New York

Initial Findings



Leventhal, Tama and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, The Early Impacts of Moving to Opportunity on Children and Youth in New York City, Final version published in Choosing a Better Life:  Evaluating the Moving to Opportunity Social Experiment. Edited by John Goering and Judith Feins.  Washington, DC: The Urban Institute Press, 2003.


This paper examines the well-being of children and families who participated in the New York City Moving to Opportunity (MTO) program, a randomized housing demonstration in which families living in high poverty public housing areas were given vouchers that could only be used to move to low-poverty neighborhoods, along with counseling and other assistance. A comparison group received vouchers without the other services, and could move to the neighborhood of their choice, while a control group was not assigned vouchers and thus presumably remained in public housing. Using baseline data and a follow-up survey three years after random assignment, the authors review a broad set of developmental outcomes for the families that participated in the program.

In general, beneficial impacts of moving were greater for those families moving to low-poverty neighborhoods. Findings reveal dramatic gains in neighborhood quality for the MTO Experimental families. The neighborhoods of Section 8 families did not look significantly different from their old neighborhoods, based on Census data, but those families nevertheless indicated a greater degree of satisfaction with their new neighborhoods than with those from which they moved. For the MTO Experimental group and (to a lesser extent) the Section 8 families, moving was associated with various improvements in economic and employment outcomes. Parents who moved also reported superior health as well as behavior. The authors find that these parents interacted less harshly with their children and were more likely to use and enforce rules. Parents moving to private housing in low-income neighborhoods were on average more engaged in the children's schools than parents in families moving to affluent communities. Meanwhile, moving out of public housing had a beneficial impact on children's health in a relatively short period of time, with the improvements more pronounced in the MTO Experimental group. However, the findings do not show improvements in child well-being as measured by such things as involvement in school activities, delinquency, or substance abuse. The authors conclude that expanding voucher programs to enable families to move out of public housing is worthwhile, but that families are unlikely to use such vouchers to move to low-poverty neighborhoods, absent a requirement to do so accompanied by additional counseling and other assistance.


  • What is the impact of the MTO program on neighborhood quality?
  • What is the impact of the MTO program on parental (self-reported) health and behavior towards children?



  • The HUD MTO baseline survey, completed by all participants in Section 8-only, Experimental, and Control groups of the MTO program.
  • Follow-up interviews conducted approximately three years after the baseline survey. These interviews garnered a 68% response rate (543 of the 794 participants in the New York program), but for this paper data on only 293 families were available (40% of the total participants, including 112 MTO Experimental families and 90 Section 8 families). The authors note that the sample of 293 is generally similar to the larger sample of 543, though there are some trend level differences that limit the extent to which treatment effects can be deduced.


Additional note: Only about one-third of those families offered vouchers to move (i.e. the MTO Experimental and Section 8 groups) actually used the subsidy to move. This low take-up rate further limits the degree to which treatment effects can be detected.


  • The three year follow-up revealed dramatic improvements in the level of economic and social resources, as measured by census data, of the neighborhoods in which the MTO Experimental families lived. In contrast, the neighborhoods of Section-8 only families did not look significantly different from those of the Control Group families, though the Section 8 families on average perceived their new neighborhoods to be better than their origin neighborhoods.
  • Parents in the MTO Experimental group enjoyed significantly better health and emotional well-being than the Control group, while Section 8-only parents enjoyed more modest improvements.
  • Moving out of public housing in high-poverty neighborhoods had a beneficial effect on both treatment groups in terms of most aspects of parenting. MTO Experimental group parents in particular provided more structure for their children and used less restrictive behavior, but they also were less involved in their schooling than parents in the Control group. Section 8-only parents demonstrated increased engagement in their children's school activities.
  • The treatment groups were not significantly different from the Control groups on other measures of child well-being, such as substance abuse, delinquency, and involvement in school activities.


Brennan, Brian.  New York. Moving To Opportunity Research.  Created August 30, 2000.  Last Modified February 25, 2004.


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