Transforming the Housing Choice Voucher System in California

A Path to Universal Housing?

by Ryan K. McBain, Jason M. Ward, Sarah B. Hunter

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Over 600,000 people in 300,000 low-income households are currently leasing properties through the housing choice voucher (HCV) program in California. Yet Los Angeles County has a larger population of individuals experiencing homelessness than in any other U.S. county. The HCV program represents the largest single form of federal housing assistance in the state. However, demand for vouchers far exceeds supply.

In this Perspective, the authors review the impact of the HCV program, explain shortcomings of today's HCV system, and examine the potential effects of a reformed voucher system to stabilize access to housing for the most vulnerable Americans. The authors outline three potential pathways to transform the HCV system in California: (1) adopt a universal housing voucher system, (2) enhance the voucher system, and (3) enforce and encourage landlord participation. In support of these reforms, the authors address critiques of housing vouchers by providing relevant context and evidence. The authors also recommend steps at the local, state, and federal levels to begin this transformative work.

Past research has shown that stable housing is associated with health, educational and vocational benefits, and reduced criminal justice involvement. If implemented, these pathways have the potential to significantly reduce homelessness across California.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was funded by the Lowy family and conducted by the Center for Housing and Homelessness in Los Angeles (CHHLA), part of the Community Health and Environmental Policy Program within RAND Social and Economic Well-Being.

This publication is part of the RAND Corporation Perspective series. RAND Perspectives present expert insights on timely policy issues. All RAND Perspectives undergo peer review to ensure high standards for quality and objectivity.

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