Moving to Opportunity (MTO)

for Fair Housing

Demonstration Program




History of MTO


The MTO Final Impacts Evaluation


Findings from Previous MTO Waves


MTO Data


Survey Instruments


MTO In The News



What is MTO?


Moving to Opportunity (MTO) is a major randomized housing mobility experiment sponsored by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Starting in 1994, MTO provided 4,600 low-income families with children living in public housing within some of the nation's most disadvantaged urban neighborhoods the chance to move to private-market housing in much less distressed communities.  Families were randomly assigned to one of three groups: a group offered a housing voucher that could only be used to move to a low-poverty neighborhood, a group offered a traditional Section 8 housing voucher, and a control group.


From 2008 to 2010, MTO families were interviewed for the 10-15 year evaluation of the program. The evaluation focuses on the long term effects of MTO on adults and children, how these effects evolved over time, and the mechanisms through which these effects occur. Analysis of the MTO data is ongoing. These data will also be archived with the Interuniversity Consortium on Political and Social Research (ICPSR) at the University of Michigan for researchers to access for secondary analyses.


Data from the 10-15 year follow up (summarized in a HUD technical report) showed that random assignment to the two MTO groups offered the chance to move with housing vouchers succeeded in helping families live in lower-poverty, safer neighborhoods, with some modest declines in neighborhood racial segregation as well.


Some of the key findings in the 10-15 year MTO data for adults are as follows:


·        MTO improved physical health: adults offered housing vouchers have a lower prevalence of severe obesity and diabetes compared to controls (as reported in a 2011 article in the New England Journal of Medicine). Adults offered housing vouchers also report fewer physical limitations, but self-reported health status and rates of hypertension and health-related risk behaviors are similar across groups.

·        MTO improved mental health in areas such as depression and psychological distress.

·        MTO had little to no effect on economic self-sufficiency.


Key findings to date for youth include:


·        MTO had little to no measured effect on physical health.

·        MTO improved mental health for females but not for males: Females in the low-poverty voucher group had lower prevalence of psychological distress, mood disorders, panic attacks, and oppositional defiant disorder and fewer serious emotional or behavioral difficulties.

·        MTO had differential impacts by gender for problem behavior but little impact on arrests.

·        MTO had no detectable effects on math and reading achievement.


These findings generally echo those derived from the earlier MTO interim study, which followed families up 4-7 years after random assignment. One important difference is that the interim data, unlike the long-term data showed large declines in violent-crime arrest for both male and female youth (as reported in a 2005 article in the Quarterly Journal of Economics). The interim data also found pronounced gender differences in how MTO moves affected youth, with female youth generally benefiting while such moves generally had adverse effects on other risky behaviors for male youth aside from serious violence (as reported in a 2007 article in Econometrica). These gender differences in MTO effects on youth outcomes were more muted in the 10-15 year data.


MTO was authorized by Congress in 1992 and made use of rental assistance vouchers, in combination with intensive housing search and counseling services, to assist low-income families to move from some of America's most distressed urban neighborhoods to lower-poverty communities. MTO families were recruited from high-poverty public housing projects in five participating cities (Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York) between 1994 and 1998. Because of the random assignment design, the MTO study generates comparable groups of adults and children living in different types of neighborhoods, so that a comparison of outcomes across research groups can uncover the potential effects of living in different types of neighborhoods.


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