The Federal Government’s New Plan to (Maybe) Give Renters Straight Cash


DETROIT — The federal government is laying the groundwork for a potentially major change to the nation’s largest rental assistance program, aiming to test an idea that would allow low-income tenants to pay rent directly with cash, rather than use traditional housing vouchers.

On Wednesday afternoon in Detroit, at a national guaranteed income conference, HUD Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy Development Brian McCabe announced that his agency is soon planning to solicit public comment on the prospect of testing whether distributing cash directly to tenants might work better for renters, landlords, governments and even taxpayers.....

.....Since then HUD has been meeting regularly with nonprofits, funders, and housing experts to figure out how to get this cash aid idea off the ground. The federal housing agency has been hosting monthly virtual meetings and in November convened an in-person event in Washington, DC.

James Riccio, with the national policy research group MDRC, has participated in those monthly calls led by HUD analyst Paul Joice, and he told Vox his nonprofit should know “within the next month” if they can move forward with officially designing a cash rental assistance study.....

.....“We’ve taken up the gauntlet that HUD has thrown down and are trying to build a demonstration that would inform HUD’s efforts,” he said. 

MDRC’s goal is to conduct a two-year randomized control trial across five geographically diverse cities, studying 1,000 families. Half of those would pay for their housing with traditional vouchers, and the other half would use cash.

“We really don’t know how it’s going to turn out, if landlords would be more inclined to rent to people,” Riccio said. “It seems there’s very good reason to think it could be true, but it’s something we could learn.....”

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