Opportunity Insights Expands Mobility Study to Dallas, Fresno, and Pittsburgh
June 22, 2020
Opportunity Insights

New CMTOx sites will deepen the knowledge base on effective housing mobility strategies


Opportunity Insights (OI) is excited to announce the next cohort of its Creating Moves to Opportunity (CMTO) project. OI will partner directly with DHA – Housing Solutions for North Texas (Dallas, TX), Fresno Housing (Fresno, CA), The Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County Department of Human Services, and Allegheny County Housing Authority (Pittsburgh-Allegheny County, PA) to expand access to high-opportunity neighborhoods for families using Housing Choice Vouchers (HCVs).  

This work builds on promising evidence from the CMTO pilot in Seattle-King County (WA) which showed the effects of customized support services and financial assistance on families’ moves to high-opportunity areas.  Expanding the CMTO evaluation to Dallas, Fresno, and Pittsburgh  – called CMTOx sites –  will provide critical evidence as to whether similar effects on moves are observed in other community contexts.  This broader evidence is critical to inform broad-scale policy solutions and resourcing. The CMTOx sites represent a wide range of geographies and local demographics, which will support learning about how strategies work in different communities and inform the scaling of CMTO service approaches at a national level.

“Through the CMTO pilot, we found that a small intervention can dramatically change a family’s trajectory — and in particular, children’s futures,” says economist Raj Chetty, Director of Opportunity Insights. “But evidence from one location is not enough.  We are excited to work with partners in Dallas, Fresno, and Pittsburgh to identify solutions that can ultimately be scaled for families nationwide.”

The CMTO project is a key approach in Opportunity Insights’ broader mission to support economic mobility for all Americans.  Despite research showing that every year spent in a higher opportunity neighborhood during childhood can increase both lifetime earnings and the likelihood of college attendance, at present most of the 2.2 million families receiving HCVs live in relatively high-poverty, low-opportunity neighborhoods.  Along with this focus on expanding residential choices available to low-income households, Opportunity Insights is researching complementary drivers of economic opportunity including place-based neighborhood strategies and approaches to improve schools and educational opportunities. 

The CMTOx expansion sites in Dallas, Fresno, and Pittsburgh will use the CMTO pilot intervention as a starting point for their work to evaluate whether these services increase opportunity moves among families who are receiving Housing Choice Vouchers for the first time.  Additionally, the CMTOx sites will explore learning questions that are important to local partner contexts including how effects vary for families of different racial and ethnic backgrounds, understanding landlord engagement and motivations across varied housing markets, and how families make decisions related to their move choices.  

“In North Texas, our research shows that low-income families tend to disproportionately reside in concentrated areas of poverty, despite their desire to access opportunity-rich neighborhoods. We have seen how housing mobility services can foster neighborhood choice, and help decrease generational poverty. We want to be part of the solution,” said Troy Broussard, President and Chief Executive Officer of DHA in Dallas. “We look forward to partnering with Opportunity Insights as DHA embarks on an intentional path to reimagine the operational framework of Public Housing Authorities that produces better services for the families we serve and at the same time maximizes the federal government’s limited resources. It is our earnest hope that the program design as a result of our collaboration will advance housing policy at both the national and local levels.” 

As with the CMTO pilot approach, the CMTOx sites will use a randomized study design to advance rigorous causal evidence on housing mobility strategies.  Opportunity Insights’ approach in this work hinges on deep partnership with the public housing authorities and other CMTOx site partners throughout the entirety of the project — from formative design through final outcomes analyses.  Such collaboration ensures that all study elements can be effectively layered into existing HCV operations and that the CMTOx work produces evidence that not only informs key scientific questions but also has direct implications for partners’ policy and practice.    

“We’re eager to collaborate with Opportunity Insights to develop an equitable approach to housing opportunity, recognizing that income disparities can best be diminished when families are given the opportunity to make choices for themselves, says Preston Prince, Fresno Housing CEO.Fresno Housing aspires to play a key role throughout Fresno County to reduce housing cost burden, and create generational change and wealth-building opportunities for historically underserved families in the place that matters most to them.”

With an eye toward intervention fidelity and getting implementation elements right, the CMTOx sites plan to spend the remainder of 2020 on planning and design including finalization of service approaches as well as final opportunity mapping.  Intervention launch is expected to begin in early 2021 with short-term outcomes ready for release the following year.  

Health and economic disparities highlighted and exacerbated by COVID-19 create a new sense of urgency for understanding effective strategies such as CMTO for addressing poverty and economic opportunity. As Marc Cherna, Director of Allegheny County Department of Human Services puts it, “With disparities both highlighted and exacerbated by COVID-19, understanding how place connects with opportunity has never been more important, and so connecting residents to areas of opportunity as one long-game solution has also never been more important.”

It is anticipated that the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will publish a competitive funding notice soon for the Housing Choice Voucher Mobility Demonstration to further increase the evidence around housing mobility supports. Opportunity Insights looks forward to reviewing the notice to explore ways CMTOx efforts can be complementary to the demonstration, and how recent evidence from the CMTO Phase I pilot may inform the demonstration.  

Beyond the CMTO pilot and CMTOx, Opportunity Insights is collaborating with MDRC, an evaluation partner on the CMTO pilot, on an MDRC-led mobility demonstration in St. Louis, MO and Milwaukee, WI.

For more information on the CMTO pilot and CMTOx, please visit: https://opportunityinsights.org/policy/cmto/