Moving to Opportunity in Boston: Early Results of a Randomized Mobility Experiment


This paper examines the short-run impacts of a change in residential neighborhood on the
well-being of low-income families, using evidence from a program in which eligibility for a housing
voucher was determined by random lottery. We examine the experiences of households at the
Boston site of Moving To Opportunity (MTO), a demonstration program in five cities. Families in
high poverty public housing projects applied to MTO and were assigned by lottery to one of three
groups: Experimental — offered mobility counseling and a Section 8 subsidy valid only in a Census
tract with a poverty rate of less than 10 percent; Section 8 Comparison — offered a geographically
unrestricted Section 8 subsidy; or Control — offered no new assistance, but continued to be eligible
for public housing.
Our quantitative analyses of program impacts uses data on 540 families from a baseline
survey at program enrollment, a follow-up survey administered l to 3.5 years after random
assignment, and state administrative data on earnings and welfare receipt. 48 percent of the
Experimental group and 62 percent of the Section 8 Comparison group moved through the MTO
program. One to three years after program entry, families in both treatment groups were more likely
to be residing in neighborhoods with low poverty rates and high education levels than were families
in the Control group. However, while members of the Experimental group were much more likely
to be residing in suburban communities than were those in the Section 8 group, the lower program
take-up rate among the Experimental group resulted in more families remaining in the most
distressed communities. Households in both treatment groups experienced improvements in
multiple measures of well-being relative to the Control group including increased safety, improved
health among household heads, and fewer behavior problems among boys. Experimental group
children were also less likely to be a victim of a personal crime, to be injured, or to experience an
asthma attack. There are no significant impacts of either MTO treatment on the employment,
earnings, or welfare receipt of household heads in the first three years after random assignment.

Year of Publication
Date Published
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Quarterly Journal of Economics, May 2001
Working Papers