The Voucher Promise: “Section 8” and the Fate of an American Neighborhood by Eva Rosen, Princeton University Press, 2020.
Reviewed by: David P. Varady, University of Cincinnati
The Voucher Promise (Princeton University Press, 2020) by Eva Rosen is an impressive ethnographic study of Park Heights, a northwest Baltimore community that underwent rapid racial transition in the 1960s from 95 percent white and Jewish to 95 percent black.
Rosen argues that the Housing Choice Voucher Program (HCVP) achieves its primary goal of supplying low-income families with decent and affordable housing, but does not achieve its secondary goal of moving low-income families from disadvantaged to healthy neighborhoods. Spatial dispersion does not occur because there is a limited time window for finding an acceptable house, and because in most places landlords can discriminate on the basis of income source. Although the original aim of HCV was to foster resident’s choice as to what neighborhood is best for them, in Baltimore so-called voucher landlords are selecting and recruiting tenants.
Most voucher research is based on the premise that segregated low income neighborhoods have little to offer voucher recipients. Rosen disagrees. In theory, low-income renters including voucher recipients could benefit from the social capital of long-time homeowners. This does not happen because the HCV program and recipients are stigmatized and excluded; homeowners believe they bring in crime and property deterioration. Unfortunately (and in contrast to what Rosen asserts), these concerns are based on more than just a grain of truth. As as result, Rosen should have recognized the potential for negative neighborhood impacts. Instances of neighborhood opposition occurring may be symptoms of serious problems of program implementation that may potentially undermine support for the HCV program as a whole.
Nevertheless, I strongly recommend this well-written book to policymakers and to those teaching urban affairs.
The full book review will appear in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Urban Affairs.
The reviewer may be reached via e-mail at David.Varady@uc.edu.