Housing allowances: lessons from the supply experiment

by Ira S. Lowry

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The Housing Assistance Supply Experiment offers monthly cash payments to poor renters and homeowners in two metropolitan counties, requiring recipients to occupy decent, safe, and sanitary dwellings that they rent or purchase in the private market. About a fifth of all households are eligible for assistance and about half of those eligible are enrolled at any given time. Most enrollees spend over a fourth of their income for housing. Over half initially occupy inadequate dwellings. Four-fifths of all enrollees and two-thirds of those in inadequate dwellings eventually qualify for payments. Most housing defects are health or safety hazards that enrollees can and do rectify easily and cheaply. A third of the renters move, usually to larger or better dwellings. Housing allowances both supplement incomes and remedy housing defects that violate local codes, whose enforcement is lax.

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