Housing Assistance, Poverty, and Material Hardship

March 09, 2023

In this peer-reviewed article, CEPR economist Julie Cai examines the effects of Public Housing and other means-tested rental housing assistance on the housing and economic security of New York City tenants in the mid-2010s. Using baseline and 12-month follow-up data from the New York City Longitudinal Survey of Wellbeing, Cai measured housing and economic security at the 12-month follow-up for three groups of low- and moderate-income people: 1) tenants who continuously received means-tested rental housing assistance during the survey period; 2) tenants who stopped receiving housing assistance during the survey period; and 3) tenants who were eligible for, but did not receive, housing assistance during the survey.

Cai used a propensity-score-matching (PSM) approach to limit the likelihood that differences in housing and economic security were due to factors affecting the receipt of housing assistance in the first place. Cai’s most notable finding is that tenants who continuously received rental housing assistance during the 12-month survey period were much less likely to be rent burdened, to have post-tax, post-transfer income below the poverty line, to experience homelessness, and to live in overcrowded housing.

Cai also found that continuously receiving rental housing assistance has no significant effect on other (non-housing and non-income) measures of material hardship after 12 months. This latter finding may be somewhat surprising but is consistent with earlier research suggesting that rental housing assistance does not reduce food insecurity and certain other forms of non-housing hardship and that material hardship is common among low-income households with incomes above the poverty lines used by the Census Bureau.

The vast majority of tenants in the US who are income-eligible for Public Housing or other rental housing assistance do not receive it due to insufficient public funding. Cai’s research suggests that fully funding housing assistance would reduce housing insecurity, income poverty, and homelessness. 

A PDF version of the full journal article, which was published in Housing Policy Debate in November 2022, is available here.  


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