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Report: Housing vouchers fall short as anti-poverty tool

July 09, 2015

Housing vouchers have only marginally helped low-income New Orleans families move to neighborhoods with greater educational and job opportunities and less poverty, according to a new report written by primary author Tulane Law Professor Stacy Seicshnaydre.

Though residents’ use of vouchers to find replacements for demolished public housing complexes and destroyed rental units more than tripled in Orleans Parish and the region from 2000 to 2010, the program “has fallen short of its potential” as a tool for helping residents after the damage following Hurricane Katrina, the report says.


Tulane Law Professor Seicshnaydre was primary author of a new report on housing vouchers for The Data Center’s “New Orleans Index at Ten.”

The analysis, by Seicshnaydre, a nationally recognized fair-housing authority, and Ryan C. Albright, an urban studies doctoral fellow at Tulane University, is part of The Data Center’s “New Orleans Index at Ten,” which provides a research perspective on progress in the decade since Katrina.

The report found encouraging trends and noted that federal data show “a sharp drop in the percentage of black voucher households living in neighborhoods of high poverty.” Still, the report concluded that both before and after Katrina, New Orleans residents have less access to low-poverty neighborhoods than their counterparts elsewhere in the country, for reasons that include a shortage of rental units, historically high poverty rates in much of the city, landlords’ reluctance to accept vouchers and evidence of racial bias against voucher users, who most often are black.

“The clustering of 25 percent of Orleans Parish housing vouchers in 5 percent of the parish’s census tracts demonstrates the tendency of vouchers to follow the path of least resistance and mirror the racial and economic segregation in other affordable housing programs,” Seicshnaydre said.

Under the federal program, which is administered by local public housing agencies, recipients must pay at least 30 percent of their monthly income toward rent and utilities, and the government subsidizes the rest of the cost.

Vouchers are meant to provide greater housing choice, which can help residents move their children away from the health hazards of living in poverty, expand long-term opportunities for socioeconomic mobility and break up persistent concentrations of extreme poverty in the community.

The report recommends several changes to improve the voucher program, including: Giving low-income families more data and counseling with which to make better-informed housing choices; administering the program regionally, rather than locally, so applicants can access more neighborhoods without having to apply to multiple agencies; and increasing the use of tax credits in higher-income neighborhoods of opportunity to provide more access to vouchers there. 

“The housing voucher program must be used to its fullest potential — assisting the next generation of New Orleans children to overcome the life-altering effects of poverty,” the report concludes.


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