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Health Equity: Tenant-Based Rental Assistance Programs Archived Review


What the CPSTF Found

About The Systematic Review

The CPSTF finding is based on evidence from a systematic review of 12 studies (search period 1965-2000).

The review was conducted on behalf of the CPSTF by a team of specialists in systematic review methods, and in research, practice, and policy related to promoting health equity.

Summary of Results

Detailed results from the systematic review are available in the published evidence review pdf icon [PDF - 2.89 MB].

The systematic review of tenant-based rental assistance (or voucher) programs included 12 studies.

  • Household victimization decreased by a median of 6% (5 studies)
  • Social disorder decreased by a median of 15.5% (4 studies)
  • Behavioral problems among youth, measured between 1 and 5 years (mean, 2.9 years) after the intervention took place, decreased by a median of 7.8% (3 studies).
  • Self-reported symptoms of depression and anxiety among heads of households decreased by a median of 8% (2 studies).

Summary of Economic Evidence

An economic review of this intervention did not find any relevant studies.


The finding should be applicable to most low-income families in urban areas.

Evidence Gaps

The CPSTF identified several areas that have limited information. Additional research and evaluation could help answer the following questions and fill remaining gaps in the evidence base. (What are evidence gaps?)

  • The causes of residential segregation and isolation of families by income, race, ethnicity, or social class into neighborhoods of concentrated poverty are complex. Tenant-based rental assistance programs allow families to find affordable housing in safer neighborhoods, but the potential to fully realize housing and neighborhood choice could be advanced by a greater understanding of factors that affect choice.
    • What resources are critical in allowing families to fully realize the potential for housing mobility (e.g., counseling on housing search strategies, transportation resources)?
    • How can the Section 8 program be made more attractive to landlords, particularly when rental units are scarce in a tight rental market?
  • How effective are these programs with elderly populations and those with special health needs?
  • Does encouraging residential mobility away from poor central-city areas disrupt existing neighborhood social networks and supports, giving way to greater neighborhood social deterioration?
    • To what extent should housing mobility strategies be coupled with revitalization efforts to make central-city neighborhoods more attractive to families at all income levels?
    • What factors contribute to residential clustering of Section 8 families in particular neighborhoods, which could eventually lead to neighborhood decline and the reconcentration of poverty?
  • Tenant-based rental assistance programs do not add to the stock of housing, but rely on available housing in the private rental market. In tight rental markets, when few units are available, is a voucher approach feasible?
    • How does the program compare in cost with housing built and maintained by public funds?
    • Are rental voucher programs cost effective?

Study Characteristics

Studies represented four broad groups of federal housing evaluation efforts:

  1. The Housing Allowance Experiment
  2. HUD’s Section 8 Rental Certificate and Voucher program
  3. The Gautreaux program, in which rental vouchers were provided to African-American families in racially segregated public housing in Chicago
  4. Moving to Opportunity for Fair Housing research, implemented in five large cities, which combined rental vouchers with household counseling to help low-income families move from public housing to nonpoverty neighborhoods

Studies were conducted among white, Latino, and African-American populations, and effects were similar for all of these groups.