An overview of moving to opportunity a random assignment housing mobility study in five U.S. Cities

Lisa A. Gennetian, Lisa Sanbonmatsu, Jens Ludwig

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) Moving to Opportunity (MTO) experiment provides a unique opportunity to answer the question of whether moving from a high-poverty neighborhood to a lower-poverty community improves the social and economic prospects of low-income families. Authorized by the U.S. Congress in 1992' MTO made use of rental assistance vouchers' in combination with intensive housing search and counseling services' to assist lowincome families to move from some of America's most distressed urban neighborhoods to lower-poverty communities.1 The MTO demonstration has two broad research goals. The first' short-term' goal was to compare the costs and services of the MTO program with the routine implementation of the Section 8 tenant-based rental assistance program in existence at the time of MTO's implementation.2 The second' longerterm' goal is to assess the impact of the demonstration on the well-being of families and their children' including their housing conditions' mental and physical health' employment and earnings' receipt of social program assistance and income' education' and delinquent or risky behavior of children. A total of 4'608 families enrolled in the MTO demonstration and were randomly assigned between September 1994 and August 1998 to groups that received different opportunities to move to less disadvantaged neighborhood environments. The enrollment and randomization phase of MTO ended in February 1999' but MTO families continue to receive the housing vouchers that they were offered under the program as long as they continue to be eligible for them. Random assignment in MTO to different mobility "treatments" breaks the link between family preferences and neighborhood environments' and so provides us with the chance of overcoming the standard self-selection concern to identify the causal effects of neighborhoods on adult and child outcomes. The issue of self-selection will be discussed further in the following section. This chapter provides a very brief introduction to the MTO demonstration and summarizes key findings from an interim evaluation that collected information from MTO families four to seven years after random assignment.We also briefly describe the MTO long-term evaluation that is currently in process. Research on the MTO demonstration by dozens of researchers has been ongoing for over a decade' and there have been several phases of research supported by HUD and other private and public entities to capture MTO impacts over time.3 Interested readers should turn to these reports and papers to learn more about MTO and its effects on families and children.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationNeighborhood and Life Chances
Subtitle of host publicationHow Place Matters in Modern America
PublisherUniversity of Pennsylvania Press
Number of pages16
ISBN (Print)9780812242584
StatePublished - 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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