October 22, 2014
Collinson and Ganong have posted The Incidence of Housing Voucher Generosity to SSRN. The abstract of this important paper is a little technical for non-economists. It reads:
What is the incidence of housing vouchers? Housing voucher recipients in the US typically pay their landlord a fixed amount based on their income and the government pays the rest of the rent, up to a rent ceiling. We consider a policy that raises the generosity of the rent ceiling everywhere, which is equivalent to an income effect, and a policy which links generosity to local unit quality, which is equivalent to a substitution effect.
Using data on the universe of housing vouchers and quasi-experimental variation from HUD policy changes, we analyze the incidence of these policies. Raising the generosity of the rent ceiling everywhere appears to primarily benefit landlords, who receive higher rents with very little evidence of medium-run quality improvements. Setting ZIP code-level rent ceilings causes rent increases in expensive neighborhoods and decreases in low-cost neighborhoods, with little change in aggregate rents. The ZIP code policy improves neighborhood quality as much as other, far more costly, voucher interventions.
The eye-catching part is that raising “the generosity of the rent ceiling everywhere appears to primarily benefit landlords, who receive higher rents with very little evidence of medium-run quality improvements.” The paper itself fleshes this out more: “a $1 increase in the rent ceiling raises rents by 41 cents; consistent with this policy change acting like an income effect, we find very small quality increases of around 5 cents, meaning that as much as 89% of the increase in government expenditure accrues to landlords.” (20-21)
Given the inelasticity of the supply in many housing markets, this is not such a surprising result. That is, if demand increases because of an increase in income but supply does not, the producer (landlords) can capture more of that income just by raising prices. This finding should give policymakers pause as they design and implement voucher programs. The question that drives them.should be — how can they maximize the portion of the subsidy that goes to the voucher recipient?| Permalink