The woman walk with a child in a park.

Mobility programs help overcome various barriers that limit the neighborhood options of many households using Housing Choice Vouchers (HCV)s.

The federal HCV program was designed to give low-income households more housing choices by providing vouchers they can use to rent a home on the open market. But since the program’s inception in the 1970s, the goal of expanding housing choices has not been fully realized, as a disproportionate number of voucher holders continue to live in impoverished, majority-minority neighborhoods, with access to lower-performing schools than other renters.

Various barriers (e.g., informational, financial, landlord-related, transportation) limit the neighborhood choices of voucher holders. Mobility assistance programs help to overcome these obstacles by allowing households the opportunity to live in safer neighborhoods with higher-quality schools and better access to jobs.

How it works

The HCV program (formerly known as Section 8) is a federally funded, locally administered program that assists low-income households in affording privately owned housing.

Typically, a household with a voucher contributes 30 percent of monthly income toward rent, and the local or state public housing authority (PHA) pays the private landlord the difference between that amount and the full rent, up to a set limit. This limit is calculated using HUD standards for Fair Market Rent, which is assessed on a regional scale. The amount of the subsidy for each unit is referred to as the “payment standard,” and usually varies by unit size. Over 2 million households currently receive housing vouchers under the HCV program.

In theory, a voucher can be used at any property, provided that a landlord agrees to accept it. But in practice, low-income voucher holders face various barriers to moving to low-poverty neighborhoods. These impediments include limited transit access, the loss of support networks, high rent deposit requirements and resistant landlords, among others. Mobility programs assist households in overcoming these barriers, to help the HCV program achieve its goal of providing more affordable living options outside of areas of concentrated poverty.

Where it works

While many mobility programs have been the result of litigation or HUD demonstrations, there are plenty of programs that municipalities and housing authorities can implement without federal mandate or support. While any local organization can implement a mobility program, partnerships between housing authorities and mission-based nonprofits are often some of the most successful programs.

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