Graphic: Would more housing vouchers increase rents: A: Probably not. Cartoon illustrations show man and woman doing lab tests. Image links to pdf version

Q: Would More Housing Vouchers Increase Rents?

A: So far, researchers haven't found that an increase in vouchers by itself causes rents to rise.

Graphic: Would more housing vouchers increase rents: A: Probably not. Cartoon illustrations show man and woman doing lab tests. Image links to pdf versionQ: Would more housing vouchers increase rents?

A: Probably not.

One argument against making housing vouchers much more widely available is a claim that landlords would respond to the increased purchasing power of low-income renters by increasing rents, hoovering up that newly available money for themselves and causing harm to the poorest renters.

The statistics often cited by folks making this argument come from a 2002 study claiming that rents for unsubsidized low- income households were 16 percent higher, on average, in the 90 biggest metropolitan areas with more vouchers compared to rents where vouchers were “less abundant.”

However, researchers in 2015 found bias and “unobserved determinants” (i.e., other differences between those metropolitan areas) in that survey. They looked instead at rent prices in a given location between 2000 and 2002—years that represented the largest bump in the number of vouchers offered since Section 8 started in the 1970s. Their results:

“We do not find a statistically or economically meaningful impact of the increase in the supply of housing vouchers on overall rents.”

What they did find is that renters with a new voucher moved to higher-quality units, with higher rents, leaving behind the poorly maintained, often unsafe or unsanitary housing unsubsidized renters are often forced to accept.

Of course, to be successful, a large increase in vouchers must also come with a large increase in the supply of landlords who accept vouchers (see here for some suggestions). But so far, evidence doesn’t show that an increase in vouchers by itself causes rents to rise.

Read more in our three-part series on the potential for universal housing vouchers.

The Answer is for you to use. Please distribute freely for noncommercial purposes as long as Shelterforce’s credit remains on it and you let us know how you used it by emailing [email protected]. You can also download a PDF to print at bit.ly/AnswerVouchers.

What do you find yourself explaining over and over? Send suggestions for The Answer to [email protected].

Related Articles

  • Illustration of a right hand holding a small red two-dimensional house between thumb and index finger. The hand is dark blue and the arm, shown a bit beyond the wrist, is wearing a white shirt and suit jacket. The background of the image is a city skyline, in lighter shades of the same blue, with puffy clouds above.

    Ownership Matters: Institutional Investors and Corporate Ownership

    May 23, 2024

    Who owns our homes is an absolutely essential part of housing policy, and an even greater part of housing politics.

  • A Black woman in blue flowered dress and dusty pink hijab speaks into several microphones. In foreground, blurry, are news cameras. The woman is part of a large group at a rally, carrying signs promoting rent stabilization and saying "Home to Stay MPLS"

    Affordable Housing Sector Split on Rent Control

    May 21, 2024

    In the Twin Cities, where voters have recently supported rent control, most nonprofit housing developers have stayed silent, and some have openly lined up with the developers and landlords who oppose it.

  • Seven people wearing jackets and caps on a city sidewalk holding signs that say "Listen to UREB," "Save Our Homes," "Negotiate with UREB," or "5,000 Against Displacement." One person is speaking into a microphone. At the curb by the speaker is a van with WRLC painted on the side, for Western Reserve Land Conservancy.

    Nonprofit to Close Mobile Home Community to Build a Park

    May 10, 2024

    Ohio’s largest conservation land trust has been accused of purchasing a manufactured housing community with the very intention of closing it, evicting more than 100 households in the process. But proponents of the park’s closure say the land's failing infrastructure—and the benefit the property will bring to an entire city—is what forced the decision.