How can we reduce the barriers landlords face to participating in the Housing Choice Voucher program?
The federal Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program helps very low-income renters afford housing on the private market. But the HCV program has generally struggled to attract and retain landlords. In Minneapolis, MN, we surveyed landlords to better understand the barriers they face to participating in the HCV program. We then used this information to design and test tailored messages aimed at increasing interest in the HCV program.
Why is this issue important?
As the largest federal rental assistance program, the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program has been found to dramatically reduce homelessness and housing instability and facilitate geographic and economic mobility. Its success depends crucially on participation from landlords, which determines both how many units are available to voucher holders and where these units are located. Yet, there is little evidence on what strategies are most effective at encouraging greater program participation from landlords.
What are we doing?
In partnership with the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority (MPHA), we conducted an online survey among all landlords in the city to assess beliefs and perceptions of the HCV program (N = 1,088). Based on the survey findings, we then designed two tailored outreach messages aimed at reducing specific barriers that may deter landlords from participating in the HCV program: process complexity and the stigma associated with tenants who use vouchers. In a randomized experiment (N = 13,419), we tested the impact of these mail-based outreach messages, as well as a status quo message, on landlord interest in the program.
What have we learned?
We are continuing to partner with MPHA to gain a deeper understanding of the barriers to landlord engagement with the HCV program and to co-design and test strategies for reducing these barriers. The results we have thus far will be used to inform future efforts aimed at increasing landlord participation in the HCV program in Minneapolis, as well as with other cities and states across the US.
What comes next?
Our findings suggest that psychological hurdles, particularly beliefs about the characteristics of tenants who use vouchers, are at least as consequential as logistical barriers in landlord decision-making, and maybe more so. For instance, 45% of respondents reported being more concerned about damages incurred by renting to tenants with vouchers than about the HCV program inspection and approval process. In a field experiment, the three mail-based outreach messages yielded no difference in landlord interest in the HCV program. But in a subsequent online experiment, also conducted among active landlords in Minneapolis, we found directional effects of the same outreach messages: 9% of survey respondents who saw the status quo message expressed interest in the HCV program, compared to 11% of respondents who saw a message that aimed to correct misbeliefs about tenants with vouchers, and 12% of respondents who saw a message that aimed to correct misbeliefs about the HCV process chose.