered mobility counseling and a Section 8 subsidy valid only in a Census tract with a poverty rate of less than 10 percent; Section 8 Comparison - offered a geographically unrestricted Section 8 subsidy; or Control - offered no new assistance, but continued to be eligible for public housing.
Our quantitative analyses of program impacts uses data on 540 families from a baseline survey at program enrollment, a follow-up survey administered 1 to 3.5 years after random assignment, and state administrative data on earnings and welfare receipt. Forty-eight percent of the Experimental group and sixty-two percent of the Section 8 Comparison group moved through the MTO program. One to three years after program entry, families in both treatment groups were more likely to be residing in neighborhoods with low poverty rates and high education levels than were families in the Control group. However, while members of the Experimental group were much more likely to be residing in suburban communities than were those in the Section 8 group, the lower program take-up rate among the Experimental group resulted in more families remaining in the most distressed communities. Households in both treatment groups experienced improvements in multiple measures of well-being relative to the Control group including increased safety, improved health among household heads, and fewer behavior problems among boys. Experimental group children were also less likely to be a victim of a personal crime, to be injured, or to experience an asthma attack. There are no significant impacts of either MTO treatment on the employment, earnings, or welfare receipt of household heads in the first three years after random assignment.
Keywords: Well-being, health, neighborhoods, experiment
JEL Classification: H43, I18, J18
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation