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The goal of Cityscape is to bring high-quality original research on housing and community development issues to scholars, government officials, and practitioners. Cityscape is open to all relevant disciplines, including architecture, consumer research, demography, economics, engineering, ethnography, finance, geography, law, planning, political science, public policy, regional science, sociology, statistics, and urban studies.

Cityscape is published three times a year by the Office of Policy Development and Research (PD&R) of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

  • Moving to Opportunity
  • Volume 14 Number 2
  • Managing Editor: Mark D. Shroder
  • Associate Editor: Michelle P. Matuga

Constrained Compliance: Solving the Puzzle of MTO’s Lease-Up Rates and Why Mobility Matters

Kathryn Edin, Harvard University

Stefanie DeLuca, Johns Hopkins University

Ann Owens, Harvard University


The Moving to Opportunity (MTO) for Fair Housing demonstration provided an opportunity for low-income renters to move to low-poverty neighborhoods. Many of these renters, however, did not move with their vouchers, and many of those who moved did not stay in low-poverty neighborhoods. In this article, we explore the mechanisms behind these residential outcomes and what they mean for housing policy. First, we review evidence suggesting that MTO families wanted to live in low-poverty “opportunity areas.” We then describe how some aspects of the Housing Choice Voucher Program, the structural features of the housing market, and the beliefs and coping mechanisms of low-income renters—shaped by years of living in extreme poverty—prevented these families from achieving their goals of residential mobility. Finally, we consider the negative consequences on the life chances of the poor if housing policy does not address constraints to mobility and identify potential policy solutions that might lead to opportunities for low-income renters to live in low-poverty neighborhoods.

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