Los Angeles

Initial Findings



Hanratty, Maria H., Sara A. McLanahan, and Becky Pettit, “The Impact of the Los Angeles Moving to Opportunity Program on Residential Mobility, Neighborhood Characteristics, and Early Child and Parent Outcomes”,  Bendheim-Thoman Center for Research on Child Wellbeing Working Paper Number 98-18, Princeton University, April 1998.


This study provides an evaluation of the early impacts of Los Angeles site of the Moving to Opportunity program (MTO). It finds that both Experimental and Section 8 groups moved to neighborhoods with much higher socioeconomic levels than the Control group. While on average, Experimental and Section 8 neighborhoods were often similar, the Experimental group was both more likely to move to low-poverty neighborhoods (58% vs. 1%) and more likely to remain in a high-poverty neighborhoods (32% vs. 17%) than the Section 8 group. Both Experimental and Section 8 groups achieved substantial reductions in neighborhoods crime rates and substantial increased in perceived neighborhood safety levels relative to the Control group. In addition, parents in both treatment groups report increased in hours and earnings, increases in utilization of center based child care, and reductions in hospital emergency care. With respect to social capital, the evidence is mixed. Parents in both treatment groups report reductions in church activity and are somewhat less likely to have friends and family in their neighborhood than the control group. However, these parents are no less likely to be involved in their children’s activities, and their children are just as likely to have friends in the neighborhood.


  • Does a program which offers a combination of financial incentives and supportive services increase the number of housing voucher recipients that move to (and remain in) low poverty neighborhoods?
  • What is the impact of neighborhood characteristics on the well-being of parents and children?



  • MTO baseline survey, including most of the initial family characteristics of the sample of all MTO families who entered the Los Angeles MTO program between 3/10/1995 and 4/24/1996.
  • A follow-up phone survey conducted between September and December of 1996, and complemented by in-person visits to those households not reached by phone. A second phone survey (without site visits) of families that entered the program between 4/24/96 and 12/18/96 was conducted between August and October of 1997. The combined response rate for both surveys was 81% (285 or 354), which reflects a rate of 88% for the Experimental group, 65% for the Section 8 group, and 81% for the Control group. The second survey sample had a higher proportion of blacks (54% vs. 32%), never-married households (58% vs. 34%), and households that were employed at the baseline (41% vs. 23%). In the few areas in which results are sensitive to these differences, the authors discuss how the results would vary if the second sample were excluded.



  • Experimental families reported that supportive services were critical to relocating to non-poor areas, but many also reported that they would not have moved to their current neighborhood had they not been constrained by the low-poverty requirement.
  • Overall, 67% of Experimental families moved, compared to 85% of Section 8 and 27% of Control group families. The differences between Experimental and Section 8 in this category have decreased over time.
  • At the time of the follow-up survey, 58% of the Experimental group lived in low poverty neighborhoods, compared to only 1% of both the Section 8 and Control groups. By contrast, 32% of MTO families remained in very high poverty neighborhoods, compared to 17% of Section 8 and 80% of the Control group.
  • Both the Experimental and the Section 8 groups reported marked reductions in neighborhood crime rates and improvements in perceived neighborhood safety.
  • Factors correlated with housing mobility for the combined sample of Section 8 and Experimental families include: Age -- Younger household heads were more likely to move; and Victimization status -- households with a member who had been assaulted or beaten in the last six months were more likely to move.  However, a key factor related to mobility for the Experimental sample was marital status -- household heads never married were more likely to move.
  • Employment and community resources: both treatment respondents in both treatment groups worked more hours and had higher earnings than did control group members. Experimental families were more likely to use center-based child care and Head Start programs (which are generally considered to be superior to other child care) and were more likely to receive medical care at a doctor’s office. All experimental group families were less likely to receive medical care in an emergency room.
  • Social capital: this evidence is mixed. Treatment groups were just as likely as the control group to be involved in their children’s school activities and to belong to "other organizations". But treatment groups also had fewer friends and family in their neighborhood, and reported slightly lower levels of church membership and attendance.
  • Children�s outcomes: Children in the two treatment groups were doing well, despite the fact that many of them were having to adjust to a new neighborhood. They were not isolated and they appeared to be making new friends in their new neighborhoods. This finding holds for adolescents as well as elementary age children, which is surprising, given that younger children are expected to adjust more easily to a move than adolescents. Although there was some evidence that children in the two treatment groups may have been experiencing a small deficit in total activities, as compared with control children, the differences were small and likely to be temporary. The fact that parents were establishing contact with other parents in the neighborhood is also a good sign and suggests that residential mobility does not necessarily result in a major loss of social capital, at least for this population of families.

Pettit, Becky, Sara A. McLanahan, and Maria Hanratty, “Moving to Opportunity: Benefits and Hidden Costs,” Bendheim-Thoman Center for Research on Child Wellbeing," Princeton University, Bendheim-Thoman Center for Research on Child Wellbeing Working Paper 98-11, February 2000.


This paper uses data from the Moving to Opportunity (MTO) Program in Los Angeles, California to examine the effects of a housing voucher program on neighborhood resources. We examine neighborhood quality as well as neighborhood connections, and we examine the potential trade-off between these two types of resources. We find that moving is associated with dramatic improvements in neighborhood quality, as measured by crime rates, poverty rates, employment rates, and the prevalence of college graduates and female-headed families. We also find that moving has surprisingly few negative effects on neighborhood connections. There is some evidence that moving to a middle class neighborhood reduces participation in after-school activities among young children and African American children.


  • Do housing vouchers improve neighborhood quality?
  • Does moving reduce social capital?
  • Does moving to a middle class neighborhood reduce social capital more than moving per se?
  • Is moving to a middle class neighborhood more difficult for African American families than for other race-ethnic groups?



From four sources:

  • In-person baseline survey of MTO participants;
  • A follow-up telephone survey designed and conducted approximately one year after the program began (between September 1996 and September 1997). The authors indicate that they use all four data sources to examine the experiences of 284 adults and 331 children in 231 families, but they do not state which of these participated in phone survey, or the phone survey response rate.
  • 1990 census data on neighborhood quality; and
  • local crime statistics from the Los Angeles Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.



The authors created indices of neighborhood quality, parents’ neighborhood connections, children’s neighborhood connections, and residential mobility. Multiple regression was used to estimate the effects of observed residential mobility on each outcome, controlling for a set of individual characteristics. The authors also used two-stage least squares to estimate the effects of predicted residential mobility on each outcome, controlling again for a set of individual characteristics.


  • Families given the opportunity to move through vouchers experienced improved neighborhood quality, through major reductions in neighborhood murder rates, poverty rates, female headship rates, and major improvement in employment rates and rates of college graduation.
  • Moving did not reduce social capital, at least as measured by parent connections with other parents and teachers, or their participation in work, school, or religious organizations.
  • In general, families who moved to non-poor neighborhoods were equally likely to be connected with neighbors and local institutions as were parents who moved to poorer neighborhoods or who did not move at all. The exception to this was that moving to non-poor neighborhoods seems to have reduced the number of after-school activities in which children participated. The reasons for this are not clear.
  • Although most of the evidence suggests that there were no important race/ethnic differences in the effects of mobility on neighborhood connections, moving up does appear to reduce a black child’s chances of participating in multiple after-school activities more than it reduces a non-black child’s chances.

Pettit, Becky, “Moving and Children's Social Connections: The Critical Importance of Context,” Bendheim-Thoman Center for Research on Child Wellbeing, Working Paper 98-04, Princeton University, March 2000.


Moving during childhood is associated with declines in educational achievement, educational attainment, and early adult occupational outcomes. Coleman (1988, 1990) and others have argued that the negative effects of moving for children may be due to the loss of social capital in the short-term after moving. There have been few studies directly examining the consequences of moving on the social connections of children, and the evidence on the relationship is mixed. This research uses qualitative data from an experimental housing relocation program to examine what hurts and what helps the formation of social connections after moving. This research suggests that the impact of moving on children, and on indicators of social capital in particular, is influenced by neighborhood context and by family financial resources. Future studies assessing the impact of moving on children need to pay closer attention to the factors that influence where, when, and why families move.


  • What are the direct short-term effects of moving on children's social connections?
  • How does neighborhood context influence the hypothesized relationship between moving and social connections important for children?



Data are drawn from three sources:

  • In-depth interviews conducted with heads of household in 27 families enrolled in the MTO program in Los Angeles County in the spring of 1996, and drawn from four census tracts. The Experimental sample was stratified by random assignment and destination neighborhood. Due to small sample size, efforts were made to contact all members of the Section 8-only group in the four census tracts. A small number of control participants were also contacted for interviews. 27 of 28 heads of household contacted agreed to be interviewed, with Spanish speaking participants slightly underrepresented among the Section 8-only respondents.
  • Data on neighborhood quality, drawn from the 1990 census.
  • Local crime statistics from the Los Angeles Police Department (1995) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (1996).



  • Parents and their children are more likely to make social connections in middle class neighborhoods, which are more often perceived to be safe, than in poor neighborhoods.
  • Financial capital leads to social capital, and as such, poor families are handicapped when social connections and activities in low-poverty neighborhoods require money that parents do not have.
  • The data suggests that relationship between moving and social capital may be influenced by the factors that influence who moves, where, and when (e.g. whether moves are effected by family disruptions or factors that may impact social capital formation).

Matulef, Mark and Manuel Pastor, “Moving to Opportunity (MTO) Demonstration for Fair Housing: Los Angeles Demonstration Site Interim Outcomes of Housing Search and Counseling Strategies: Early Lessons for Experimental Design and Implementation,” December 26, 1999.


This study combines quantitative and qualitative measures to evaluate the efficacy of the MTO program on two levels: 1) the effectiveness of the program in successfully placing families in low-poverty areas; and 2) the value of the Los Angeles MTO program as an experiment with results that can be generalized to other populations. The program as implemented in Los Angeles is found to yield some positive results: most prominently, the majority of the MTO participants were issued vouchers and were able to lease-up with their subsidies in neighborhoods with less poverty, higher employment rates, higher rates of high school graduation, and more ethnically diverse populations. However, issues such as the unfamiliarity of the Non-Profit Organizations (NPOs) with the target neighborhoods hampered the progress of the program initially. Unique characteristics of the Los Angeles context, as well as idiosyncratic implementation of the program by the NPOs, advise against blithe cross-site comparisons.


  • How effective was MTO in placing families in low-poverty areas?
  • What is the value of the Los Angeles MTO program as an experiment with results that can be generalized to populations beyond the program participants?



The authors combined quantitative data with interviews and observations. Specifically, data sources included:

  • MTO initial baseline survey and monitoring data.
  • Group and individual interviews with housing authority and non-profit organization NPO) staff.
  • Facilitated discussion with the entire MTO administrative team and counseling staff.
  • Participant focus groups (one in English and one in Spanish)
  • Intensive participant interviews
  • The Multifamily Tenant Characteristics System (MTCS), which consists of data from public housing agencies as reported to HUD.
  • 1990 US Census data.


This study has four primary components:

  • Examination of the baseline data, comparing sample families with public housing residents in the nation, California, and Los Angeles.
  • Examination of the MTO Experimental group support process, so as to compare the design for "minimal but stark" differences between the treatment and control groups in terms of the support provided to MTO families in practice.
  • Spatial analysis of MTO families at baseline, core move, and relocation period.
  • Evaluation of interviews with staff and MTO families regarding attitudes toward their new neighborhoods and concerns regarding future plans.



  • Broadly speaking, the program was implemented successfully (from the perspective of local program officials).  That is, most families assigned to the MTO Experimental or Section 8 groups received a voucher and were able to find suitable housing and lease-up under the subsidy.
  • The NPOs performed inconsistently. They were not familiar with the services or landlords in the target neighborhoods, and hence, there was a significant learning curve for NPO staff. Services provided to MTO households appeared to vary significantly between households, while the division of labor between the two NPOs proved awkward.
  • Anxiety about their moves to low-poverty areas as well as search and moving costs were significant for the MTO Experimental families.
  • There was no systematic investigation of violations of fair housing or discrimination laws, which may be a significant barrier to housing mobility.
  • The goals of MTO may conflict with other HUD programs which encourage geographic stability.


Brennan, Brian. “Los Angeles.” Moving To Opportunity Research.  Created August 30, 2000.  Last Modified August 5, 2002.  http://www.nber.org/mtopublic/LA.htm. 

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