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Chicago's Section 8 Mobility Program Shows Promise, According to Interim Report

Document date: December 13, 2001
Released online: December 13, 2001
Contact: Renu Shukla, (202) 261-5278, rshukla@ui.urban.org

WASHINGTON, D.C., December 13, 2001—Chicago's efforts to improve housing mobility among families who receive Section 8 housing vouchers are showing promise, according to a new Urban Institute interim assessment of the mobility program. Among voucher holders who moved in the past year, about 43 percent have ended up in "opportunity neighborhoods," where the poverty rate is less than 23.49 percent.

At the same time, a majority of households receiving Section 8 vouchers still live in high-poverty, segregated neighborhoods. The report suggests several strategies that could strengthen mobility efforts, such as improving the training of staff and follow-up services, and taking active steps to alleviate housing discrimination against voucher holders.

The study, "CHAC Mobility Program Assessment—Interim Report," by Urban Institute researchers Mary Cunningham, Susan Popkin, Erin Godfrey, and Beata Bednarz, assesses the progress of the Mobility Program, operated by CHAC, Inc., the Chicago agency that administers the Section 8 voucher program. The Mobility Program offers a variety of services to voucher holders, including one-on-one counseling, life-skills training, landlord negotiation seminars, neighborhood tours, and a security deposit loan program.

Key Findings

Where Movers Settled. About half of movers relocated to opportunity neighborhoods: 20 percent of movers moved from high-poverty to opportunity neighborhoods, and 23 percent of movers who originated in opportunity neighborhoods moved to another unit in an opportunity neighborhood. Of those who moved to opportunity neighborhoods, 13 percent relocated in neighborhoods where the poverty rate is less than 10 percent. The remainder of our respondents moved to high-poverty neighborhoods: 38 percent moved from high-poverty to high-poverty, and 19 percent moved from opportunity to high-poverty neighborhoods.

Comparison of Housing Problems. Movers to opportunity neighborhoods reported fewer problems with building maintenance than movers to high-poverty neighborhoods, and fewer reported problems with drugs, gangs, and police response.

Neighborhood Diversity Desires vs. Outcomes. Although more than half of survey respondents indicated they would like to live in a racially diverse neighborhood, a majority moved to highly segregated neighborhoods. 70 percent of respondents moved to areas that are more than 90 percent African-American.


Improve the Mobility Counselor to Household Ratio. Currently, mobility counselors have high caseloads. Researchers suggest limiting the number of households in the program at any given time in order to increase the quality of services to each household.

Improve Training and Monitoring of Staff. Briefings to prepare participants for moving appear to be inconsistent in their quality and thoroughness. To increase consistency, researchers suggest that one staff person be made responsible for training and monitoring staff who present at briefings.

Improve Content of Follow-up Services. Almost a quarter of respondents "moved back" to high-poverty neighborhoods, with a number of reporting "problems with landlords" as a main reason for wanting to move. Follow-up services that focus on helping families become more comfortable in their new neighborhoods and develop better relationships with landlords could reduce this number.

Strengthen Connection between Key Programs. There are a number of families who participate in the Mobility Program who are also targets for CHAC's Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) Program. These families should be a focus of follow-up activities and encouraged to enroll in the FSS Program. Services provided through the FSS Program, such as job training, education, and lifeskills workshops, could help more households remain in opportunity neighborhoods and become self-sufficient.

Alleviate Discrimination against Voucher Holders. Voucher holders have difficulty finding landlords who accept Section 8 vouchers. Mobility Program staff could partner with a fair housing agency to address any such discrimination in the city of Chicago, where it is illegal. Suburban jurisdictions that have no such protections for voucher holders could be lobbied to adopt local ordinances.


The study examined counseling and support services offered through CHAC's mobility program, the types of neighborhoods in which that Section 8 families in Chicago settled, as well as any changes in perceived housing and neighborhood quality. It is based on survey data from a cohort of 203 CHAC voucher holders who are moving. The surveys were conducted in the spring of 2000 and the winter of 2000-2001. Qualitative data were gathered through interviews with administrative staff at CHAC, Inc., and observations of program activities. Survey respondents represent voucher holders who moved voluntarily and voucher holders who had to move as a result of eviction or failed inspection. A third and final wave of the survey was completed in the late summer of 2001, results of which will be released in March 2002.

The study was conducted by the Urban Institute with partners at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and was funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

To obtain a hard copy of "CHAC Mobility Program Assessment—Interim Report," by Mary Cunningham, Susan Popkin, Erin Godfrey, and Beata Bednarz, call the Urban Institute Publication Sales Office at 202-261-5687. The Urban Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy research and education organization that examines the social, economic, and governance challenges facing the nation.

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