Program

Oct 10, 2011

OVERVIEW

Moving to Opportunity (MTO) is a program that enables disadvantaged families with dependent children to move into better, lower-poverty neighborhoods.  Participating families are given rental housing vouchers and counseling during this transition.  The study is experimental and longitudinal in its design and has as its goal as “reducing concentrations of poverty and moving public housing families to self-sufficiency in better neighborhoods” (Goering et al., 1999, foreword).  Experimental evaluations of MTO have mixed findings.  While some evaluations indicate that the program has positive impacts on the physical and mental health of young participants, other evaluations show significantly less prosocial behaviors for MTO students, such as having friends in the neighborhood or participating in student government.  Academically, MTO students had higher reading and math scores but also higher retention, suspension, and expulsion rates compared with control groups.  Behaviorally, MTO seemed to reduce criminal behavior for females and violent crimes for males but increase male property crime, behavior problems, and overall arrests.

DESCRIPTION OF PROGRAM

Target population: Low-income families with at least one child under the age of 18 in central city neighborhoods living in public housing or Section 8 project-based housing

Moving to Opportunity (MTO) is a demonstration project designed to move families with dependent children into lower-poverty neighborhoods.  This project has been implemented by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in five large cities: Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York.  Families who were randomly selected for the MTO program received Section 8 rental vouchers that could be used only in areas with less than 10 percent of the population below the poverty line.  Families also received counseling—the type of which varied by site—in their effort to find a house/apartment to lease.  Families are free to move anywhere after their one-year lease is finished.

EVALUATION(S) OF PROGRAM

Goering, J., Kraft, J., Feins, J., McInnis, D., Holin, M. J. & Elhassan, H. (1999).  Moving to opportunity for fair housing demonstration program: Current status and initial findings (Accession #8771).  Washington, DC: HUDUSER.

Evaluated population: In total, 4,610 families with children between 6 and 18 years of age were evaluated.  This included 1,820 families in the MTO experimental group, 1,350 families in the Section 8 comparison group and 1,440 families in the control group.  Fifty-four percent of participants were African-American and 39 percent were Hispanic.  Ninety-three percent of households were female-headed, with a mean age of 35.  The average number of children under the age of 18 in each household was 2.5.  Seventy-five percent of families were participating in welfare programs, and 22 percent of parents were employed.  There were some significant differences between families who joined MTO and those who did not (e.g., families living in the same areas who did not volunteer to participate in MTO).  MTO families were more often female-headed, and the mothers were younger and less likely to be Hispanic.  MTO families also had lower incomes and were less likely to be employed and participated more in welfare programs.  Compared to the general public housing population, MTO families were more disadvantaged.

Approach: The 4,610 families who had volunteered were randomly assigned to one of three groups: (a) the experimental MTO group, which received Section 8 rental vouchers that could be used only in areas with less than 10 percent of the population below the poverty line.  Families also received counseling in finding a house/apartment to lease (the type of counseling varied by site); (b) the Section 8 comparison group, which received Section 8 rental vouchers with no restrictions on where they could be used, plus typical Public Housing Authority assistance; or (c) the control group, which continued in their current project-based housing.  Families’ outcomes were tracked for 10 years. 

Results: By spring of 1999, 1,676 families had leased new homes—48 percent of the experimental group and 60 percent of the Section 8 comparison group.  The type of counseling offered to the experimental group varied.  Some agencies used a case management model, in which counselors helped families with a variety of needs, not just housing.  Other agencies used a specific services model, limiting their assistance to families’ housing needs.  Regardless of the model used, it appeared that counselors were highly successful in helping families obtain housing in low-poverty areas.  Ninety percent of experimental group families relocated to low-poverty areas farther from the center of the city (10 percent moved to areas with greater than 10 percent below poverty due to problems in the agencies or errors in checking on the units).  In contrast, Section 8 comparison group families were more likely to choose apartments near the center of the city and close to their original homes.  Twelve percent moved to low-poverty areas, while three-quarters chose areas with poverty rates between 10 and 39 percent. 

Initial anecdotal findings were that the moves made to low-poverty areas reduced families’ fear of crime and that parents perceived that their children were now in better schools.  However, there was no evidence of increased wages in the experimental group.

Ludwig, J., Duncan, G.J., & Hirschfield, P. (2001). Urban poverty and juvenile crime: Evidence from a randomized housing-mobility experiment.  The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 116(2), 655-679.

Evaluated Population: The evaluation included a total of 638 families with children who lived in one of the five poorest census tracts in Baltimore.  Ninety-seven percent of the families were African-American.  Ninety-eight percent of households were female-headed with a mean age of 33.6.  The average number of children in each household was 2.72.  There were a total of 336 children and adolescents “at risk” for criminal involvement between the ages eleven and fifteen within the sample population, with 47 percent being male.  Nineteen percent of these children were age 11, 22 percent were age 12, 22 percent were age 13, 20 percent were age 14, and 18 percent were age 15. 

Approach: Families were recruited on a volunteer-basis the Housing Authority of Baltimore and a local nonprofit, Community Assistance of Baltimore.  Families were then chosen off a waiting-list based on a random lottery and then randomly assigned into one of three treatment groups.  Participants were either assigned to a) an MTO experimental group that received housing subsidies, counseling, and search assistance; b) a Section 8 treatment group that received housing subsidies with no relocation restraints; or c) a control group that received no benefits.  Family baseline measures were conducted through self-administered survey prior to enrolling in MTO program.  Locations of initial program moves by families in the experimental and Section-8 treatment groups were recorded in addition to follow up addresses.  Criminal-offending information was collected pre- and post-program for participants under the age of 18 for an average of 3.7 years.

Results: Results show that fewer families in the experimental group (54 percent) relocated as compared with the Section 8 treatment group (73 percent), with the median time of relocation within nine and four months of random assignment.  While more Section 8 families relocated through MTO, most of them stayed within Baltimore City in contrast to a larger number of experimental families moving outside of Baltimore City and further from the baseline areas.  Also reported was a reduction in violent-crime arrests of participants aged eleven to fifteen starting four to six quarters after randomization for both the experimental and Section 8 treatment groups.  Results also suggest a somewhat higher rate of property-crime arrest occurring shortly after families move. There were about one half as many arrests for violent crimes (3 percent) during each quarter following the program for the experimental and Section 8 groups as compared with the control group.  While the findings suggest that moving MTO families from high- to low- poverty neighborhoods reduces involvement in violent crime for those age eleven to fifteen, the authors mention that local criminal justice systems, higher rates of preprogram arrest rates for the experimental group, and the “moving effect” (temporary disruption of antisocial behavior after a move) could have influenced the results.

Ludwig, J., Ladd, H. F. & Duncan, G. J. (2001).  The effects of urban poverty on educational outcomes: Evidence from a randomized experiment.  Washington, DC: Georgetown Public Policy Institute.

Evaluated Population: This study used the administrative school records of 1,243 MTO children from 1993 to 1999.  Children were between 6 and 18 years old at the time of random assignment. 

Approach: Random assignment for the MTO program was done on a family level and participants were assigned to either an MTO treatment group, Section 8 treatment group, or a control group which received no benefits.   

Results: The authors found that experimental group children (ages 6 to 11) significantly outperformed control group children on reading and math.  The Section 8 comparison group outperformed the control group on reading but not on math.  There were no significant group differences in special education placements, absences, grade retention or disciplinary problems.  Teens (ages 12 and older) in the experimental and Section 8 comparison groups experienced increased grade retention when compared with the control group.  The experimental group teens (but not teens in the Section 8 comparison group) also evidenced a greater number of suspensions and expulsions.  The authors note, however, that such findings may be due to more stringent standards in the teens’ new schools.

Leventhal, T. & Brooks-Gunn, J. (2001).  Moving to Opportunity: What about the kids?  New York: Center for Children and Families, Teachers College, Columbia University.

Evaluated Population: A three-year follow-up of 293 families with 407 children (out of a total of 794 MTO families in New York) was conducted.

Approach: Random assignment for the MTO program was done on a family level and participants were assigned to either an MTO treatment group, Section 8 treatment group, or a control group which received no benefits.   

Results: The researchers found that experimental group families were living in improved neighborhoods (e.g., higher income, lower unemployment rates, or greater residential stability), while Section 8 comparison group families were not.  However, Section 8 comparison group parents perceived their new neighborhoods as being better than their old neighborhoods.  Both experimental and Section 8 comparison group parents found employment and left public assistance in significantly greater numbers than control group parents.  Increases in income were also found, but the differences were not significant.  In addition, experimental group parents demonstrated improvements in their physical and mental health; the difference for the Section 8 comparison group was not significant.  The findings for 8- to 18-year-old participants’ physical and mental health mirrored those of the parents.  In addition, both experimental and Section 8 comparison group children had significantly fewer behavior problems than control group children.  In the area of parenting, the experimental and Section 8 comparison groups had less harsh parent-child relationships than the control group, and the experimental group parents showed more structure and routine in the care of their children.  Finally, there were no differences between groups in problem behaviors (e.g., delinquency and substance use) for teens ages 11 to 18.

Del Conte, A. & Kling, J. (2001, January/February).  A synthesis of MTO research on self-sufficiency, safety and health, and behavior and delinquency.  Poverty Research News, 5(1), 3-6.

Evaluated Population: The evaluated population was 8 to18 year old children in the Boston and New York sub-groups of the MTO study.

Approach: Random assignment for the MTO program was done on a family level and participants were assigned to either an MTO treatment group, Section 8 treatment group, or a control group which received no benefits.   

Results: In Boston, the experimental group boys (8 to14 years old) were found to have 27 percent fewer behavior problems (e.g., disobedience at home, bullying others, inability to sit still, and depression) than the control group.  The authors referred to the fact that girls reduced their social contact in the new neighborhoods by 30 percent as a reason for no significant decline in female problem behaviors.  In New York, the experimental group boys (8 to18 years old) were happier, less depressed, and had fewer instances of arguing than the control group. 

Pettit, B., & McLanahan, S. (2001). Social dimensions of Moving to Opportunity. Joint Center for Poverty Research Newsletter, 5(1), 7-10.       

Evaluated Population: Boston, Los Angeles, and New York groups of the MTO study were evaluated

Approach: Random assignment for the MTO program was done on a family level and participants were assigned to either an MTO treatment group, Section 8 treatment group, or a control group, which received no benefits.   

Results: There were few statistically significant differences in individual social measures between experimental and control groups.  Those that were significant usually showed the control group performing better than experimental groups.  In Boston, girls in the experimental group were less likely to have a friend in the neighborhood than girls in the control group.  In Los Angeles, the Section 8 group was less likely to attend church than the control group.  New York research showed that Section 8 adults were more likely to attend a school event than control group adults.  Finally, children in the New York Section 8 group were less likely to participate in student government than children in the control group.

Rosenbaum, E. (2001). The social context of new neighborhoods among MTO Chicago families. Poverty Research News, 5(1), 16-19.

Evaluated Population: Eighty-one families of the Chicago experimental MTO evaluation were surveyed before and after moving into new neighborhoods. 

Approach: Random assignment for the MTO program was done on a family level and participants were assigned to either an MTO treatment group, Section 8 treatment group, or a control group, which received no benefits.   

Results: All of the findings showed that both experimental and Section 8 mothers were more likely to feel safe and less likely to report problems in their new neighborhoods as opposed to their old neighborhoods.  However, experimental mothers reported more significant improvement in their neighborhoods than Section 8 mothers.  Results showed that compared with the Section 8 group, mothers in the experimental group were more likely to feel very safe near their local school and on the streets near their home during the day.  Experimental mothers were also significantly less likely than Section 8 mothers to report problems with trash, drinking in public, drug dealers and users, abandoned buildings, crime, and unemployment in their new neighborhoods.  Lastly, stronger feelings of attachment to their new neighborhoods were associated with experimental mothers than with Section 8 mothers.

Kling, J. R., & Liebman, J. B. (2004). Experimental analysis of neighborhood effects on youth. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University and Harvard University.

Evaluated Population: In total, 1800 youth ages 15 to 20 from the experimental MTO program were evaluated.  The youth were between the ages of 6 and 18 at the time of random assignment for the MTO program.

Approach:  Random assignment for the MTO program was done on a family level and participants were assigned to either an MTO treatment group, Section 8 treatment group, or a control group which received no benefits.  The researchers used a sophisticated mathematical modeling formula to examine MTO’s effects on education, risky behavior, mental health, and physical health.

Results: Results showed that female teens in the experimental group had significant improvements in mental health and were less likely to engage in risky behaviors.  Section 8 group females had improvements in mental health.  Alternatively, males in the experimental group and Section 8 group were more likely than those in the control group to engage in risky behavior and have physical health problems.

Kling, J. R., Ludwig, J., & Katz, L. (2004). Youth criminal behavior in the moving to opportunity experiment. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University.

Evaluated Population: In total, 1807 youth ages 15 to 20 from the experimental MTO program were evaluated.  Youth were ages 6 to 18 at the time of random assignment.

Approach: Random assignment for the MTO program was done on a family level and participants were assigned to either an MTO treatment group, Section 8 treatment group, or a control group, which received no benefits.  This body of research specifically examined delinquency behaviors among youth in the MTO.

Results: Experimental groups of female youth showed a reduction in criminal behavior, but male youths showed an increase in property crime arrests and behavior problems.  Female experimental groups had significantly less lifetime violent crime and property crime arrests when compared to control group females.  On the other hand, males in the experimental group had higher scores on the study’s behavior problem index than control group males.  Experiment group males had a significantly higher likelihood of being arrested than control group males. 

Kling, J. R., Liebman, J. B., Katz, L., & Sanbonmatsu, L. (2004). Moving to Opportunity and Tranquility: Neighborhood effects on adults’ economic self-sufficiency and health from a randomized housing voucher experiment. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University.

Evaluated Population: In total, 3,526 respondent families within the MTO survey were evaluated. The sample was 93 percent ages 23 to 54 and mainly Black or Hispanic.  There was no significant difference in adult employment, earnings, or public assistance receipt between the groups at pre-test.  

Approach:  Random assignment for the MTO program was done on a family level and participants were assigned to either an MTO treatment group, Section 8 treatment group, or a control group, which received no benefits.

Results: There were significant improvements in mental health for those in the experimental group compared with the control group.  Experimental and Section 8 respondents were also less likely to experience obesity than the control group.

SOURCES FOR MORE INFORMATION

References

Del Conte, A. & Kling, J. (2001, January/February).  A synthesis of MTO research on self-sufficiency, safety and health, and behavior and delinquency.  Poverty Research News, 5(1), 3-6.

Goering, J., Kraft, J., Feins, J., McInnis, D., Holin, M. J. & Elhassan, H. (1999).  Moving to opportunity for fair housing demonstration program: Current status and initial findings (Accession #8771).  Washington, DC: HUDUSER.

Kling, J. R., & Liebman, J. B. (2004). Experimental analysis of neighborhood effects on youth. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University and Harvard University.

Kling, J. R., Liebman, J. B., Katz, L., & Sanbonmatsu, L. (2004). Moving to opportunity and tranquility: Neighborhood effects on adults’ economic self-sufficiency and health from a randomized housing voucher experiment. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University.

Kling, J. R., Ludwig, J., & Katz, L. (2004). Youth criminal behavior in the moving to opportunity experiment. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University.

Leventhal, T. & Brooks-Gunn, J. (2001).  Moving to opportunity: What about the kids?  New York: Center for Children and Families, Teachers College, Columbia University.

Ludwig, J., Duncan, G.J., & Hirschfield, P. (2001). Urban poverty and juvenile crime: Evidence from a randomized housing-mobility experiment.  The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 116(2), 655-679.

Ludwig, J., Ladd, H. F. & Duncan, G. J. (2001).  The effects of urban poverty on educational outcomes: Evidence from a randomized experiment.  Washington, DC: Georgetown Public Policy Institute.

Pettit, B., & McLanahan, S. (2001). Social dimensions of moving to opportunity. Joint Center for Poverty Research Newsletter, 5(1), 7-10.

Rosenbaum, E. (2001). The social context of new neighborhoods among MTO Chicago families. Poverty Research News, 5(1), 16-19.

Web Site: www.wws.princeton.edu/~kling/mto

Web Site: http://www.hud.gov/progdesc/mto.cfm

KEYWORDS: Counseling/Therapy, Physical Health, Mental Health, Education, Behavioral Problems, Urban, Disadvantaged Families with Children, Poverty, Middle Childhood (6-11), Adolescence (12-17), Young Adulthood (18-24), Youth, Children, Adolescent, Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino, Academic Achievement, Delinquency, Depression, Anxiety, Community/Media Campaign, Cognitive Development, Juvenile Offenders

Program information last updated on 10/10/11.