Housing Complex

This Is Where D.C.’s Housing Voucher Recipients Live

Housing Voucher Concentration

The District has by far the highest concentration of recipients of housing subsidy vouchers in the region, according to a new report from the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University—and they're clustered in the city's poorer neighborhoods.

Nearly half of the census tracts in the District have a high concentration of people receiving housing subsidies through the Housing Choice Voucher program, the federal program for subsidizing rents for low-income residents at privately owned buildings. (The program is separate from public housing, whose buildings are publicly owned, although both programs are administered by local housing authorities.) In suburban Virginia, by contrast, only 13 percent of census tracts have a high concentration of voucher holders; in Maryland, that figure is 26 percent, still much lower than D.C.'s 46 percent. A high concentration is defined as a ratio of vouchers to total rental housing of at least 8.25 percent, which is 50 percent higher than the regional average.

Within D.C., there are also tremendous geographical disparities. The four census tracts with the highest concentration of voucher recipients are all east of the Anacostia River, as are eight of the top 10, even though less than a quarter of the city's population lives there. The tracts with the highest concentrations are in Washington Highlands (Ward 8), Fort Davis (Ward 7), Douglass (Ward 8), and Lincoln Heights (Ward 7).

The findings give fuel to the arguments of ward 7 and 8 leaders who have urged the city to stop putting new affordable housing east of the Anacostia, where they say there's already a concentration. Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry has gone so far as to argue against any new rental housing in his ward, although he appeared to reverse his position this spring when he backed an all-affordable apartment building planned for Anacostia.

broader region

A map of census tracts with a high concentration of vouchers in the broader region

Of course, the Housing Choice Voucher program, which pays the difference between 30 percent of a household's income and the unit's rent (up to so-called fair market rent), doesn't dictate where people live or force additional poverty on any neighborhoods. But it's unlikely to subsidize units in wealthy neighborhoods, since the rents there exceed the program's threshold. The map above highlights this phenomenon: No census tracts west of Rock Creek Park have a high concentration of voucher holders, while the majority east of Georgia Avenue NW do. (The tract with the lowest concentration of voucher holders is in Shepherd Park, a largely upper-middle-class neighborhood.)

Indeed, the study finds that voucher-holders are concentrated in neighborhoods with an average poverty rate of 11.1 percent, compared to the overall regional average of 7.7 percent. There's also a racial disparity: In D.C., voucher-concentrated tracts are 84.7 percent black, while the city as a whole is about half black.

But not all affordable neighborhoods are full of voucher holders. As the chart below shows, the demographics of voucher-concentrated neighborhoods and neighborhoods with affordable housing markets but not many vouchers are very different.

voucher race

The city has made efforts to deconcentrate poverty, with programs like inclusionary zoning, which requires new residential buildings to set aside a portion of their units for low-income residents, and the struggling New Communities Initiative, which aims to convert aging public housing complexes into mixed-income communities. But with so many voucher holders living in high-poverty neighborhoods, it's clear that this attempt at diversification still has a long way to go.

Still, D.C. residents hoping to receive vouchers but wary of living in poor surroundings can take a perverse kind of solace: The city closed its 70,000-name waiting list for vouchers and public housing last year, so for now, no new voucher applicants are being accepted.

Images from the Center for Regional Analysis

  • dno

    You hit on the reason but the city-wide limit is something like $1,300 per month for a one bedroom. If you find a landlord in Kalorama willing to accept that when they can get $2,100 on the open market then you have found a sucka.

  • http://dcvacantproperties.blogspot.com Marie Inshaw

    I just glanced at the report but there was some mention of the vacancy rate in the affordable neighborhoods lacking a high concentration of housing voucher people. There is a little less vacancy in DC affordable, but not concentrated, neighborhoods. I wonder if the people in affordable housing in DC 'hoods with less poverty are less likely to move and give up their apartment as are their East of the River counterparts, thus making their units less available.
    The other thing was the type of housing available in the affordable (but not HV concentrated) areas in DC, studios and 1 bdrms are the majority.

  • Alan

    Not a great map. Obviously when you make the definition of where housing voucher users live 50% above the average its going to limit it to a few tracts. You should also show where the vouchers ration is around the average and where it is significantly below.

  • chris lee

    Elsewhere, for example, in Washington, DC and Philadelphia, all-black enclaves will be designated “Historic Neighborhoods,” off-limits to yuppie homesteaders or business-friendly empowerment zones. The upshot will be steady, permanent employment for black fire-fighters, police officers, and other functionaries. Residents of these “homelands” will also tolerate underclass criminality such as petty drug dealing–behavior impermissible elsewhere.

    The surrender to an obdurate reality will be clear in the silence surrounding “welfare reform.” It will have been almost four generations since Lyndon Johnson’s ill-fated War on Poverty and a half century since the Clinton-era put-them-to-work welfare overhauls, but there will be a permanently dependent black underclass. Habits are hard to reverse after nearly four generations of not seeing any adults get up in the morning and go to work. Section 8 housing, EBT cards, food stamps, school breakfast and lunch programs, among other government handouts, will be like Head Start: politically untouchable, even for skinflint Republicans. These programs gradually expand as the black underclass grows disproportionately, thanks to the low birth rate among well-educated black women.

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