Strategy overview

  • Increasing access: Helping low- and moderate-income households access private market housing is one way to increase their access to quality, affordable housing. Such strategies can include subsidies, grants or loans, or personalized housing search assistance.
  • Supplementing Housing Choice Vouchers: By covering a portion of rent, the federal Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program can assist low-income families in accessing rental housing. While public housing authorities administer the HCV program, jurisdictions can increase the effectiveness of HCVs by conducting outreach to recruit and retain landlords who accept vouchers; passing source-of-income laws, which prohibit landlords from refusing to rent to a household because it receives HCVs; and dedicating a portion of eligible state and federal funding to facilitate the development of highly-subsidized units accessible to very low-income households.
  • Supporting moves to high-opportunity areas: Housing navigator programs help families use HCVs to move into rental properties in high-opportunity neighborhoods. Successful navigator programs typically engage with landlords to encourage them to accept voucher-holding tenants, provide families with housing search assistance, and supply some degree of financial assistance to families to offset moving costs.
  • Down payment assistance: By subsidizing upfront costs, jurisdictions can help more low- and moderate-income families own homes. Down payment assistance reduces the overall cost of purchasing a home and the need for significant liquidity. This can take several forms, including offering low-interest or forgivable loans and providing cash grants.

What evidence supports this strategy?

Several rigorously evaluated practices to increase access to private market housing demonstrated significant, positive impacts on neighborhood choice and access. However, further research is needed to confirm magnitude and replicability of effects.

  • A 2019 research synthesis found that the Housing Choice Voucher Program can be associated with increases in neighborhood choice and socio-economic diversity.

  • In a 2020 randomized controlled trial, 53 percent of families receiving customized financial assistance and housing search support to supplement vouchers moved to a high-opportunity neighborhood, compared to 15.1 percent of families in the control group.

Is this strategy right for my community?

Increasing access to private market housing has been shown to improve outcomes predictive of upward mobility. These outcomes, identified by the Urban Institute, are housing affordability, housing stability, economic inclusion, racial diversity, and wealth-building opportunities.

City and county leaders can assess local conditions for each of these outcomes using the metrics below, identified by the Urban Institute. This assessment can be used to determine whether this strategy is appropriate for their community. (Note: these metrics are a starting point for self-assessment and are not intended to be comprehensive.)

All cities and counties with populations over 75,000 can receive a customized data sheet here.

  • Measuring housing affordability in your community: Examine the ratio of affordable and available housing units to households with low, very low, and extremely low income levels. These data are available from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Local Income Bands.

  • Measuring housing stability in your community: Examine the number and share of public-school children who are ever homeless during the school year. These data are collected by local public school districts.

  • Measuring economic inclusion in your community: Examine the share of people experiencing poverty who live in high-poverty neighborhoods. These data are available in the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

  • Measuring racial diversity in your community: Examine an index of people’s exposure to neighbors of different races and ethnicities. These data are available through the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

  • Measuring wealth-building opportunities in your community: Examine the ratio of the share of a community’s housing wealth held by a racial or ethnic group to the share of households of the same group. These data are available from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

Best practices in implementation

  • Develop a streamlined process: Identifying, financing, and moving to a new home requires significant time and effort, and low- and moderate-income households typically have fewer resources to navigate the process. Programs that are simple, fast, and responsive to each household’s needs are more likely to build trust and have high uptake.
  • Prioritize partnerships and community engagement: Increasing access to market rate housing requires resources and expertise rarely present within a single organization. Cross-sector partnerships can build trust and the capacity to work at scale. 
  • Embed evaluation capacity: Identifying and monitoring performance indicators allows a program to make ongoing improvements and determine if it is meeting community needs. Measuring strong performance can also help make the case for greater future investment.
  • Identify a consistent funding source: In stronger markets, increasing access to market-rate housing is an on-going project. Identifying dedicated revenue sources, like linkage fees, demolition taxes, or TIF districts, will ensure down payment assistance programs, housing navigator programs, and other efforts can operate predictably and at-scale.
  • Leverage public properties: Developing additional housing on publicly owned properties increases the housing supply and puts downward pressure on housing prices. Localities can redevelop land to include housing alongside public uses (e.g., housing above a library) or take advantage of unused properties (e.g., redeveloping a closed school building). Additionally, localities can acquire and encourage the redevelopment of vacant or abandoned housing through mechanisms like land banks.

Evidence-based examples

Legal structure operated by a nonprofit organization that allows communities to control land and development projects
Stable and healthy families Supportive neighborhoods
Community-owned or public entities that acquire troubled properties and transform them into community assets
Supportive neighborhoods