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.

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.

Before making investments in this strategy, city and county leaders should ensure it addresses local needs.

The Urban Institute and Mathematica have developed indicator frameworks to help local leaders assess conditions related to upward mobility, identify barriers, and guide investments to address these challenges. These indicator frameworks can serve as a starting point for self-assessment, not as a comprehensive evaluation, and should be complemented by other forms of local knowledge.

The Urban Institute's Upward Mobility Framework identifies a set of key local conditions that shape communities’ ability to advance upward mobility and racial equity. Local leaders can use the Upward Mobility Framework to better understand the factors that improve upward mobility and prioritize areas of focus. Data reports for cities and counties can be created here.

Several indicators in the Upward Mobility Framework may be improved with investments in accessing private market housing. To measure these indicators and determine if investments in these interventions could help, examine the following:

Mathematica's Education-to-Workforce (E-W) Indicator Framework helps local leaders identify the data that matter most in helping students and young adults succeed. Local leaders can use the E-W framework to better understand education and workforce conditions in their communities and to identify strategies that can improve outcomes in these areas.

Several indicators in the E-W Framework may be improved with investments in this strategy. To measure these indicators and determine if investments in this strategy could help, examine the following:

  • Access to affordable housing: Ratio of (1) the number of affordable housing units to (2) the number of households with low and very low incomes in an area (city or county). Housing units are defined as affordable if the monthly costs do not exceed 30 percent of a household’s income. Households with low incomes are defined as those earning below 80 percent of area median income (AMI), and very low-income households are defined as those earning below 50 percent of AMI.

  • Neighborhood racial diversity: Percentage of an individual’s neighbors who are members of other racial or ethnic groups, calculated as a Neighborhood Exposure Index.

  • Neighborhood economic diversity: Percentage of city or county residents experiencing poverty who live in a high-poverty neighborhood (defined as a neighborhood in which more than 40 percent of residents experience poverty).

  • 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