Social welfare to of the housing choice policy.

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I need to analyze a federal social welfare policy approach that was implemented to address the issue of the housing choice policy. 

Instructions
Write a five-page paper covering a federal social welfare problem policy
approach on Housing Choice Voucher In addition to our course readings, you
will need to review the literature on the social issues or problems you select in
order to respond to some of the requirements below. Include the following in your
submission:

Introduction
Provide an introduction that identifies and succinctly summarizes the policy.

Body of Paper
● Analyze a current federal policy’s effectiveness with respect to the chosen

issue or problem.
● Synthesize historic and current public opinion in response to the federal

policy.
● Describe what is working and for whom with the current policy.
● Analyze the current policy’s impact on family structure and family life.
● Discuss the flaws in the existing policy, including some reasons why it does

or does not work.

Conclusion
Provide a succinct conclusion that highlights the key points of your discussion.

Additional Requirements
● References: Include a minimum of seven peer-reviewed journal articles.

Only one can be older than five years. (Please see attached the list of
peer-reviewed journal articles to be used)

● Length of paper: Approximately five pages, not including cover and
references.

● Communication: Communicate in a manner that is scholarly, professional,
and respectful of the diversity, dignity, and integrity of others, consistent
with expectations for members of the human services profession. Written
communication should be free of errors that detract from the overall
message.

● APA style and format: Use appropriate APA style and formatting for
citations and references.

The Effect of the Earned Income Tax Credit
on Housing and Living Arrangements

Natasha Pilkauskas1 & Katherine Michelmore2

Published online: 17 June 2019
# Population Association of America 2019

Abstract
As rents have risen and wages have not kept pace, housing affordability in the United
States has declined over the last 15 years, impacting the housing and living arrange-
ments of low-income families. Housing subsidies improve the housing situations of
low-income families, but less than one in four eligible families receive a voucher. In
this article, we analyze whether one of the largest anti-poverty programs in the United
States—the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)—affects the housing (eviction, home-
lessness, and affordability) and living arrangements (doubling up, number of people in
the household, and crowding) of low-income families. Using the Current Population
Survey, the American Community Survey/decennial census, and the Fragile Families
and Child Wellbeing Study, we employ a parameterized difference-in-differences
strategy to examine whether policy-induced expansions to the EITC affect the housing
and living arrangements of single mothers. Results suggest that a $1,000 increase in the
EITC improves housing by reducing housing cost burdens, but it has no effect on
eviction or homelessness. Increases in the EITC also reduce doubling up (living with
additional, nonnuclear family adults)—in particular, doubling up in someone else’s
home—and reduce three-generation/multigenerational coresidence, suggesting that
mothers have a preference to live independently. We find weak evidence for a reduction
in overall household size, yet the EITC does reduce household crowding. Although the
EITC is not an explicit housing policy, expansions to the EITC are generally linked
with improved housing outcomes for single mothers and their children.

Demography (2019) 56:1303–1326
https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-019-00791-5

Electronic supplementary material The online version of this article (https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-019-
00791-5) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.

* Natasha Pilkauskas
[email protected]

Katherine Michelmore
[email protected]

1 Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan, 735 S. State Street, Ann Arbor,
MI 48109, USA

2 Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, 426 Eggers Hall,
Syracuse, NY 13244, USA

Keywords EITC . Housing . Living arrangements . Doubling up . Household instability

Introduction

Stable housing is crucial to the physical, emotional, and economic well-being of individ-
uals and families (e.g., Bratt 2002; Leventhal and Newman 2010). Housing affordability
in the United States has declined over the last few decades, impacting the housing and
living arrangements of low-income families (Desmond 2016; Joint Center for Housing
Studies (JCHS) 2017). Housing subsidies for low-income renters, such as housing choice
vouchers, are effective at improving housing outcomes (e.g., Ellen 2017), but only 24 %
of the 19 million eligible households receive assistance, and wait lists for housing
assistance are frequently two to three years long (Leopold et al. 2015). Understanding
how other poverty-related public policies, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC),
might affect the housing and living arrangements of low-income families with children is
of vital importance. By understanding whether the EITC affects housing outcomes, such
as homelessness, affordability, and living arrangements, we can consider whether expan-
sions to the EITC might improve the housing of low-income families.

The EITC may affect the housing of low-income families in a number of ways. First,
as one of the largest cash transfer programs in the United States, it provides low-income
families with cash that can be used on housing: an average of more than $3,000 for
families with children (Center for Budget and Policy Priorities 2018). Second, the EITC
has been shown to increase employment and long-term earnings (e.g., Dahl et al. 2009),
which in turn may increase income, thus affecting housing and living arrangements.
Last, the EITC is distributed as a lump sum payment, which may provide households
with cash needed for a security deposit or the ability to prepay a few months of rent.
Despite the EITC’s potential to positively impact housing and living arrangements, no
quantitative research to date has examined this link.

Exploiting federal, state, and family size variation in the generosity of the EITC over
the last three decades, we examine the effect of the EITC on housing outcomes and the
living arrangements of single mothers. We use data from three sources—the Current
Population Survey, the American Community Survey/decennial census, and the Fragile
Families and Child Wellbeing Study—to examine a variety of housing outcomes,
employ different methodological approaches, and address data limitations in each data
set. Using a parameterized difference-in-differences approach—similar to a traditional
difference-in-differences analysis but allowing us to exploit variation in the many EITC
policy changes over time—we study a number of housing and living arrangement
outcomes that have been linked in prior research with the health and well-being of
families. Specifically, we study whether expansions to the EITC affect homelessness
and eviction; cost burden (share of earnings paid on rent/mortgage); and living
arrangements, including doubling-up (living with additional nonnuclear family adults),
multigenerational households (coresident grandparent, parent, and child), household
size, being named on the lease or mortgage, and household crowding. We focus our
analysis on single mothers, the primary recipients of the EITC (Tax Policy Center
2006), who are most likely to experience poor housing outcomes (JCHS 2017) and
whose children may be particularly vulnerable to any detrimental impacts of housing
instability (e.g., Ziol-Guest and McKenna 2014). Overall, this study broadens our

1304 N. Pilkauskas, K. Michelmore

understanding of how the EITC affects the housing and living arrangements of low-
income families, informing future policy proposals to further expand the credit.

Background

The Earned Income Tax Credit

The EITC began in 1975 as a temporary credit (made permanent in 1978) for low-
income parents, intended to offset payroll tax contributions. The credit is fully refund-
able, which means that households with no tax liability can still receive the credit in the
form of an income tax refund. The benefit schedule has a trapezoidal structure, with
benefits phasing in up to a threshold, remaining constant over some values of income
(plateau), and then phasing out for earnings beyond a second threshold. Over the last
few decades, there have been several expansions to the federal credit, including
increases to the phase-in rate and expanded benefits for families with two or more
children. In 2009, a benefit for three or more children was introduced. Between 1975
and 2016, the maximum federal EITC grew from $1,700 to $6,300 (2016 dollars).

In addition to the federal EITC, 26 states and the District of Columbia had their own
EITCs as of 2016 (see Table A1, online appendix, for more detail). States with EITCs
can be found in all regions of the country and across the political spectrum. Several
large-population states have EITCs (e.g., New York, California, and Illinois), whereas
other large-population states do not (e.g., Texas, Florida, and Pennsylvania). Most state
EITCs are structured as fixed percentages of the federal benefit, supplementing the
credit for residents filing taxes in those states. Benefit generosity currently ranges from
3.5 % up to 43 % of the federal credit, and most state credits are refundable. States vary
in when they implemented EITCs, with the earliest states implementing EITCs in the
mid-1980s and the most recent states implementing policies in 2017. Several states
changed the generosity of their benefits over time, most becoming more generous;
however, some have also decreased generosity.

The year that a state enacted an EITC and the generosity of state EITC benefits are
sources of between-state variation. Within-state variation in EITC benefits arises as states
implement, expand, and reduce their programs over time. Additionally, any federal changes
to the EITC also impact states that have their own EITCs, creating an additional source of
between and within state variation over time. We use this federal and state variation over
time to examine whether the EITC is linked to housing and living arrangements.

Why Might the EITC Affect Housing Outcomes and Living Arrangements?

We expect the EITC to affect housing and living arrangements because it increases
disposable income, increases labor supply and earnings, and provides families with a
lump sum payment that might be used for housing. This increased income leads to three
specific hypotheses related to how the EITC might influence housing and living
arrangements:

Hypothesis 1: The EITC will likely reduce homelessness and eviction/
foreclosures.

The Effect of the EITC on Housing and Living Arrangements 1305

Research has found that income transfers reduce homelessness/eviction (e.g., Evans et
al. 2016); thus, we expect an increase in the EITC to have a similar effect. However, it
is also possible that the EITC will not affect homelessness or eviction given that
individuals can receive the EITC only if they are employed, and research has shown
the EITC does little to assist those at the very bottom of the income distribution (below
50 % of the poverty line; Hoynes and Patel 2018). If mothers who are homeless or
evicted are unemployed or have very low incomes, then expansions to the EITC may
do little to reduce these severe forms of housing instability.

Hypothesis 2: The EITC should reduce the share of mothers who are cost-
burdened.

The increased income from the EITC should reduce the share of mothers who report
paying more than 30 % (or 50 %) of their earnings on rent/mortgage. However, if
receipt of the EITC leads mothers to move into more expensive housing (say, in a better
neighborhood) or move others out of their homes, then their cost burden may be
unchanged or even worsen.

Hypothesis 3: Increased income from the EITC is likely to lead mothers to reduce
shared living arrangements, decreasing household size and crowding.

Increased income from Social Security expansions reduced shared living arrange-
ments (Carlson et al. 2012; Engelhardt et al. 2005), and mothers have reported that
living in someone else’s home is challenging because it conflicts with their ideals
and identities (Harvey 2017). Thus, on average, we expect that the EITC will
reduce shared living arrangements, especially doubling up in someone else’s
home, which in turn will reduce household size and crowding. However, it is also
possible that the increased income from the EITC will increase doubling up
among single mothers if they end up supporting other economically disadvantaged
friends and family (low-income mothers are typically embedded in homophilous
networks; Smith et al. 2014).

Prior Research

Although no quantitative research has examined if the EITC is linked to housing and
living arrangements, a number of studies have explored links between these outcomes
and income-related policies.1 Qualitative research has suggested that low-income
families rely heavily on the EITC as a means of improving housing outcomes, such
as paying for security deposits or rent (Halpern-Meekin et al. 2015). A related
experimental study found that individuals who were at risk of losing their homes and
received cash assistance were 76 % less likely to enter a shelter compared with those
who applied for aid after the funds were depleted (Evans et al. 2016). Studies of the
effect of the EITC on living arrangements have examined its impact on marriage,
finding small negative effects (Dickert-Conlin and Houser 2002; Herbst 2011;

1 One study modeled how the inclusion of the EITC in income reduces housing cost burdens (Stegman, Davis,
and Quercia 2004).

1306 N. Pilkauskas, K. Michelmore

Michelmore 2018), but they have not analyzed other living arrangements. Related
research on the effects of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) has found
mixed results on living arrangements (Bitler et al. 2006). In contrast, research on Social
Security expansions has generally found that increases in income result in more elderly
living independently (e.g., Engelhardt et al. 2005).

An extensive literature has examined the effect of housing support policies (public
housing and housing choice vouchers) on housing stability and other outcomes.
Although functionally different from the EITC (in-kind, different eligibility require-
ments), both public housing and housing vouchers reduce housing costs, thus increas-
ing household income to spend on other items (e.g., Jacob and Ludwig 2012; Mills
et al. 2006). In general, vouchers have been linked with reduced homelessness (Gubits
et al. 2016) and crowding (Carlson et al. 2012), with mixed evidence on housing
quality and neighborhoods (for a review, see Ellen 2017). One study found that voucher
receipt was linked with fewer adults living in the household (Carlson et al. 2012).
Related evidence from a randomized housing-mobility program (Moving to Opportu-
nity) found that moving to higher-income neighborhoods improved mental and phys-
ical health and subjective well-being (e.g., Clampet-Lundquist and Massey 2008; Katz
et al. 2001; Kling, Liebman, and Katz 2007) and mixed evidence for child well-being
(e.g., Chetty et al. 2016; Ludwig et al. 2013). Last, research has found that living in a
housing project is associated with less crowding and improved school outcomes (Currie
and Yelowitz 2000) but also no effects on children (Jacob 2004). In sum, the literature
generally suggests that subsidized housing is linked with improved housing and
individual outcomes, with some exceptions.

Although no research has examined the effect of the EITC on housing outcomes,
many studies have investigated its effect on related outcomes. Research has shown that
the EITC increases the labor supply of single mothers (e.g., Meyer and Rosenbaum
2001), increases earnings (Dahl et al. 2009), lifts families out of poverty (Hoynes and
Patel 2018), increases household savings (Jones and Michelmore 2018), reduces child
neglect (Berger et al. 2017), and improves children’s education outcomes (Bastian and
Michelmore 2018; Dahl and Lochner 2012). Together, this literature suggests that the
EITC reduces economic uncertainty and reduces poverty, which in turn may affect
housing and household well-being.

Method

Data

Data for our analyses come from three primary sources: the Current Population Survey
(CPS) March Supplement, the American Community Survey (ACS)/decennial census, and
the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FFCWS). We discuss each source in turn.

Current Population Survey

The CPS is a nationally representative household survey conducted annually in March,
gathering household income and employment information based on the prior calendar year.
Each year the survey collects data from approximately 60,000 households. We use the

The Effect of the EITC on Housing and Living Arrangements 1307

1990–2016 surveys, reflecting the tax years 1989 to 2015. This period captures the effect of
the numerous federal expansions to the EITC in the early 1990s and the introduction of
many of the state EITCs, which largely occurred after welfare reform in 1996.

We limit our sample to single mothers who are identified as the respondent and who
have at least one child under the age of 19 residing in the household (n = 137,595).
Although pointers help us link parents and children, we must restrict our sample to
respondents to accurately ascertain other relationships in the household: for example,
we cannot reliably identify multigenerational households where the mother or grand-
parent is not the respondent. In Table A2 in the online appendix, we show results for
nonrespondents for housing outcomes. We focus on single mothers because they
represent the majority of EITC recipients and federal dollars spent (Tax Policy
Center 2006). Following prior research (e.g., Hoynes and Patel 2018), we further limit
the sample to women aged 19–45 who have less than a college degree (n = 99,409).
College-educated single mothers have far lower rates of EITC eligibility than women
with less education, so they are less affected by the EITC. We also exclude women
living in public housing given that public housing often places restrictions on who may
coreside.2 Our final analytic sample includes 85,089 single mothers.

Respondents in the CPS are required to be the owner or the renter who is named on
the lease or mortgage. As a result, when we restrict our sample to respondents to obtain
accurate living arrangements, we create a sample that is somewhat more advantaged
relative to those who are nonrespondents (e.g., respondents are more like to be
employed than nonrespondents). To address this issue, and to examine whether the
findings are robust to other data sources and methods, we supplement our CPS analysis
with two additional data sets.3

ACS/Decennial Census

We also incorporate data from the 2000–2016 ACS and the 1990 decennial census
(Ruggles et al. 2018).4 Although the ACS uses a household roster that also requires that
we restrict to the respondent to get accurate household relationships, unlike the CPS,
there is no preference for the renter/owner of note; any adult who will live (or has lived)
in the household for two months or more can fill out the ACS. Thus, respondents are
more likely to include both householders and subfamilies. Further, the ACS allows us
to investigate how the EITC affects household crowding and cost burden, measures not
available in the CPS. The ACS, however, did not exist in the 1990s, so we are unable to
fully evaluate the effects of the mid-1990s federal EITC expansions using the ACS.
Additional information on the ACS/census and differences between the CPS and ACS
are available in the online appendix. After we make the same sample restrictions as for
the CPS (except excluding public housing recipients because this information is not
available), our ACS/census analytic sample includes 757,877 single mothers.

2 We include women who receive housing vouchers because they do not face the same restrictions as women
in public housing. We find no evidence that the EITC affects the likelihood of living in public housing or
having a housing voucher (results available upon request).
3 We also run analyses in the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP; see Table A7 in the online
appendix) but do not include them here due to data limitations.
4 In a supplemental analysis, we restricted the CPS to the same years used in the ACS, and findings (available
upon request) were similar to those presented here.

1308 N. Pilkauskas, K. Michelmore

FFCWS

Because there may be concerns that the EITC changes the population of single
mothers over time, we further supplement our analyses with panel data from the
FFCWS, a longitudinal birth cohort study covering tax years 1998–2016.5

Mothers were interviewed at the birth of the child and at ages 1, 3, 5, 9, and
15 years old. The FFCWS oversampled nonmarital births, making it ideal for
studying single mothers but also rendering it a more disadvantaged sample than
the ACS or CPS. Because the FFCWS follows the same individuals over time,
we conduct an individual fixed-effects analysis. This allows us to observe
within-person changes in outcomes of interest as a function of EITC generosity,
which also varies within person over time because of federal and state policy
changes. After sample restrictions, the analytic sample includes 9,930 person-
observations.

Although each data set has advantages and disadvantages, together they help us gain
a better understanding of the impact of the EITC on housing and living arrangements of
single mothers. Table 1 presents descriptive statistics on the three samples. Despite
some sampling and methodological differences between the CPS and ACS, demo-
graphic characteristics of the women in the two samples are quite similar. Mothers in
the FFCWS, however, are younger, less educated, and comprise more racial minorities
compared with mothers in the ACS and CPS. These differences are expected given the
differences in sampling frameworks.

Measures

Homelessness and Eviction

We examine homelessness and eviction because studies have found that both are
associated with a wide range of negative outcomes, including worse health (e.g.,
Burgard et al. 2012), job loss (Desmond and Gershenson 2016), and behavior
problems in children (Labella et al. 2019). In the CPS, mothers who reported
moving because of eviction or foreclosure in the last year are considered to have
experienced foreclosure/eviction. In the FFCWS, we create binary indicators for
eviction and homelessness if mothers report experiencing either in the last year.

Cost Burden

High housing costs are linked with housing instability (JCHS 2017). High cost burdens
can affect neighborhood choice and other household expenditures that might be
detrimental to children (Bratt 2002; JCHS 2017). Thus, we examine mother’s cost
burden, or her housing affordability, using data from the ACS. We construct a measure
of moderate cost burden (paying 30 % or more of pretax earnings on rent/mortgage)

5 Additional details on the data and method, 15 sample states, sample restrictions, balance, and migration tests
are available in the online appendix. The FFCWS has been used in previous research to examine the effect of
EITC expansions on maltreatment (Berger et al. 2017).

The Effect of the EITC on Housing and Living Arrangements 1309

and a measure of severe cost burden (paying 50 % or more of pretax earnings on
rent/mortgage).

Living Arrangements

We examine living arrangements, or changes in household composition
(sometimes referred to as household instability; Desmond and Perkins 2016),
because the composition of the household can affect family well-being. First we
study doubling up, an indicator that the mother is living with a grandparent,
parent/in-law, sibling, aunt/uncle, nonrelated adult, or niece/nephew over the age
of 18. Following previous research (Mykyta and Macartney 2012; Pilkauskas et al.
2014), we do not consider a mother to be doubled up if she lives with any child
under the age of 18 or a cohabiting partner (married mothers are excluded from
our study). Although cohabitation may be a form of doubling up, the underlying
motivation for living with a partner is likely quite different than living with other

Table 1 Sample descriptive statistics: CPS, ACS, and FFCWS

CPS ACS FFCWS

Maternal Characteristics

Age 33.62 33.78 29.65

(6.82) (6.83) (7.34)

Number of children 1.78 1.79 2.02

(0.78) (0.78) (0.82)

Race/Ethnicity

Non-Hispanic white 0.51 0.51 0.14

Non-Hispanic black 0.23 0.27 0.57

Hispanic 0.20 0.19 0.26

Other race/ethnicity 0.05 0.03 0.03

Education

Less than high school 0.20 0.16 0.44

High school diploma 0.40 0.48 0.30

Some college 0.41 0.36 0.26

Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)

Average simulated EITC (in $1,000s, 2011 dollars) 1.54 1.62 1.87

(0.59) (0.60) (0.51)

Eligible for the EITC 0.58 0.65 0.69

EITC credit (in $1,000s, 2011 dollars) 1.44 1.44 1.67

(1.67) (1.66) (1.75)

Number of Observations 85,089 757,977 9,946

Notes: Standard deviations are shown in parentheses. The sample is restricted to single mothers with less than
a college degree and with at least one coresident child under the age of 19. The CPS and ACS are also
restricted to mothers aged 19–45.

Sources: Current Population Survey (CPS) 1990–2016. Census 1990/American Community Survey (ACS)
2000–2016. Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FFCWS) 1998–2016.

1310 N. Pilkauskas, K. Michelmore

relatives and nonrelatives.6 We study doubling up because it is a common pre-
cursor to homelessness, it is often precipitated by a crisis that affects housing (e.g.,
Wright et al. 1998), and about 65 % of the children identified as homeless by
school districts are living in doubled-up households (National Center for
Homeless Education 2011). However, doubling up may also represent a form of
social support or preference (e.g., Edin and Lein 1997; Stack 1975): families that
can move in with others may avoid more extreme forms of housing instability,
such as homelessness, and may save significant amounts of money on rent
(Pilkauskas et al. 2014). Doubling up is assessed in all three data sets.

Second, because doubling up in someone else’s home is a less-stable living
arrangement than living in one’s own home (Skobba and Goetz 2015), for the
FFCWS, we use data on leases and mortgages from the Years 3–15 surveys to
construct two measures: (1) an indicator of doubling up in someone else’s home,
and (2) a variable that identifies whether the mother is named on the lease or
mortgage.

Third, in all three data sets, we study a particular type of doubled-up house-
hold: a multigenerational household, sometimes referred to as a three-generation
household. Multigenerational households are defined as those that include a
single mother, her child(ren), and at least one of the child’s grandparents.7 We
examine these households separately because their prevalence has increased in
recent decades (Pilkauskas and Cross 2018), they are particularly common
among low-income and single-mother households (Pilkauskas 2012), and multi-
generational coresidence is linked with child well-being (e.g., DeLeire and Kalil
2002).

Fourth, we examine the total number of people in the household in the three
data sets. In the FFCWS, we also conduct additional analyses separately examin-
ing the number of adults in the household and the number of children in the
household. This is closely related to our final living arrangement measure, house-
hold crowding; crowding is associated with poorer outcomes for children (see,
e.g., Evans et al. 1998), including lower graduation rates (Lopoo and London
2016). Using data from the ACS, we define household crowding as more than one
person per room (excluding bathrooms).

Earned Income Tax Credit

Our main independent variable of interest is a simulated measure of average EITC
generosity at the state–year–family size level. This simulated measure captures policy
variation in the EITC at the federal and state level over time while eliminating variation
in the EITC due to endogenous family processes, such as job loss, geographic moves,
or fertility.

To construct the simulated EITC, we use a nationally representative sample of
single mothers from the 1996 Survey of Income and Program Participation

6 Over the period studied, the CPS changed how it identified cohabiting partners. See the online appendix for
details.

7 In the ACS and the CPS, we can identify only maternal grandparents. In the FFCWS, we can identify both
maternal and paternal multigenerational households.

The Effect of the EITC on Housing and Living Arrangements 1311

(SIPP).8 Using a nationally representative sample of single mothers that is inde-
pendent of the sample used in our analysis reduces concerns that our sample is not
representative of the population of single mothers. We inflate (deflate) the sample
mothers’ earnings using the Consumer Price Index (CPI) in each year between
1989 and 2015. Inflating (deflating) earnings by the CPI rather than observing
changes in the income distribution over time reduces concerns that changes to the
EITC may affect changes in the national income distribution of single mothers.
Using National Bureau of Economic Research’s TAXSIM program (Feenberg and
Coutts 1993; www.nber.org/taxsim), we calculate federal taxes for each year
between 1989 and 2015. We then determine average state EITC benefits by
running the national sample of single mothers through each state’s EITC laws in
each year between 1989 and 2015. Calculating state EITCs using the national
sample of single mothers (rather than mothers who live in that state) reduces
concerns of endogeneity of state demographic characteristics with respect to state
EITC benefits.

We then collapse the sample to the state–year–family size level, which produces a
data set containing a measure of the average federal and state EITC a single mother can
expect to receive given her state, year, and number of children (one, two, or three or
more children). We then match this information to our sample of single mothers in each
data source. Variation in this measure across individuals will reflect differences in
policy generosity only across states, time, and family size, and not potentially endog-
enous changes to family income, family size, or geographic location.9

Figure 1 presents a visual depiction of the variation in the simulated EITC over time
for all states by number of children that we exploit in our analyses. Panel a shows the
EITC for one-child households. The difference in average EITC benefits in states that
do not have their own EITCs compared with the most generous state is approximately
$500, and the average household EITC (federal and state) benefit for a one-child
household is about $1,100 (all dollars in 2011 real terms). Two-child households
typically receive larger EITC benefits, as shown in panel b; the average two-child
EITC increased from $625 in 1990 to more than $2,200 in 2015. The difference
between the least generous and most generous state was also larger for two-child
households, by roughly $1,000. Finally, as shown in panel c, the variation in simulated
EITC benefits for households with three or more children was the same as that of two
children until 2009, when the EITC was expanded for households with at least three
children. This expansion produced an increase in average household EITC benefits of
about $500 for families with three or more children.

Demographic and Contextual Variables

We include a number of demographic and state-year contextual measures in our
analyses: respondent’s education (less than high school, high school, or some
college); age; and race/ethnicity (non-Hispanic black, non-Hispanic white,

8 We conducted the same analyses using a sample of single mothers in the CPS, and results (available upon
request) were virtually identical.
9 In the CPS, a $1,000 increase in the simulated benefit corresponds to a $794 increase in own EITC benefits
among single mothers, which is consistent with previous research estimating about an 80 % take-up rate of the
EITC (Currie 2004).

1312 N. Pilkauskas, K. Michelmore

Hispanic, and other non-Hispanic race/ethnicity). We also include fixed effects for
state, survey year, and number of children.10 Finally, we also include a number of
state-year contextual factors that might be correlated with both housing stability
and EITC generosity: specifically, the state unemployment rate, state gross do-
mestic product (GDP), and the maximum monthly welfare benefit available for a
three-person family.11 These controls are included to address concerns that imple-
mentation and expansion of state EITCs may be correlated with the economic
conditions in the state, which may in turn affect housing outcomes. To further
address concerns that state EITC implementation and expansions may not be
independent of other state factors, we also include state-specific linear time trends.

Empirical Strategy

To investigate the relationship between EITC generosity and housing, we use a
parameterized difference-in-differences approach, which is commonly used when
evaluating multiple policy changes over a period (e.g., Currie and Gruber 1996;
Hoynes and Patel 2018). A parameterized difference-in-differences approach is akin
to that of a traditional difference-in-differences analysis, with similar assumptions, but
allows for both multiple policy changes over time as well as differences in the
magnitudes of each policy change. This method is useful in this context because the
federal EITC was expanded at several points over our study period and affected
households of different sizes differently. Additionally, several states implemented their
own EITCs over this period, which also leads to larger average credits among individ-
uals residing in those states. This approach allows us to exploit the full richness of the
EITC policy landscape over the past 20 years rather than focusing on any individual
policy expansion to produce easily interpretable intent-to-treat estimates of what
happens to housing and living arrangements when the average EITC benefit becomes
more generous.

Because households would not receive their EITC benefits in the current tax year
until the following year (e.g., households would receive EITC benefits based on 2011
tax policy in 2012), we lag EITC generosity by one year. (Results using a two-year lag
were similar, although smaller.) We then estimate the following reduced-form model:

Yistc ¼ β0 þ β1EITCstc þ β2Xistc þ β3αst þ δs þ γt þ θc þ εistc; ð1Þ

where Yistc represents the housing and living arrangement outcomes of interest for
individual i living in state s in year t with number of children in the household c.
EITCstc is the average federal and state EITC for a single mother living in state s in year
t with number of children c and reflects federal and state policy changes to the EITC
between 1989 and 2015. Demographic characteristics, measured at the individual level,
are represented by Xistc. State-year level controls, including state-specific linear time

10 In the FFCWS, we include individual fixed effects rather than state or child fixed effects.
11 The state unemployment rate comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Local Area Unemployment
Statistics: https://www.bls.gov/lau/. State GDP comes from the Bureau of Economic Analysis Regional
Data: https://www.bea.gov/regional/index.htm. Information on welfare benefits comes from the Urban
Institute’s Welfare Rules Database: http://wrd.urban.org/wrd/Query/query.cfm.

The Effect of the EITC on Housing and Living Arrangements 1313

a) One child

b) Two children

c) Three or more children

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1314 N. Pilkauskas, K. Michelmore

trends, are represented by αst. Additionally, we include fixed effects for state, year, and
number of children: δs, γt, and θc, respectively. All the results we discuss are robust to a
Bonferroni correction for multiple hypotheses testing unless otherwise noted.12

With these controls in the model, we interpret β1 as the effect of a $1,000 increase in
EITC generosity at the state–year–family size level on our measures of housing
instability and living arrangements. Standard errors are clustered at the state level.
Results from these analyses provide plausibly causal estimates of how increasing EITC
generosity affects the housing and living arrangements of single mothers. For the
FFCWS, we follow a similar strategy but include individual-level fixed effects (ex-
plained further in the online appendix).

Results

Descriptive Statistics

We begin by presenting descriptive statistics on the housing and living arrangements of
single mothers in our three data sets in Table 2. In all three data sources, about two-
thirds of single mothers work, with average pretax earnings of approximately $20,000
(in 2011 dollars). Single mothers in the FFCWS work and earn slightly less than the
mothers in the CPS and ACS, likely because of differences in sample composition.
Eviction and foreclosure are rare (2 % in the CPS and 3 % in FFCWS), and 2 % of
mothers reported being homeless in the last year. Despite low levels of homelessness/
eviction, many mothers reported significant cost burdens: 70 % of single mothers spend
at least 30 % of their pretax earnings on housing costs, and one-half spend at least 50 %
of their earnings on housing costs.

Doubling up is quite common among single mothers: 15 % of mothers in the CPS
and 12 % in the ACS live in doubled-up households. Doubling up is twice as common
among mothers in the FFCWS (30 %), likely driven by sample composition differ-
ences. Only about one-third of mothers who live in doubled-up households are living in
multigenerational households in the CPS and the ACS, whereas multigenerational
households account for two-thirds of all doubled-up situations among single mothers
in the FFCWS. In the FFCWS, 17 % of mothers report doubling up in someone else’s
home, and 74 % are named on the lease or mortgage. An average of almost 3.5 people
(including the single mother) reside in the household in the CPS and the ACS,
compared with about 4.5 people in the FFCWS. Finally, nearly 1 in 10 single mothers
experience household crowding in the ACS.

12 In the CPS, we evaluate six outcomes of interest, requiring point estimates to be significant at p < .008
rather than at p < .05. Similarly, in the ACS, we evaluate eight outcomes, requiring significance at p < .006;
and in the FFCWS, we evaluate nine outcomes, requiring significance at p < .006.

�Fig. 1 Variation in simulated instrument, by state and number of children. Data are for single women aged 19–45
with at least one child under the age of 19 residing in the household. Average household state and federal EITC
benefits are from 1990–2015 in 2011 dollars. Each line represents a separate state. Federal variation is shown with
the bottom line in each graph. See the description of simulated EITC in the text for more details. Source: 1996
Survey of Income and Program Participation and the National Bureau of Economic Research’s TAXSIM.

The Effect of the EITC on Housing and Living Arrangements 1315

Does the EITC Affect Employment and Earnings?

A number of studies have documented the effect of the EITC on the earnings and
employment of single mothers (e.g., Dahl et al. 2009; Hoynes and Patel 2018). Thus,
before presenting results for our housing outcomes of interest, we first replicate this
finding in Table 3. In all but the FFCWS, we find that expansions to the EITC in the
1990s and 2000s increased the labor supply and annual earnings of single mothers. A
$1,000 increase in the average EITC increases single mother’s labor supply by nearly 9
percentage points in the CPS and 6 percentage points in the ACS. In both data sets, we
similarly find large increases in pretax earnings: by nearly $2,900 in the CPS and by
$2,400 in the ACS. In the FFCWS, labor supply results are insignificant (2 percentage
points), although positively signed, and earnings gains are about $1,400.13 The differ-
ences across data sets likely arise because of different sampling periods (FFCWS and

13 This finding is no longer significant at p < .05 after Bonferroni correction for multiple hypothesis testing.

Table 2 Sample means for employment, housing, and living arrangement outcomes: CPS, ACS, and FFCWS

CPS ACS FFCWS

Mother’s Earnings/Employment

Working 0.67 0.69 0.61

Annual pretax earnings (in $1,000s, 2011 dollars) 20.09 20.4 18.78

(25.53) (22.96) (21.31)

Eviction/Homelessness

Moved because of foreclosure/evictiona 0.02

Evicted in last year 0.03

Homeless in last year 0.02

Cost Burden

Cost burden 30 % of mother’s earnings 0.70

Cost burden 50 % of mother’s earnings 0.50

Living Arrangements

Doubled up 0.15 0.12 0.30

Living in multigenerational household 0.06 0.04 0.19

Doubled up in someone else’s homeb 0.17

Named on the lease or mortgageb 0.74

Number of people in the household 3.37 3.41 4.49

(1.28) (1.31) (1.73)

Household Crowding

Crowding 0.09

Number of Observations 85,089 757,977 9,946

Notes: Standard deviations are shown in parentheses. The sample is restricted to single mothers with less than
a college degree and with at least one coresident child under the age of 19. The CPS and ACS are also
restricted to mothers aged 19–45.

Sources: Current Population Survey (CPS) 1990–2016. Census 1990/American Community Survey (ACS)
2000–2016. Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FFCWS) 1998–2016.
a Available only in the 1998–2016 CPS.
b Not available in Year 1 of the FFCWS.

1316 N. Pilkauskas, K. Michelmore

ACS do not include the mid-1990s), types of samples (FFCWS lacks complete
coverage of all states, is an urban sample, and is demographically different from the
ACS/CPS), and identification strategy (FFCWS imposes individual fixed effects,
whereas the ACS and CPS rely on cross-sectional data). Nonetheless, that we find
positive effects on employment and earnings across the data sets helps provide
confidence in the validity of our approach.

Does the EITC Affect Housing Outcomes?

Next, we turn to results, shown in Table 4, for our housing outcomes: eviction,
homelessness, and cost burden. We present results from all three data sources, although
not all outcomes are available in each data source.

In Hypothesis 1, we postulate that the EITC will decrease homelessness and
eviction, yet we find no evidence to support this hypothesis. We find no significant
relationship between EITC generosity and any of our eviction/foreclosure or home-
lessness measures in either the CPS or the FFCWS. As noted in the discussion of the
hypotheses, although income transfers reduce homelessness (e.g., Evans et al. 2016),
the lack of support for Hypothesis 1 may be explained by the fact that the EITC assists
only those mothers who are employed but does little to help those in deep poverty
(Hoynes and Patel 2018). Thus, the EITC may not be an effective approach to
addressing these housing problems.

Turning to our housing affordability measures, we find support for Hypothesis 2:
that the EITC will reduce mothers’ housing cost burdens. Following a $1,000 increase
in the average EITC, single mothers are significantly less likely to pay more than 30 %
of their pretax earnings toward housing costs (–3.9 percentage points) and are signif-
icantly less likely to pay more than 50 % of their pretax earnings toward housing costs
(–5.2 percentage points). This estimate does not include the EITC transfer itself. In
supplemental analyses, we added mother’s own EITC to her income and found further

Table 3 Effect of the EITC on employment and earnings

CPS ACS FFCWS

Worked Last Week 0.087*** 0.060*** 0.019

(0.01) (0.005) (0.015)

Annual Pretax Earnings (in $1,000s, 2011 dollars) 2.877*** 2.386*** 1.396*

(0.353) (0.252) (0.653)

Number of Observations 85,089 757,977 9,928

Notes: Standard errors, clustered at the state level, are shown in parentheses. Coefficients represent the effect
of a $1,000 increase in the simulated EITC benefit on outcomes. The CPS/ACS models include demographic
and state contextual characteristics; state, year, and number of child fixed effects; and state-specific time
trends. FFCWS models include demographic and state contextual characteristics, year, and individual fixed
effects. Each cell represents a separate regression. The sample is restricted to single mothers with less than a
college degree and with at least one coresident child under the age of 19. The CPS and ACS are also restricted
to mothers aged 19–45. Single mothers residing in public housing are excluded from the CPS and FFCWS.

Sources: Current Population Survey (CPS) 1990–2016. Census 1990/American Community Survey 2000–
2016. Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FFCWS) 1998–2016.

*p < .05; ***p < .001

The Effect of the EITC on Housing and Living Arrangements 1317

reductions in cost burdens (–5.4 and –7.6 percentage points for 30 % and 50 % of
pretax earnings, respectively).

Does the EITC Affect Single Mothers’ Living Arrangements?

To examine whether the EITC changes the living arrangements of single mothers, we
study its links with doubling up, multigenerational coresidence, household size, and
crowding; these results are shown in Table 5. For doubling up, we find support in all
three data sources for Hypothesis 3: the EITC reduces the likelihood of doubling up. A
$1,000 increase in the average EITC significantly reduces doubling up by 1.3 and 2.1
percentage points in the ACS and CPS, respectively, compared with 10.6 percentage
points in the FFCWS. The FFCWS estimate is larger likely because rates of doubling
up are much higher in the FFCWS than in the ACS and CPS, probably driven by the
birth cohort nature of this study: doubling up is especially common in early childhood
(Pilkauskas et al. 2014).

Turning to the effects on multigenerational coresidence, we find that all the reduc-
tion in doubling up in the CPS is driven by a significant reduction in the likelihood of
living in a multigenerational household (–2 percentage points). In comparison, in the

Table 4 Effect of the EITC on eviction, homelessness, and housing affordability

CPS ACS FFCWS

Eviction/Homelessness

Moved because of foreclosure/evictiona –0.001

(0.007)

Evicted in last year –0.006

(0.006)

Homeless in last year –0.006

(0.005)

Cost Burden

Cost burden 30 % mother’s earnings –0.039***

(0.004)

Cost burden 50 % mother’s earnings –0.052***

(0.005)

Number of Observations 85,089 757,977 9,928

Notes: Standard errors, clustered at the state level, are shown in parentheses. Coefficients represent the effect
of a $1,000 increase in the simulated EITC benefit on outcomes. The CPS and ACS models include
demographic and state contextual characteristics; state, year, and number of child fixed effects; and state-
specific time trends. The FFCWS models include demographic and state contextual characteristics, year, and
individual fixed effects. Each cell represents a separate regression. The sample is restricted to single mothers
with less than a college degree and with at least one coresident child under the age of 19. The CPS and ACS
are also restricted to mothers aged 19–45. Single mothers residing in public housing are excluded from the
CPS and FFCWS.

Sources: Current Population Survey (CPS), 1990–2016. Census 1990/American Community Survey, 2000–
2016. Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FFCWS), 1998–2016.
a Available only in the 1998–2016 CPS.

***p < .001

1318 N. Pilkauskas, K. Michelmore

ACS and FFCWS, the reduction in multigenerational households only explains, re-
spectively, about one-third or one-half of the reduction in doubling up (the estimate in
the ACS is only marginally significant and not robust to Bonferroni adjustments). In the
FFCWS, we can distinguish doubling up in someone else’s home from one’s own
home. We find that the EITC significantly reduced doubling up in someone else’s home
by 6.5 percentage points, accounting for about 60 % of the overall reduction. Consis-
tent with this decline in the likelihood of doubling up in someone else’s home, we also
find that single mothers in the FFCWS are significantly more likely to be named on the
lease or mortgage as a function of EITC generosity. A $1,000 increase in average EITC
benefits leads to a 9.4 percentage point increase in the likelihood of being named on the
lease or mortgage, an indicator that single mothers are residing in their own homes.

Table 5 Effect of the EITC on living arrangements and crowding

CPS ACS FFCWS

Living Arrangements

Doubled up –0.021** –0.013*** –0.106***

(0.007) (0.003) (0.014)

Living in multigenerational household –0.021*** –0.004* –0.046***

(0.005) (0.002) (0.012)

Doubling up in someone else’s homea –0.065***

(0.014)

Named on the lease or mortgagea 0.094***

(0.016)

Number of people in the household –0.018 –0.022† 0.970***

(0.017) (0.012) (0.047)

Number of adults in the household –0.308***

(0.032)

Number of children in the household 1.329***

(0.033)

Household Crowding

Crowding –0.021***

(0.004)

Number of Observations 85,089 757,977 9,928

Notes: Standard errors, clustered at the state level, are shown in parentheses. Coefficients represent the effect
of a $1,000 increase in the simulated EITC benefit on outcomes. The CPS and ACS models include
demographic and state contextual characteristics; state, year, and number of child fixed effects; and state-
specific time trends. FFCWS models include demographic and state contextual characteristics, year, and
individual fixed effects. Each cell represents a separate regression. The sample is restricted to single mothers
with less than a college degree and with at least one coresident child under the age of 19. The CPS and ACS
are also restricted to mothers aged 19–45. Single mothers residing in public housing are excluded from the
CPS and FFCWS.

Sources: Current Population Survey (CPS) 1990–2016. Census 1990/American Community Survey 2000–
2016. Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FFCWS) 1998–2016.
a Information not asked in Year 1 of the FFCWS.
†p < .10; *p < .05; **p < .01; ***p < .001

The Effect of the EITC on Housing and Living Arrangements 1319

We also examine living arrangements by studying the number of people in the
household. Although not statistically significant, in both the CPS/ACS, we find that an
increase in the EITC reduces the total number of people in the household by 0.02
people. The results in the FFCWS, however, are very different. We find a significant
increase in the total number of people in the household following an increase in the
EITC, despite a decline in doubling up. To examine this seemingly contradictory
finding, we separately analyze how the EITC affects the number of adults and the
number of children residing in the household in the FFCWS. When we estimate how
the EITC affects the total number of adults in the household, we find that a $1,000
increase in the average EITC leads to a significant 0.31 person reduction in the number
of adults residing in the household. In contrast, a $1,000 increase in the EITC leads to a
significant 1.3 person increase in the number of children residing in the household.
These findings suggest that the EITC reduces the total number of adults in the
households; however, the evidence also points to potential effects on fertility, or
suggests that single mothers may take in additional children—say, of friends or
family—when they have more resources from the EITC. Future research is needed to
determine whether the EITC increases fertility or whether this is a function of the
cohort sample. Finally, as predicted in Hypothesis 3, given the reduction in doubling up
and multigenerational coresidence, we also find that the EITC significantly reduces
household crowding by 2 percentage points in the ACS.

Robustness Checks

We conduct a number of sensitivity analyses to test the robustness of our findings in the
ACS and the CPS. First, in Table A2 in the online appendix, we present results
separately for (1) the full sample of single mothers, (2) mothers who are respondents,
and (3) mothers who are nonrespondents for the outcomes that do not rely on the
household roster for accurate coding. In both data sources, the vast majority of single
mothers are, indeed, the respondents for the household rather than a nonrespondent. In
the CPS, approximately 75 % of the single mothers in the sample are the respondent,
and 85 % of single mothers in the ACS are the respondent. In running our analyses on
the full sample of mothers rather than just respondents, we find nearly identical results
to those reported for respondents only. For the nonrespondents, we find somewhat
weaker effects on all outcomes.

Second, we run three placebo tests on groups that traditionally have lower rates of
EITC eligibility: single childless women, college-educated mothers, and married par-
ents; results are shown in Table A3 in the online appendix. As anticipated, we find little
evidence to suggest the EITC affects the housing and living arrangements for any of
these groups (although a coefficient is occasionally significant, none are robust to
Bonferroni adjustments).

Third, to address the concern that state EITC variation may not be exogenous to
housing outcomes, in Table A4 (online appendix), we run an analysis partitioning our
treatment variable into its state and federal components.14 Results indicate that the

14 We present analyses controlling for the both state and federal EITC, but models run separately (not
controlling for the other) yielded similar results.

1320 N. Pilkauskas, K. Michelmore

findings for living arrangements are largely driven by the federal expansions to the
EITC.

Fourth, because homeowners may be affected differently than renters, we run the
analyses comparing homeowners with renters (and with subsidized renters in the CPS).
As shown in Table A5 (online appendix), we find that renters (with or without
subsidies), rather than homeowners, drive most of our results.15

Fifth, following earlier research, we run a difference-in-differences model analyzing
two federal expansions to the EITC (that are incorporated in the reduced-form model):
(1) the early 1990s expansion that expanded benefits for two-child households, and (2)
the federal expansion for households with three or more children as part of the
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009. The online appendix
describes the method in more detail, and Table A6 shows the results. Although we find
few statistically significant estimates in the CPS following the federal EITC expansions
in the early 1990s, point estimates are similar to those in Tables 5 but are less precise.
For the ARRA expansion, we find no significant effects in the CPS, but the point
estimates are in the same direction as in the reduced-form analyses. In the ACS,
however, we find evidence that after the ARRA expansion, households with three or
more children were significantly less likely to be cost-burdened (–2 percentage points)
and less likely to be doubled up (–1 percentage point).

Last, we conduct a similar set of analyses in the Survey of Income and Program
Participation (SIPP). Although the SIPP has a number of limitations (preference for a
household head, few housing and living arrangement measures, and panels only four
years long), we use the panel nature of the data to test the robustness of our findings
using individual fixed effects (see Table A7, online appendix). We find a significant
reduction in both doubling up (–6 percentage points) and living in a multigenerational
household (–3 percentage points).

Discussion

Results of this study indicate that the EITC, the largest cash transfer program for low-
income families in the United States, has a significant effect on the housing and living
arrangements of single mothers. From previous research (and corroborated with our
own analysis), we know that the EITC increases employment and earnings of single
mothers (e.g., Hoynes and Patel 2018; Meyer and Rosenbaum 2001). We hypothesize
that this increased income could in turn affect the housing and living arrangements of
single mothers. First, we hypothesize that the EITC will reduce homelessness and
eviction/foreclosures, but we find little evidence to support this hypothesis. There are a
few reasons why this might be the case. Although average EITC transfers are relatively
large, they may not be sufficient to offset extreme household shocks that lead to
evictions. Evictions and foreclosures are increasingly common (Desmond 2016) but
are still relatively rare, experienced by only 1 % to 2 % of mothers in our samples.
Further, because both the CPS and the ACS are household surveys, we likely under-

15 We find no significant relationship between EITC generosity and the likelihood of single mothers owning
their own homes, so we do not believe that these results are driven by compositional changes in the single
mothers who own or rent their homes.

The Effect of the EITC on Housing and Living Arrangements 1321

observe these outcomes. Thus, even if the EITC did reduce evictions, we might not find
an effect with these data. Last, and perhaps most likely, in order to receive the EITC, a
mother must have earnings. Prior research has found that those with incomes at the
bottom of the income distribution (below 50 % of poverty) are least likely to be affected
by the EITC (Hoynes and Patel 2018). If mothers who do not work are those who
experience homelessness or eviction, then the EITC cannot effectively assist those
households.

We find evidence to support Hypothesis 2, that the EITC would reduce mothers’
housing cost burdens. In keeping with other research (JCHS 2017), many mothers in
our sample are cost-burdened, and one-half experience severe housing cost burdens
(pay more than 50 % of earnings on housing). Both moderate and severe housing cost
burdens are reduced when the EITC is expanded. This suggests that EITC expansions
could help children because those in cost-burdened households are exposed to signif-
icantly higher levels of residential instability, parental depression, and food insecurity
(Nobari et al. 2019). We are unable to further disentangle whether the EITC has
differential effects by type of housing market, although this would be a fruitful area
for future research.

Across all three data sets, we find support for Hypothesis 3: the EITC reduces
doubling up, other shared living arrangements, household size, and crowding. Ob-
served reductions in doubling up were coupled with suggestive evidence of a decline in
the number of people in the household as well as reductions in household crowding.
Prior work has linked crowding with poorer educational outcomes for children (e.g.,
Lopoo and London 2016) and increased vulnerability to adverse experiences (Edin and
Shaefer 2015); thus, reductions in crowding may be especially important.

Although the findings that the EITC reduces cost burden and household crowding are
clearly positive outcomes for families, whether our results for living arrangements repre-
sent positive outcomes is less clear. What our study makes evident is that single mothers
have a preference to live independently. This finding is in keeping with studies of the
elderly that similarly find a preference for independent living (e.g., Engelhardt et al. 2005).
Likewise, this result is consistent with qualitative work that suggests mothers find living in
someone else’s home incompatible with their ideals (Harvey 2017).

The increased likelihood of mothers being named on the lease or mortgage and
reduced share of mothers doubling up in someone else’s home resulting from EITC
expansions largely also represent positive outcomes for mothers and their children.
Being named on the lease or mortgage suggests that mothers are experiencing increased
economic stability. Similarly, moving out of someone else’s home likely translates to
additional residential stability. Although doubling up in someone else’s household may
be a stable arrangement, studies have suggested that those who live in someone else’s
home are at higher risk of losing housing given that they are dependent on the goodwill
of friends or family (Skobba and Goetz 2015; Wright et al. 1998).

Are reductions in multigenerational coresidence and doubling up more broadly
positive or negative outcomes? Families choose to double up for a variety of reasons,
which may yield positive or negative outcomes for families. For example, although
doubling up is linked with rental savings (Pilkauskas et al. 2014), the extent to which
resource sharing occurs can vary dramatically across households (Reyes 2018). Thus, it
is unclear how moving out of a shared living arrangement will affect resources. Nor has
research documented a clear-cut relationship between doubling up or multigenerational

1322 N. Pilkauskas, K. Michelmore

coresidence and family outcomes. Studies have found significant heterogeneity with
respect to children’s well-being, finding no association (Augustine and Raley 2013),
and some positive and some negative associations (e.g., DeLeire and Kalil 2002;
Mollborn et al. 2011; Pilkauskas 2014). Similarly, studies of maternal employment
have shown only short-term gains from multigenerational coresidence (Hao and
Brinton 1997) but also negative associations with parenting (Chase-Lansdale et al.
1994). Thus, although it is not clear whether the reduction in shared living arrange-
ments is a positive outcome, the findings do suggest the EITC increases independent
living arrangements, those that are likely more stable.

This study is not without limitations. Our analysis assumes that single mothers claim
all the children that reside in the household, but it is possible that other family members
or nonresident fathers claim one or more children to maximize household tax refunds.
This can be particularly complicated if more than one adult is eligible to claim the
children residing in the household—say, through shared custody agreements among
separated or divorced parents. If other family members claim any of the children
residing in the household, this would result in measurement error, potentially biasing
our estimates.

A related concern is that we use imputed EITC benefits in our analyses because
reporting of EITC receipt is often quite poor in household surveys. Although EITC
claiming tends to be high, at more than 80 % of those who are eligible, there are likely
some single mothers in our sample who do not file their taxes or do not claim the EITC
when they do file. We would thus attribute a nonzero EITC benefit to some households
that do not, in fact, receive the EITC, again resulting in measurement error that might
bias our estimates.

Another issue is whether the composition of single mothers itself is affected by the
EITC, which may at least partially explain some of our findings. For instance, if single
mothers who are more advantaged are less likely to marry as a function of EITC
generosity, we may find a reduction in doubling up that is driven by this change in the
composition of single mothers. The effect of the EITC on marriage is small (e.g.,
Herbst 2011; Michelmore 2018), and the magnitude of our results is likely too large to
be completely explained by marriage effects. Another possibility is that the EITC
induces more couples to cohabit (say, to move out of a household with family and
friends into a household with an unmarried partner). In an additional analysis, we find
no association between EITC expansions and cohabitation in the ACS (results available
upon request). This suggests that our reduction in doubling up cannot be fully ex-
plained by a rise in cohabitation, although future work that can more fully examine the
impact of the EITC on cohabitation is needed.

Despite some limitations, this study offers important insights for income, tax, and
housing policy aimed at improving housing outcomes for low-income families. As
states (and localities) contemplate implementing or expanding their EITCs, these results
suggest the EITC improves housing through reduced cost burdens, increased likelihood
of being named on the lease or mortgage, declines in household crowding, and
reductions in the likelihood of doubling up in other people’s households. Scaling our
results to the size of the average state EITC (about $250) implies a reduction in
doubling up of 3 % to 8 %, living in someone else’s home by 10 %, cost burden by
2 % to 3 %, and household crowding by about 6 %. Thus, implementing or expanding
EITCs may be an effective way to address some pressing housing issues. By improving

The Effect of the EITC on Housing and Living Arrangements 1323

housing outcomes and increasing the stability in living arrangements of children, the
EITC may help reduce the intergenerational consequences of housing instability.

Acknowledgments The authors thank Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan for funding for this
project. This project was supported by Award No. R01HD036916 awarded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver
National Institute Of Child Health & Human Development. The content is solely the responsibility of the
authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute
of Child Health & Human Development or the National Institutes of Health.

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An Overview of the Section 8 Housing

Programs: Housing Choice Vouchers and

Project-Based Rental Assistance

Updated February 7, 2014

Congressional Research Service

https://crsreports.congress.gov

RL32284

An Overview of the Section 8 Housing Programs

Congressional Research Service

Summary
The Section 8 low-income housing program is really two programs authorized under Section 8 of

the U.S. Housing Act of 1937, as amended: the Housing Choice Voucher program and the project-

based rental assistance program. Vouchers are portable subsidies that low-income families can use

to lower their rents in the private market. Vouchers are administered at the local level by quasi-

governmental public housing authorities (PHAs). Project-based rental assistance is a form of

rental subsidy that is attached to a unit of privately owned housing. Low-income families who

move into the housing pay a reduced rent, on the basis of their incomes.

The Section 8 program began in 1974, primarily as a project-based rental assistance program.

However, by the mid-1980s, project-based assistance came under criticism for seeming too costly

and concentrating poor families in high-poverty areas. Congress stopped funding new project-

based Section 8 rental assistance contracts in 1983. In their place, Congress created vouchers as a

new form of assistance. Today, vouchers—numbering more than 2 million—are the primary form

of assistance provided under Section 8, although over 1 million units still receive project-based

assistance under their original contracts or renewals of those contracts.

Congressional interest in the Section 8 programs—both the voucher program and the project-

based rental assistance program—has increased in recent years, particularly as the program costs

have rapidly grown, led by cost increases in the voucher program. In order to understand why

costs are rising so quickly, it is important to first understand how the program works and its

history. This report presents a brief overview of that history and introduces the reader to the

program. For more information, see CRS Report RL34002, Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher

Program: Issues and Reform Proposals; and CRS Report R41182, Preservation of HUD-Assisted

Housing, by Maggie McCarty and Libby Perl.

An Overview of the Section 8 Housing Programs

Congressional Research Service

Contents

Introduction ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 1

Background Information …………………………………………………………………………………………….. 1

Early Section 8 ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 2

New Construction and Substantial Rehabilitation ………………………………………………………….. 2
Moderate Rehabilitation ………………………………………………………………………………………… 3

Existing Housing Certificates ……………………………………………………………………………………… 4
The Voucher Program …………………………………………………………………………………………… 4

Today’s Section 8 Programs ……………………………………………………………………………………………… 5

Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance ……………………………………………………………………. 5
Section 8 Tenant-Based Housing Choice Vouchers ………………………………………………………… 6

Project-Based Vouchers ………………………………………………………………………………………… 8
Tenant Protection or Enhanced Vouchers…………………………………………………………………. 8
Special Purpose Vouchers ……………………………………………………………………………………… 9
Family Self-Sufficiency Coordinators …………………………………………………………………….. 9
Demonstrations ………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 10

Conclusion …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 11

Tables

Table 1. The Experimental Housing Allowance Program ……………………………………………………… 1

Table 2. What Do Long Term Contracts Mean for Congress? ……………………………………………….. 3

Table 3. What is Fair Market Rent (FMR)? …………………………………………………………………………. 4

Table 4. Income Thresholds for a Three-Person Family in Selected Areas in 2013 …………………… 7

Table 5. How is a Voucher Subsidy Calculated? ………………………………………………………………….. 7

Contacts

Author Information ………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 11

An Overview of the Section 8 Housing Programs

Congressional Research Service RL32284 · VERSION 19 · UPDATED 1

Introduction
The rental assistance programs authorized under Section 8 of the United States Housing Act of

1937 (42 U.S.C. §1437f)—Section 8 project-based rental assistance and Section 8 tenant-based

vouchers—have become the largest components of the Department of Housing and Urban

Development’s (HUD) budget, with combined appropriations of $27 billion in FY2013.
1
The

rising cost of providing rental assistance is due, in varying degrees, to expansions in the program,

the cost of renewing expiring long-term contracts, and rising costs in housing markets across the

country. The most rapid cost increases have been seen in the voucher program.

Partly out of concern about cost increases, and partly in response to the administrative complexity

of the current program, there have been calls for reform of the voucher program and its funding

each year since 2002. In response, Congress has enacted changes to the way that it funds the

voucher program and the way that PHAs receive their funding. Congress has considered program

reforms, but has not enacted them.

In order to understand why the program has become so expensive and why reforms are being

considered, it is first important to understand the mechanics of the program and its history. This

paper will provide an overview of the Section 8 programs and their history. For more information,

see CRS Report RL33929, The Section 8 Voucher Renewal Funding Formula: Changes in

Appropriations Acts; CRS Report RL34002, Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program: Issues

and Reform Proposals; and CRS Report R41182, Preservation of HUD-Assisted Housing, by

Maggie McCarty and Libby Perl.

Background Information

From 1937 until 1965, public housing and the subsidized mortgage insurance programs of the

Federal Housing Administration (FHA) were the country’s main forms of federal housing

assistance. As problems with the public housing and other bricks and mortar federal housing

construction programs (such as Section 235 and Section 236 of the National Housing Act)

arose—particularly their high cost—interest grew in alternative forms of housing assistance. In

1965, a new approach was adopted (P.L. 89-117). The Section 23 program assisted low-income

families residing in leased housing by permitting a public housing authority (PHA)
2
to lease

existing housing units in the private market and sublease them to low-income and very low-

income families
3
at below-market rents. However, the Section 23 program did not ameliorate the

growing problems with HUD’s housing construction programs and interest remained in

developing and testing new approaches. The Experimental Housing Allowance Program is one

example of such an alternative approach.

Table 1. The Experimental Housing Allowance Program

The Experimental Housing Allowance Program (EHAP) began with a mandate to HUD from Congress in 1970 to

test the impacts and feasibility of providing low-income families with allowances to assist them in obtaining

1 For more information about HUD budget trends, including the Section 8 programs, see CRS Report R42542,

Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD): Funding Trends Since FY2002, by Maggie McCarty.

2 PHAs are state-chartered, quasi-governmental bodies that administer public housing and Section 8 vouchers.

3 HUD uses a relative measure of income for determining benefits and eligibility for Section 8. “Low-income families”

have adjusted gross incomes at or below 80% of the local area median income; “very low-income” families have

adjusted gross incomes at or below 50% of the local area median income; and “extremely low-income” families have

adjusted gross incomes at or below 30% of the local area median income

An Overview of the Section 8 Housing Programs

Congressional Research Service RL32284 · VERSION 19 · UPDATED 2

existing, decent rental housing of their choice (P.L. 91-152). Congress was interested specifically in finding the

answers to several key questions:

 How many families would make use of allowance payments?

 What kind of housing would they choose and in what neighborhoods?

 How would housing markets respond to the increased demand for housing?

 At what cost could a housing allowance program be administered?

In order to answer these questions, HUD contracted for the conduct of three experiments: the Demand

Experiment to test how families would respond to a housing allowance, the Supply Experiment, to test how markets

would respond to subsidies and the Administrative Agency Experiment, to test the administrative capacity and funds

required to administer a housing allowance program. The first reports came out in 1973, and a final report was

issued in 1980. The EHAP’s key findings are listed below:

 In order to ensure housing quality, subsidies have to be tied to housing standards; however, stricter housing
standards limit participation. Participation is also linked to subsidy amount; as the subsidy increases, so does

participation.

 Mobility and location of residence are mainly governed by ties to relatives, neighbors, and friends and are not
affected by housing allowance payments.

 A housing allowance program has virtually no effect on the price of housing and does not stimulate new
construction or major rehabilitation. However, it does help preserve the existing housing stock by stimulating

repairs.

 A housing allowance program can be effectively administered at the local level.

The early findings of EHAP helped to set the tone for the debate that created the Section 8 program.

Source: Raymond Struyk, “Policy Questions and Experimental Responses,” in Housing Vouchers for the Poor:

Lessons from a National Experiment, Raymond Struyk and Marc Bendick Jr. Eds (Washington: Urban Institute Press,

1981).

Due to criticisms about cost, profiteering, and slumlord practices in federal housing programs,

President Nixon declared a moratorium on all existing federal housing programs, including

Section 23, in 1973. During the moratorium, HUD revised the Section 23 program and sought to

make it the main assisted housing program of the federal government. However, at the same time,

Congress was considering several options for restructuring subsidized housing programs. After all

the debates and discussions that typically precede the passage of authorizing legislation were

completed, Congress voted in favor of a new leased housing approach, and the Section 8 program

was created.

Early Section 8
The Section 8 program is named for Section 8 of the United States Housing Act of 1937. The

original program, established by the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974 (P.L. 93-

383), consisted of three parts: new construction, substantial rehabilitation, and existing housing

certificates. The 1974 Act and the creation of Section 8 effectively ended the Nixon moratorium.

In 1978, the moderate rehabilitation component of the program was added, but it has not been

funded since 1989. In 1983, the new construction and substantial rehabilitation portions of the

program were repealed, and a new component—Section 8 vouchers—was added. In 1998,

existing housing certificates were merged with and converted to vouchers.

New Construction and Substantial Rehabilitation

Under the new construction and substantial rehabilitation components of the early Section 8

program, HUD entered into long-term (20- or 40-year) contracts with private for-profit, non-

profit, or public organizations that were willing to construct new units or rehabilitate older ones to

An Overview of the Section 8 Housing Programs

Congressional Research Service RL32284 · VERSION 19 · UPDATED 3

house low- and very low-income tenants. Under those contracts, HUD agreed to make assistance

payments toward each unit for the duration of the contract. Those assistance payments were

subsidies that allowed tenants residing in the units to pay 25% (later raised to 30%) of their

adjusted income as rent. The program was responsible for the construction and rehabilitation of a

large number of units. Over 1.2 million units of housing with Section 8 contracts that originated

under the new construction and substantial rehabilitation program still receive payments today.

By the early 1980s, because of the rising costs of rent and construction, the amount of budget

authority needed for the Section 8 rental assistance program had been steadily increasing while

the number of units produced in a year had been decreasing. At the same time, studies emerged

showing that providing subsidies for use in newly constructed or substantially rehabilitated

housing was more expensive than the cost of providing subsidies in existing units of housing.

Also, because contracts were written for such long terms, appropriators had to provide large

amounts of budget authority each time they funded a new contract (see below for an illustration

of the implication of long-term contracts). As the budget deficit grew, Members of Congress

became concerned with the high costs associated with Section 8 new construction and substantial

rehabilitation, and these segments of the Section 8 program were repealed in the Housing and

Urban-Rural Recovery Act of 1983 (P.L. 98-181).

Table 2. What Do Long Term Contracts Mean for Congress?

The following example illustrates how Congress appropriates funds for long-term contracts, compared to

one-year contracts.

In 2012, a housing voucher cost an average of $7,400 per year, according to HUD’s FY2014 Congressional Budget

Justifications. If Congress wanted to fund 10 new Section 8 subsidies in 2012, the cost of doing so would depend

on the length of the contract Congress decided to fund:

If the contract was a 40-year contract, as was the case in the beginning of the Section 8 program, then Congress

must appropriate:

10 vouchers x $7,400 x 40 years = $2.96 million.*

If the contract was a one-year contract, as is the case with Section 8 contracts today, then Congress must

appropriate:

10 vouchers x $7,400 x 1 year = $74,000.

Thus, it would have cost Congress less in 2012 to provide one year contracts than it would have to provide

multiyear contracts. The trade-off is the cost in subsequent years. For example, assume that Congress intends to

maintain those 10 subsidies in 2013. If Congress funded those subsidies under 40-year contracts in 2012, then the

subsidies would not require new funding again until 2052, meaning Congress would not have to provide

appropriations in 2013; however, if Congress funded those subsidies under one-year contracts in 2012, then the

subsidies would require another year’s worth of funds in 2013.

* Note, this example does not include an estimate for inflation. When funding multi-year contracts, Congress

generally includes an estimate of inflation and adds it to the total cost.

Moderate Rehabilitation

The Housing and Community Development Amendments of 1978 (P.L. 95-557) added the

moderate rehabilitation component to the Section 8 program, which expanded Section 8 rental

assistance to projects that were in need of repairs costing at least $1,000 per unit to make the

housing decent, safe, and sanitary. Over the next 10 years, however, this component of the

program was fraught with allegations of abuse; the process of awarding contracts was considered

unfair and politicized. Calls for reform of the moderate rehabilitation program led to its

suspension. It has not been funded since 1989.

An Overview of the Section 8 Housing Programs

Congressional Research Service RL32284 · VERSION 19 · UPDATED 4

Existing Housing Certificates

The existing housing certificate component of the Section 8 program was created in the beginning

of the Section 8 program and continued until 1998. Under the existing housing certificate

program, PHAs and HUD would enter into an Annual Contributions Contract (ACC) for the

number of units that would be available to receive assistance. Contracts were originally written

for five years and were renewable, at HUD’s discretion, for up to 15 years. In the contract, HUD

agreed to pay the difference between the tenant’s rental payment and the contract rent of a unit.

The contract rent was generally limited to the HUD-set Fair Market Rent (FMR) for the area.

Table 3. What is Fair Market Rent (FMR)?

FMRs are gross rent estimates that include both shelter rent paid by the tenant to the landlord and the cost of

tenant-paid utilities, except telephones. Each year, HUD sets FMRs either at the 40th percentile rent or at the 50th

percentile rent for each metropolitan or non-metropolitan statistical area in the nation, as well as for each state.

For most areas, the FMR is set at the 40th percentile rent paid by recent movers, which means that 40% of all

standard quality rental housing units rented within the past 18 months have rents at or below the FMR. For some

high cost areas, the FMR is set at the 50th percentile rent or the median rent, so that 50% of standard units fall at

or below the FMR. In some low-cost communities, the FMR is raised to the statewide FMR, if it is higher.

After entering into a contract with HUD, PHAs would advertise the availability of certificates for

low-income tenants. The existing housing certificate program was primarily tenant-based,

meaning that the assistance was attached to the tenant. Families selected to receive assistance

were given certificates as proof of eligibility for the program; with their certificates, families

could look for suitable housing in the private market. Housing was considered suitable if it rented

for the FMR or less and met Housing Quality Standards (HQS).
4
Once the household found a

unit, they signed a lease and agreed to pay 30% of their adjusted income for rent. The remainder

of the rent was paid by HUD to the landlord on behalf of the tenant. If a family vacated a unit in

violation of the lease, HUD had to make rental payments to the landlord for the remainder of the

month in which the family vacated, and pay 80% of the contract rent for an additional month. If

the family left the unit at the end of their lease, they could take their certificate with them and use

it for their next home. HUD also paid the PHA an administrative fee for managing the program.

The amount of this administrative fee was set by Congress in appropriations legislation each year.

PHAs were permitted to use up to 15% of their Section 8 certificates for project-based housing. In

project-based Section 8 existing housing, the subsidy was attached to the unit, which was selected

by the PHA, and not to the tenant. This meant that when a tenant vacated a unit, another eligible

tenant would be able to occupy it, and HUD would subsidize the rent as long as a contract was in

effect between the PHA and the owner.

In 1998, the Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act (QHWRA, P.L. 105-276) merged the

Section 8 existing housing certificate program with the voucher program (see below) and

converted all certificates to vouchers, effectively ending the Section 8 existing housing certificate

program.

The Voucher Program

The largest component of today’s Section 8 program, the voucher program, was first authorized

by the Housing and Urban-Rural Recovery Act of 1983 (P.L. 98-181). It was originally a

4 Housing Quality Standards (HQS) are minimum standards set by HUD that set acceptable conditions for interior

living space, building exterior, heating and plumbing systems, and general health and safety.

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demonstration program, but was made permanent in 1988. Like the Section 8 existing housing

certificate program, the voucher program is administered by PHAs and is tenant-based, with a

project-based component. However, under the voucher program, families can pay more of their

incomes toward rent and lease apartments with rents higher than FMR.

Today’s Section 8 Programs
Today’s Section 8 program is really two programs, which, combined, serve almost 3.5 million

households.

Note to Reader: Recent Legislative Changes

The FY2014 Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 113-76) included several legislative provisions that affect the

two Section 8 programs. They are summarized below; however, the remainder of this report does not reflect these

changes. This report will be updated once the new policies are fully implemented by HUD.

From Division L, Title 2 of P.L. 113-76

 Section 220: Modification of Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher inspection requirements

PHAs are required to inspect units that are to receive Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher subsidy payments prior to

approval of a family’s tenancy and annually thereafter. The inspections are to ensure that the property meets standards

set out in statute. Section 220 alters this requirement to require ongoing inspections happen no less frequently than

biennially and it also allows inspections undertaken pursuant to other state, local, or federal housing program standards

to fulfill the Section 8 voucher inspection requirements, as long as the administering PHA attests that the alternate

standards provide at least as much protection as the Section 8 voucher program standards. It also adds a provision to

allow for interim inspections, to take place at the request of a tenant, within 24 hours in the case of a life-threatening

condition, or within a reasonable time period for all other conditions. The changes are to take effect upon a date set at

the Secretary’s discretion through either notice or rulemaking.

 Section 238: Redefinition of “extremely low-income”

Currently, the term “extremely low-income” (ELI), which is used for eligibility and targeting provisions in various federal

housing assistance programs, is defined as income no greater than 30% of local area median income. This provision

expands the definition such that the term is defined as income that is no more than the greater of 30% of local area

median income or the federal poverty level. This effectively sets the federal poverty level as a national floor for the

definition of ELI, meaning anyone who has income at or below the federal poverty level will be considered extremely low-

income. This provision was included in earlier assisted housing reform legislation. HUD is to establish the requirements

of this new policy by notice, then commence rulemaking within six months of the issuance of the notice.

 Section 242: Modification of utility allowance for Section 8 voucher holders

Section 8 voucher holders whose utilities are not included in their rent are provided with a utility allowance to help offset

their utility costs. Currently, utility allowances are based on the size of the unit occupied by the family, not the size of the

family. Section 242 would base a family’s utility allowance on a family’s size, rather than a unit size. This policy will

reduce utility allowance payments for families that are renting dwelling units with more bedrooms than is necessitated

by their family size. PHAs must approve a higher utility allowance amount as a reasonable accommodation for a person

with a disability. HUD is to establish the requirements of this new policy by notice, then commence rulemaking within six

months of the issuance of the notice.

Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance

The first program under Section 8 can be characterized as Section 8 project-based rental

assistance. This program includes units created under the new construction, substantial

rehabilitation, and moderate rehabilitation components of the earlier Section 8 program that are

still under contract with HUD. Although no new construction, substantial rehabilitation, or

moderate rehabilitation contracts have been created for a number of years, about 1.3 million of

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these units are still funded under multiyear contracts that have not yet expired and do not require

any new appropriations, or multiyear contracts that had expired and are renewed annually,

requiring new appropriations.

Families that live in Section 8 project-based units pay 30% of their incomes toward rent. In order

to be eligible, families must be low-income; however, at least 40% of all units that become

available each year must be rented to extremely low-income families. If a family leaves the unit,

the owner will continue to receive payments as long as he or she can move another eligible family

into the unit.

Owners of properties with project-based Section 8 rental assistance receive a subsidy from HUD,

called a Housing Assistance Payment (HAP). HAP payments are equal to the difference between

the tenant’s payments (30% of income) and a contract rent, which is agreed to between HUD and

the landlord. Contract rents are meant to be comparable to rents in the local market, and are

typically adjusted annually by an inflation factor established by HUD or on the basis of the

project’s operating costs. Project-based Section 8 contracts are managed by contract

administrators. While some HUD regional offices still serve as contract administrators, the

Department’s goal is to contract the function out entirely to outside entities, including state

housing finance agencies, PHAs, or private entities.

When project-based HAP contracts expire, the landlord can choose to either renew the contract

with HUD for up to five years at a time (subject to annual appropriations) or convert the units to

market rate. In some cases, landlords can choose to “opt-out” of Section 8 contracts early. When

an owners terminates an HAP contract with HUD, either through opt-out or expiration—the

tenants in the building are provided with enhanced vouchers designed to allow them to stay in

their unit (see discussion of “Tenant Protection or Enhanced Vouchers” below).
5

In 2010, about 51% of the households that lived in project-based Section 8 units were headed by

persons who were elderly, about 17% were headed by persons who were non-elderly disabled,

and about 33% were headed by persons who were not elderly and not disabled. The median

income of households living in project-based Section 8 units was a little more than $10,000 per

year.
6

Section 8 Tenant-Based Housing Choice Vouchers

When QHWRA merged the voucher and certificate programs in 1998, it renamed the voucher

component of the Section 8 program the Housing Choice Voucher program. The voucher program

is funded in HUD’s budget through the tenant-based rental assistance account. The federal

government currently funds more than 2 million Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers. PHAs

administer the program and receive an annual budget from HUD. Each has a fixed number of

vouchers that they are permitted to administer and they are paid administrative fees.

Vouchers are tenant-based in nature, meaning that the subsidy is tied to the family, rather than to a

unit of housing. In order to be eligible, a family must be very low-income (50% or below area

median income (AMI)),
7
although 75% of all vouchers must be given to extremely low-income

families (30% or below AMI). To illustrate the regional variation in these definitions of low-

income and their relationship to federal definitions of poverty, Table 4 compares HUD’s income

definitions to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) poverty guidelines for

5 For more about expiring Section 8 project-based rental assisted contracts, see CRS Report R41182, Preservation of

HUD-Assisted Housing, by Maggie McCarty and Libby Perl.

6 CRS analysis of data provided by HUD. Please note that 2010 are the most recent data HUD has provided to CRS.

7 In some limited circumstances, families can earn up to 80% of AMI and still be eligible.

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Congressional Research Service RL32284 · VERSION 19 · UPDATED 7

several geographic areas in 2013. Note that HHS poverty guidelines are uniform in all parts of the

country (except for Alaska and Hawaii, not shown in the following table).

Table 4. Income Thresholds for a Three-Person Family in Selected Areas in 2013

HUD Very

Low-Income Limits

HUD Extremely

Low-Income Limits

HHS Poverty

Guidelines

Jefferson County, MS $18,900 $11,350 $19,530

New York, NY $38,700 $23,200 $19,530

San Francisco, CA $47,500 $28,500 $19,530

Source: Department of Housing and Urban Development 2013 Income Limits and Department of Health and

Human Services 2013 Poverty Guidelines.

Families who receive vouchers use them to subsidize their rents in private market apartments.

Once an eligible family receives an available voucher, the family must find an eligible unit. In

order to be eligible, a unit must meet minimum housing quality standards (HQS) and cost less

than 40% of the family’s income
8
plus the HAP paid by the PHA. The HAP paid by the PHA for

tenant-based vouchers, like the HAP paid for Section 8 project-based rental assistance, is capped;

however, with tenant-based vouchers, PHAs have the flexibility to set their caps anywhere

between 90% and 110% of FMR (up to 120% FMR with prior HUD approval). The cap set by the

PHA is called the payment standard. Once a family finds an eligible unit, the family signs a

contract with HUD, and both HUD and the family sign contracts with the landlord. The PHA will

pay the HAP (the payment standard minus 30% of the family’s income), and the family will pay

the difference between the HAP and the rent (which must total between 30% and 40% of the

family’s income). After the first year, a family can choose to pay more than 40% of their income

towards rent. PHAs may also choose to adopt minimum rents, which cannot exceed $50. (See box

below for an example.)

Table 5. How is a Voucher Subsidy Calculated?

First, a PHA sets a payment standard. A payment standard is a maximum subsidy level that is equal to anywhere

between 90% and 110% of Fair Market Rent (FMR). Then, a PHA calculates a maximum Housing Assistance

Payment (HAP). A HAP is the amount that the PHA will pay the landlord and it is equal to the greater of the rent

for an apartment or the payment standard, minus 30% of a family’s income. The family can then go out to the

rental market and find an apartment. In order to be approved that apartment cannot rent for more than the

maximum HAP plus 40% of a family’s income. If the rent for the unit is less than the HAP plus 30% of a

household’s income, the household must still pay 30% of their income toward rent, but the HAP will be reduced.

For example, consider a family who earns $900 per month and lives in a community with an FMR of $800 per

month for the appropriate size apartment. If their PHA has a payment standard of 110% of FMR, then the

maximum HAP a family can receive is $610 per month [($800 * 110%) – ($900 * 30%)]. The family can therefore

shop for an apartment with a rent of up to $970 per month [$610 + ($900 * 40%)].

If the family finds an apartment for $970 per month, the PHA will pay the maximum HAP ($610) and the family

will pay 40% of their income per month ($360).

If the family finds an apartment for less than the payment standard, say $750 per month, the family will pay 30% of

their income toward rent, and the PHA will pay the difference between the rent and 30% of the family’s income. In

this case, the family will pay $270 [$900 * 30%] and the PHA will pay $480 [$750 – (900 * 30%)].

8 This 40% cap on a tenant’s contribution is in effect only for the first year. After the first year, if rent increases and the

family wishes to continue to live in the unit, then the family can choose to contribute more than 40% of its income

toward rent.

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Congressional Research Service RL32284 · VERSION 19 · UPDATED 8

Once a family is using a voucher, the family can retain the voucher as long as the PHA has

adequate funding for it and the family complies with PHA and program requirements. If a family

wants to move, the tenant-based voucher can move with the family. Once the family moves to a

new area, the two PHAs (the PHA that originally issued the voucher and the PHA that administers

vouchers in the new area) negotiate regarding who will continue to administer the voucher.
9

The voucher program does not contain any mandatory time limits. Families exit the program in

one of three ways: their own choice, non-compliance with program rules (including non-payment

of rent), or if they no longer qualify for a subsidy. Families no longer qualify for a subsidy when

their incomes, which must be recertified annually, have risen to the point that 30% of that income

is equal to rent. At that point the HAP payment will be zero and the family will no longer receive

any subsidy.

Unlike the project-based Section 8 program, the majority of households receiving vouchers are

headed by a person who is not elderly and not disabled. In 2010, about 19% of the households

with Section 8 vouchers were elderly households, about 28% were disabled households, and

about 53% were non-elderly, non-disabled households with children. The median income of

households with vouchers was just over $10,400 per year.
10

Project-Based Vouchers

Vouchers, like Section 8 existing housing certificates, can be project-based. In order to project-

base vouchers, a landlord must sign a contract with a PHA agreeing to set-aside up to 25% of the

units in a development for low-income families. Each of those set-aside units will receive

voucher assistance as long as a family that is eligible for a voucher lives there. Families that live

in a project-based voucher unit pay 30% of their adjusted household income toward rent, and

HUD pays the difference between 30% of household income and a reasonable rent agreed to by

both the landlord and HUD. PHAs can choose to project-base up to 20% of their vouchers.

Project-based vouchers are portable; after one year, a family with a project-based voucher can

convert to a tenant-based voucher and then move, as long as a tenant-based voucher is available.

Tenant Protection or Enhanced Vouchers

Another type of voucher, called a tenant protection voucher, is given to families that were already

receiving assistance through another HUD housing program, before being displaced. Examples of

instances when families receive tenant-protection vouchers include when public housing is

demolished or when a landlord has terminated a Section 8 project-based rental assistance

contract. Families that risk being displaced from project-based Section 8 units are eligible to

receive a special form of tenant-protection voucher, called an enhanced voucher. The “enhanced”

feature of the voucher allows the maximum value of the voucher to grow to be equal to the new

rent charged in the property, as long as it is reasonable in the market, even if it is higher than the

PHA’s payment standard. They are designed to allow families to stay in their homes. If the family

chooses to move, then the enhanced feature is lost and the voucher becomes subject to the PHA’s

normal payment standard.

9 The feature of a voucher that permits a family to move from one jurisdiction to another while retaining their

assistance is referred to as portability. The administration of portability has proven to be complicated for PHAs. In

some cases, the originating PHA is billed for the cost of the family’s voucher by the receiving PHA; in other cases, the

receiving PHA transitions the new family onto one if its vouchers and the original voucher reverts to the originating

PHA. PHA advocacy groups have called for HUD to make regulatory reforms to ease the administration of portability.

10 CRS analysis of data provided by HUD. Please note that 2010 are the most recent data HUD has provided to CRS.

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Special Purpose Vouchers

The voucher program also has several special programs or uses. These include family unification

vouchers, vouchers for homeless veterans, and vouchers used for homeownership.

Family Unification Program

Family unification vouchers are given to families for whom the lack of adequate housing is a

primary factor in the separation, or threat of imminent separation, of children from their families

or in preventing the reunification of the children with their families. HUD has awarded over

38,600 family unification vouchers to PHAs since the inception of the program.
11

HUD-VASH

Beginning in 1992, through collaboration between HUD and the VA, Section 8 vouchers have

been made available for use by homeless veterans with severe psychiatric or substance abuse

disorders. Through the program, called HUD-VA Supported Housing (HUD-VASH), PHAs

administer the Section 8 vouchers while local VA medical centers provide case management and

clinical services to participating veterans.
12

Homeownership Vouchers

While there are no specifically authorized “homeownership vouchers,” since 2000 certain

families have been eligible to use their vouchers to help pay for the monthly costs associated with

homeownership. Eligible families must work full-time or be elderly or disabled, be first-time

homebuyers, and agree to complete first-time homebuyer counseling. PHAs can decide whether

to run a homeownership program and an increasing number of PHAs are choosing to do so.

According to HUD’s website, nearly 13,000 families have closed on homes using vouchers.
13

Family Self-Sufficiency Coordinators

The Family Self Sufficiency (FSS) program was established by Congress as a part of the National

Affordable Housing Act of 1990 (P.L. 101-625). The purpose of the program is to promote

coordination between the voucher program and other private and public resources to enable

families on public assistance to achieve economic self-sufficiency. Families who participate in the

program sign five-year contracts in which they agree to work toward leaving public assistance.

While in the program, families can increase their incomes without increasing the amount they

11 HUD awarded 33,497 FUP vouchers from 1992 to 2001. Each award included five years of funding per voucher and

the voucher’s use was restricted to FUP-eligible families for those five years. At the end of those five years, PHAs were

eligible to convert those FUP vouchers to regular vouchers. While the five-year use restrictions have expired for all

FUP vouchers, according to surveys conducted by the Child Welfare League of America, the vast majority of PHAs

have continued to use their original FUP vouchers for FUP-eligible families and some have even chosen to use some

regular-purpose vouchers for FUP families. As a result of these two factors, it is unclear how many of those original

FUP vouchers are serving FUP-eligible families at this time. In FY2008, FY2009, and FY2010, Congress appropriated

funding for additional FUP vouchers and HUD had awarded 5,094 of those vouchers at the time this report was

updated.

12 The program was codified in 2001 and reauthorized in 2006; however, VASH vouchers were not funded again until

FY2008. Since then, VASH vouchers have been funded each year. For more information, see CRS Report RL34024,

Veterans and Homelessness, by Libby Perl.

13 http://www.hud.gov/offices/pih/programs/hcv/homeownership/publiclist_vhosites.xls, accessed December 26, 2013.

Data current as of March 2011.

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contribute toward rent. The difference between what the family paid in rent before joining the

program and what they would owe as their income increases is deposited into an escrow account

that the family can access upon completion of the contract. For example:

If a family with a welfare benefit of $450 per month begins working, earning $800 per

month, the family’s contribution towards rent increases from $135 per month to $240 per

month. Of that $240 the family is now paying towards rent, $105 is deposited into an

escrow account. After five years, the family will have $6,300 plus interest in an escrow

account to use for whatever purpose the family sees fit.

PHAs receive funding for FSS coordinators, who help families with vouchers connect with

services, including job training, child care, transportation and education.

In 2012, HUD funded the salaries of over 1,100 FSS coordinators in the voucher program,

serving nearly 48,000 enrolled families.
14

Demonstrations

Moving to Work

The Moving to Work Demonstration, authorized in 1996 (P.L. 104-134), was created to give

HUD and PHAs the flexibility to design and test various approaches for providing and

administering housing assistance. The demonstration directed HUD to select up to 30 PHAs to

participate. The goals were to reduce federal costs, provide work incentives to families, and

expand housing choice. MTW allows participating PHAs greater flexibility in determining how to

use federal Section 8 voucher and Public Housing funds by allowing them to blend funding

sources and experiment with rent rules, with the constraint that they had to continue to serve

approximately the same number of households. It also permits them to seek exemption from most

Public Housing and Housing Choice Voucher program rules. (For more information, see CRS

Report R42562, Moving to Work (MTW): Housing Assistance Demonstration Program, by

Maggie McCarty.)

The existing MTW program, while called a demonstration, was not implemented in a way that

would allow it to be effectively evaluated. Therefore, there is not sufficient information about

different reforms adopted by MTW agencies to evaluate their effectiveness. However, there is

some information available about how PHAs are using the flexibility provided under MTW.

Agencies participating in MTW have used the flexibility it provides differently. Some have made

minor changes to their existing Section 8 voucher and public housing programs, such as limiting

reporting requirements; others have implemented full funding fungibility between their public

housing and voucher programs and significantly altered their eligibility and rent policies. Some

have adopted time limit and work requirement policies similar to those enacted in the 1996

welfare reform law.

An evaluation for MTW published in January 2004 reported:

The local flexibility and independence permitted under MTW appears to allow strong,

creative [P]HAs to experiment with innovative solutions to local challenges, and to be more

responsive to local conditions and priorities than is often possible where federal program

requirements limit the opportunity for variation. But allowing local variation poses risks as

well as provides potential benefits. Under MTW, some [P]HAs, for instance, made

mistakes that reduced the resources available to address low-income housing needs, and

14 HUD FY2014 Congressional Budget Justifications.

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Congressional Research Service RL32284 · VERSION 19 · UPDATED 11

some implemented changes that disadvantaged particular groups of needy households

currently served under federal program rules. Moreover, some may object to the likelihood

that allowing significant variation across [P]HAs inevitably results in some loss of

consistency across communities.15

Moving to Opportunity

The Moving to Opportunity Fair Housing Demonstration (MTO) was authorized in 1992 (P.L.

102-550, P.L. 102-139). MTO combined housing counseling and services with tenant-based

vouchers to help very low-income families with children move to areas with low concentrations

of poverty. The experimental demonstration was designed to test the premise that changes in an

individual’s neighborhood environment can change his or her life chances. Participating families

were selected between 1994 and 1998 and followed for at least 10 years. Interim results have

found that families who moved to lower-poverty areas had some improvements in housing

quality, neighborhood conditions, safety, and adult health. Mixed effects were found on youth

health, delinquency, and engagement in risky behavior: girls demonstrated positive effects from

the move to a lower-poverty neighborhood; boys showed negative effects. No impacts were found

on child achievement or schooling or adult employment, earnings, or receipt of public

assistance.
16

(For more information, see CRS Report R42832, Choice and Mobility in the

Housing Choice Voucher Program: Review of Research Findings and Considerations for

Policymakers.)

Conclusion
The combined Section 8 programs are the largest direct housing assistance program for low-

income families. With a combined FY2013 budget of $27 billion, they reflect a major

commitment of federal resources. That commitment has led to some successes. More than three

million families are able to obtain safe and decent housing through the program, at a cost to the

family that is considered affordable. However, these successes come at a high cost to the federal

government. Given current budget deficit levels, Congress has begun to reevaluate whether the

cost of the Section 8 programs, particularly the voucher program, are worth their benefits.

Proposals to reform the program abound, and whether the current Section 8 programs are

maintained largely in their current form, changed substantially, or eliminated altogether are

questions currently facing Congress.

Author Information

Maggie McCarty

Specialist in Housing Policy

15 Housing Agency Responses to Federal Deregulation: An Assessment of HUD’s “Moving to Work” Demonstration,

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Prepared by Martin D. Abravanel et al., Urban Institute, January

2004.

16 Moving to Opportunity Fair Housing Demonstration Program Interim Impacts Evaluation, US Department of

Housing and Urban Development, Prepared by Larry Orr et al., Abt Associates; and Lisa Sanbonmatsu et al., National

Bureau of Economic Research, September 2003, http://www.nber.org/mtopublic/

MTO%20Overview%20Presentation.pdf.

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Disclaimer

This document was prepared by the Congressional Research Service (CRS). CRS serves as nonpartisan

shared staff to congressional committees and Members of Congress. It operates solely at the behest of and

under the direction of Congress. Information in a CRS Report should not be relied upon for purposes other

than public understanding of information that has been provided by CRS to Members of Congress in

connection with CRS’s institutional role. CRS Reports, as a work of the United States Government, are not

subject to copyright protection in the United States. Any CRS Report may be reproduced and distributed in

its entirety without permission from CRS. However, as a CRS Report may include copyrighted images or

material from a third party, you may need to obtain the permission of the copyright holder if you wish to

copy or otherwise use copyrighted material.

Making (and Framing) the Connection
Between Housing Affordability and
Health

Follow-up on: Fenelon A, Mayne P,
Simon AE, et al. Housing assistance

programs and adult health in the United
States. Am J Public Health. 2017;

107(4):571–578.

In 2017, Fenelon et al. dem-
onstrated significant health im-
provements among low-income
adults receiving housing assistance
from the Department of Housing
and Urban Development (HUD).
Using multivariate models, the
investigators examined self-
reported health status and levels of
psychological distress among adults
who were currently receiving
HUD housing assistance (including
public housing, housing choice
vouchers,andmultifamilyhousing)
and adults who were scheduled to
receive housing assistance within
the next two years.1 Adjusting for
all other factors, the authors found
that housing assistance was associ-
ated with improved health status
and psychological well-being
amongcurrent public housing and
multifamily housing residents
relative to those who were on a
waitlist.1 Notably, their findings
indicate the high value of HUD
housing assistance programs
with respect to recipients’
physical and men-tal health.

Such evidence helps reify the
link between housing afford-
ability and health, a link that
recent research suggests may be
recognizedbythepubliconlywhen
it is explicitly communicated.2

Because the public more readily
perceives housing as an essential
good,similartofoodandclothing,
robust communication strategies
are needed to help make the
connection between housing and
health more salient in the public’s

mind. Framing housing afford-
ability as a fundamental contrib-
utor to health may be central to
overcoming public resistance to
inventive and targeted solutions
that increase housing affordability.

Furthermore, espousing the
connection between housing
and health may offer key stake-
holders, such as policymakers,
developers, and landlords, new
and productive ways of thinking
about the collective effects of
reduced housing burden. Given
their magnitude, how might the
findings of Fenelon et al. be
operationalized within a message
frame generating awareness
about the housing–health con-
nection as well as garnering
support for housing affordability
policies and interventions?

USE OF EVIDENCE AND
FRAMING IN DECISION-
MAKING

Research shows that the use
of evidence alone in messaging
is ineffective in moving public
opinion and that policymakers
tend to rely more heavily on values
and personal anecdotes than
available evidence.3 The evidence
emerging from the Fenelon et al.
study should be especially perti-
nent to today’s decisions regarding
support for existing housing in-
vestments in the United States.
Yet, the White House’s recently
proposed fiscal year 2020 HUD
budget calls for severe cuts to
programs that serve our nation’s
most vulnerable communities,
including millions of low-income
individuals, elderly people, families

with children, people with dis-
abilities, and veterans.

Overall, recommended fiscal
year 2020 funding for HUD is
18% lower than what Congress
allocated to HUD in 2019.4

More specifically, the proposed
budget recommends the elimina-
tion of the public housing capital
fund,4 which oversees the devel-
opment, financing, and moderni-
zation of public housing, a housing
assistance program that Fenelon
et al. showed to be significantly
associated with better health.

The White House’s proposed
budget does recommend a slight
funding increase for the Office
of Lead Hazard Control and
Healthy Homes. However, it is
important that the public un-
derstand, and that we effectively
convey, the entirety of how
housing functions to affect
health. Although eliminating
lead exposure is a pressing con-
cern, so too is the need to increase
the stock of affordable housing
to minimize the adverse health
effects of housing burden and
to repair deteriorating housing
conditions that contribute
to illness and neighborhood
disadvantage; such concerns are
difficult, daresay impossible,
to remedy without financial
guarantees. Policymakers and
advocates who are committed

to safeguarding the nation’s
housing safety net would be re-
miss to overlook or only partially
acknowledge the housing–health
connection in their opposition
to the proposed budget.

HOUSING AFFORDABILITY
AS A DETERMINANT
OF HEALTH

Fenelon et al. also noted that
their findings may be of special
interest given the recent attention
on improving health by targeting
“community, social-structural,
and environmental factors.”1(p578)

Indeed, some large health initia-
tives are now focusing on housing
affordability and availability as a
core program component. Kaiser
Permanente, for instance, recently
launched Thrive Local, a network
of community care services that
address the social determinants of
health, including access to afford-
ablehousing.5 Themessagebehind
Kaiser’s initiative is relatively
straightforward: the network’s
comprehensive services are
intended to achieve total pa-
tient health.

Another initiative comes by
way of the Centers for Medi-
care and Medicaid Services
(CMS). In its recognition of
the housing–health connec-
tion, CMS offers Medicaid re-
imbursement to support states’
efforts to provide supportive
housing services for populations
living with disabilities, chronic
conditions, substance use disor-
ders, and mental health issues.6

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The author is with the Department of Health Policy and Administration, Pennsylvania State
University, University Park, and is a fellow with the FrameWorks Institute, Washington,
DC.

Correspondence should be sent to Selena E. Ortiz, PhD, MPH, Department of Health Policy
and Administration, Pennsylvania State University, 604N Ford Building, University Park, PA
16802 (e-mail: [email protected]). Reprints can be ordered at http://www.ajph.org by clicking
the “Reprints” link.

This editorial was accepted June 8, 2019.
doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2019.305227

AJPH EDITORIALS

1168 Editorial Ortiz AJPH September 2019, Vol 109, No. 9

One of the guiding principles
undergirding this initiative is in-
novation, a term that signals
growth, creativity, and big ideas.

REINFORCING THE
HOUSING–HEALTH
CONNECTION

Despite these considerable
endeavors, adopting purposive
communication strategies to
widen public support for policies
and interventions that aim to
decrease housing burden—as
well as public support for repealing
or discarding those that stymie
progress—remains a priority.
Recently, the FrameWorks In-
stitute embarked on an extensive
undertaking to develop and test
a number of strategic framing
techniques that could be deployed
to advance housing affordability
efforts. The institute’s work reveals
a number of communication ap-
proaches built upon a “fairness
frame” that may help avoid
triggering unproductive ways of
thinking about housing affordabil-
ity (e.g., “not in my backyard”).7

Oneapproach,forexample,isto
developmessagesthatcontextualize
housing affordability as a societal

issue instead of an individualized
problem. Because concern re-
garding affording one’s home is
ubiquitous, the FrameWorks In-
stitute found that the public can
more easily coalesce around the
idea that affordable homes are
something that everyone should be
abletoobtain.7Anotherapproachis
to construct messages focusing
on the positive benefits that re-
sult from expanding housing
affordability (e.g., health and well-
being and more stable communi-
ties) rather than messages that focus
only on the negative consequences
of inaction.7 As Fenelon et al. posit
(and recommend as an area for
future research), the improved
health status and decreased stress
experienced among residents in
public and multifamily housing
units may have resulted from the
presence of social networks of
support, a mechanism that could
potentially be highlighted in future
communication.

CONCLUSIONS
Ensuring effective oversight and

support of evidence-based policies
and interventions that reduce or
eliminate housing burden (e.g.,

HUD’spublichousingprogram),as
well as the success of endeavors that
integrate patients’ housing needs
within their care plans (e.g., Thrive
Local), essentially depends on co-
gent understandings about the
housing–health connection. The
findings of the Fenelon et al. study
underscore the critical role that
HUD programs play in reducing
the physical and psychological
harms and stress that accompany
uncertainties about housing.

Communicating these findings
in ways that make the housing–
health connection clear to the
public—such as incorporating
storytelling to highlight the health
advantages experienced by hous-
ing residents, integrating universal
values (e.g., fairness), and calling
attention to the collective benefit
of housing affordability—may
help build policy support and
counter political attempts to de-
stabilize housing programs. To be
sure, raising consciousness and
appreciation of the housing–
health connection must be a
public health priority if all of our
communities are to have fair and
equal opportunities to attain
healthy and secure lives.

Selena E. Ortiz, PhD, MPH

CONFLICTS OF INTEREST
The author declares no conflicts of
interest.

REFERENCES
1. Fenelon A, Mayne P, Simon AE, et al.
Housing assistance programs and adult
health in the United States. Am J Public
Health. 2017;107(4):571–578.

2. Ortiz SE, Johannes BL. Building the
case for housing policy: understanding
public beliefs about housing affordability
as a key social determinant of health. SSM
Popul Health. 2018;6:63–71.

3. Gollust SE, Kite HA, Benning SJ,
Callanan RA, Weisman SR, Nanney MS.
Use of research evidence in state policy-
making for childhood obesity prevention
in Minnesota. Am J Public Health. 2014;
104(10):1894–1900.

4. National Low Income Housing Co-
alition. Analysis of President Trump’s
FY2020 budget request. Available at:
https://nlihc.org/resource/analysis-
president-trumps-fy2020-budget-
request. Accessed June 23, 2019.

5. Kaiser Permanente. Kaiser Permanente
launches social health network to ad-
dress needs on a broad scale. Available
at: https://permanente.org/kaiser-
permanente-launches-social-health-
network-to-address-needs-on-a-broad-
scale. Accessed June 23, 2019.

6. Cassidy A. Medicaid and permanent
supportive housing. Available at: https://
www.healthaffairs.org/do/10.1377/
hpb20161014.734003/full. Accessed June
23, 2019.

7. O’Neil M, Sweetland J. Piecing It
Together: A Framing Playbook for Affordable
Housing Advocates. Washington, DC:
FrameWorks Institute; 2018.

Population Health Science Bearing
Witness: A Public Health of
Consequence, September 2019

See also Himmelstein, p. 1243; Kobayashi et al., p. 1236;

Siegler et al., p. 1216; Muldoon et al., p. 1280; and Rodrigue

et al., p. 1273.

Science is concerned with
studying the world through ob-
servation and experiment. The
data that emerge from science lead
to knowledge about our physical
and social world. That knowledge
is, in and of itself, a worthwhile

pursuit—it elevates us as humans,
creates an understanding of the
forces around us, and frees us from
superstition and magical thinking.
Some of the knowledge that
comes from our scientific enter-
prise also leads directly to action,

suggesting interventions that we
can implement to improve the
human condition.

Population health science is
anchored in a universal human
value—health—that is, itself, a
foundational human condition
that we wish to improve. As such,
population health science is in-
timately linked with its opera-
tional arm—public health—and
is more concerned with the
pragmatic implications of its

ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Sandro Galea is with the School of Public Health, Boston University, Boston, MA.
Roger D. Vaughan is with The Rockefeller University, New York, NY, and is an
AJPH associate editor.

Correspondence should be sent to Roger D. Vaughan, DrPH, MS, The Rockefeller Uni-
versity, 1230 York Ave, Box 327, New York, NY 10065 (e-mail: roger.vaughan@
rockefeller.edu). Reprints can be ordered at http://www.ajph.org by clicking the “Reprints” link.

This editorial was accepted June 13, 2019.
doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2019.305234

AJPH EDITORIALS

September 2019, Vol 109, No. 9 AJPH Galea and Vaughan Editorial 1169

Reproduced with permission of copyright owner. Further reproduction
prohibited without permission.

Vol.:(0123456789)

Journal of Housing and the Built Environment (2019) 34:927–938
https://doi.org/10.1007/s10901-019-09676-w

1 3

P O L I C Y A N D P R AC T I C E

Low income housing problems and low‑income housing
solutions: opportunities and challenges in Bulawayo

Chigwenya Average1

Received: 27 September 2018 / Accepted: 26 May 2019 / Published online: 30 May 2019
© The Author(s) 2019

Abstract
The provision of housing for the low-income has been a major problem in many coun-
tries and the developing world has been hard hit. This inability has been the chief cause
of the burgeoning slum settlement in cities of the globe where one billion people live in
slum areas. The solution to the housing problem lies in the opening up of stakeholders’
participation in the provision of housing, where government, non-governmental organisa-
tion, multilateral agencies and the community can play a critical role. Critical in the whole
process is the participation of urban poor in the provision of housing for the poor, where
they are critical actors in defining housing programmes that best suit the urban poor. This
research seeks to analyse the initiatives that have been taken by the urban poor in the city
of Bulawayo in providing housing for the poor. The research made use both qualitative and
quantitative methodologies in investigating the matter. Questionnaire was the main instru-
ment to collect quantitative data and interviews and field observations were used to col-
lect qualitative data. The research showed that there are a lot positive initiatives by the
urban poor in the city of Bulawayo to provide house for the urban poor and these initiatives
appear appealing to the poor as they are giving them a roof over their heads, which was
never a dream in their lives. Though they appear noble they however fall far too short to
provide sustainable housing to the poor as they appear to be a potential health hazard for
the city. There is need for city authorities or any interested stakeholder to provide more
support to such initiatives so that they can provide more sustainable housing for the poor.
This will produce a housing scheme that will contribute to reduction of slum dwellers as
called by the Millennium Development Goals.

Keywords Bulawayo · Housing · Infrastructure development · Low-income

* Chigwenya Average
[email protected]

1 Department of Landscape Architecture and Urban Design, National University of Science
and Technology, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

928 C. Average

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1 Background of the study

The Millennium Development Goal number seven aimed to ensure environmental sustain-
ability through provision of houses so as to reduce the one billion people living in the slum
areas globally. Many cities especially in the global South are experiencing rapid urbanisa-
tion which is choking service provision. It is estimated that the urban population in cities
of the developing countries has increased by more than 600% in the past 50  years (Pugh
2001). The rate of urbanisation is averaging 5.2 per annum (Tripple et  al. 2004; Maiga
1995). This unprecedented increase is as a result of natural increase and rapid rural- urban
migration as people will be moving from the poverty stricken rural areas into town and
cities in search of better life opportunities. The developing world is experiencing most of
the unprecedented urban growth as it is where more than three quarters of global popu-
lation increase is occurring (Mabogunge 2003). The net effect of the rapid urbanisation
is the exertion of pressure on the service delivery in urban areas. Housing is one of the
problems that local authorities are grappling to resolve. The local authorities have been
unable to provide the required amount of housing stocks that is needed to house all the
urban population. Shortage of housing has been manifesting itself in high occupation rates,
development of backyard shack, slum development and poor housing conditions (Kamete
2001; Brown 2001; Potts 2001a, b). This kind of development is contravening the housing
policies adopted at the United Nations’ Habitat II conference that was held in Istanbul that
called for a Global Strategy for Shelter that aimed to provide descent accommodation for
all by the year 2000.

Housing provision for the low income has been a problem as most cities are failing to
provide adequate housing to the urban poor. The governments have been failing to provide
housing for the low income due to budgetary constraints and the private sector had also
been failing to provide housing schemes that are sensitive to the plight of the poor (Kamete
1997, 1999). The participatory approaches to housing delivery had been recommended as
the most effective approaches to deliver housing for urban poor. This paper examined the
sustainability of participatory approaches to provision of housing to the urban poor in the
city of Bulawayo.

2 Low income housing in Zimbabwe: a historical overview

Housing in Zimbabwe had been problematic since the emergence of urban centres in the
country. In the colonial period housing had been provided on a racial basis and this affected
the black majority who were the majority of low income earners. Their housing policy had
no provisions for the low income earners. To accomplish this, the colonial government
crafted pieces of legislations that side-lined the blacks in the provision of housing. The
Land Apportionment Act of 1931 divided the country’s land into black and white lands
(Kamete 2000, 2001; Ckitekwe-Biti 2009; Potts 2001a, b). The racial divide also reflected
racial bias in the amount investments given to these lands, where the white areas received
the larger share of investments. They received allocations from the national budgets for
housing development a facility that was not extended to the black areas, which only relied
on meagre profits realised through selling of beer in African townships (Musekiwa 1993).

At the early stages of industrialisation as blacks moved into towns for employ-
ment they were not considered for housing as their employers were expected to provide

929Low income housing problems and low-income housing solutions:…

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accommodation at their work places, a situation that exposed them to hazardous conditions
as they were made to live in inhabitable industrial environments. The growth of industries
resulted in influx of people into the urban areas in search of employment as the country
slowly migrated from traditional economies to cash economy. This created a massive hous-
ing demand in major cities and it prompted the colonial government to institute a Mor-
ris Carter Commission in 1925 to investigate the extent of housing problem in the native
areas. The Commission realised there was a ballooning housing problem in the low-income
groups and the problem was fast growing out of the urban authorities’ capacity. The Com-
mission recommended creation of more Native Township to house blacks who constituted
the majority of urban poor. However, the provision of housing had a lot of bottlenecks that
prevented the majority of urban poor to access housing. The government did not have a
comprehensive policy towards housing the urban poor as it adopted a piece meal approach,
which again was a big failure in their attempt to deliver housing to the urban poor. The
government built hostels that only accommodated males and was tied to employment. Such
piece meal approaches were destined for a failure because they had no intention of holisti-
cally solving the housing problem. The housing waiting list therefore continued to grow
because as early as 1965 the housing waiting list in Harare alone was pegged at 18,000
(Musekiwa 1993). The government had no intention of giving permanent housing solu-
tion to the low income. Tying accommodation to employment meant that these people had
insecure tenure rights to the houses they were given as they were supposed to release the
accommodation as soon as they were out of employment (Chitekwe-Biti 2009; Kamete
2001; Moyo 2014). A condition of males only meant that the housing policy could not pro-
vide the full reproductive functions of housing among the urban poor, because the women
and children were not allowed in these houses.

Blacks who constituted the majority of working class were regarded as temporary
migrants in the cities hence they were not allowed permanent houses and their families
were not allowed in urban areas (Zinyama and Whitlow 1986). However, despite stringent
rules that restricted the blacks to get into urban areas, the population continued to swell
resulting in passing of the Native Accommodation and Registration Act of 1946 and this
legislation provided a suite of initiatives that were aimed at alleviating housing problems
for the low income. The act provided for the setting aside of land in the native areas for
provision of low income housing. It also allowed the employers to compliment efforts by
government and local authorities by providing housing units for their employers or rent-
ing houses for them in the native townships. Moyo (2014) however, argued that the 1946
Accommodation and Registration Act was promulgated to control rural to urban migration
and ease pressure on housing. It only allowed those with employment to be in urban areas.
The colonial government also used a very strict planning laws borrowed from the Brit-
ish planning system to control any unplanned settlement. They were not tolerant to any
unplanned housing (Chirisa 2009; Kamete 1999; Potts, 2001a, b). These strict planning
regulations made it very impossible for the low-income earners to put up alternative hous-
ing schemes. Informal settlements did not have space in their urban areas where rules and
regulation borrowed from the British-type planning laws outlawed any informal settlement.
Such restrictive laws and regulations effectively bared low-income earners to adopt other
housing schemes other than that given by the government and the planning authorities.
Kamete (1999) commented that when such restrictive laws and by-laws are institutional-
ised in the housing delivery system they act to restrict the poor to access housing. He fur-
ther pointed that such practices are only good in defining the urban structure and land use
patterns but are not able to define equitable redistribution of resources.

930 C. Average

1 3

Rapid urbanisation and the growing market for jobs resulted in the burgeoning urban
population especially the World War II. This was exacerbated by the raging war of inde-
pendence in the 1970s that forced people into urban areas running away from the war
ravaged rural areas (Brown 2001; Potts 2001a, b; Kamete 1999). This influx forced the
colonial government to change their housing policy towards the low income people.
They realised that there was a dire need for housing by the low income people. The
government could not cope with the increasing demand of housing despite numerous
schemes that were introduced in the native areas to try and provide housing for the low
income earners. However, the approach adopted by the government was only supply
based as they aimed at providing finished houses. The approach was very costly for the
government as it was not able to replicate the scheme.

The houses so provided by the government had affordability problem as they were
out of reach of majority of low-income earners, for example 60% of the low income
earners could not afford houses provided in the massive housing scheme in the satellite
town of Chitungwiza. This further compounded the housing problem among the low-
income earners as such initiatives will end up being taken by other people who can
afford.

Realising the criticality of housing shortages in the African townships the colonial gov-
ernment again made a suite of amendment to the Land Apportionment Act in 1961 and
these amendments allowed the government to provide home ownership schemes to the
low income group (Musekiwa 1993; Rakodi 1990; Kamete 1997). They started to provide
houses in form of marriage quarters, which allowed black Africans stay with their families
in urban areas. However, the cost of this scheme was a big let-down as most of the low-
income earners could not afford the huge sums of money that was needed to transfers these
houses into their names. The government was also not willing to commit funds to subsidise
the scheme and put infrastructure. This again painted a gloomy picture for the low-income
earners in as far as the provision of housing is concerned.

At independence the new government wanted to remove all bottle-necks that character-
ised the housing sector. They instituted a suite of changes to the housing policy that were
aimed at addressing the imbalances inherited from the colonial government. They adopted
a three pronged approach to housing delivery system that focused on changing housing
product, reduction of housing standards and changing the housing delivery system (Kam-
ete 2001). The government wanted to give secured ownership to the urban poor so they
embarked on providing homeownership schemes where beneficiaries were to have titles
to their properties. This was a major shift from the piece meal approach that the colonial
government had adopted. They also decided to reduce the standard sizes from 300 square
metres to between 150 and 200 square metres in a move that was aimed reducing prices of
acquiring land for home building and make housing affordable to the low-income earners.
However, some of the schemes adopted were ultra-low cost housing, which constructed
houses using cement –reinforce chicken wire mesh. These houses could easily be affected
by moisture and were difficult to extend without demolishing the whole structure. The
whole process was also affected by poor targeting as the poor did not benefit much from
the scheme, which was invaded by middle income group (Kamete 1999). Efforts to provide
housing to the urban poor therefore went wasted as they were crowded out by the less poor.

They government also established the National Housing Fund whose responsibility was
to mobilise resources for construction of houses in all urban areas. This was complimented
by formation of building and material brigades that were aimed at providing building mate-
rials at affordable prices to the low-income earners. They also negotiated with the finan-
cial institutions to provide loans at concessionary rates and government was to be their

931Low income housing problems and low-income housing solutions:…

1 3

guarantor. This allowed civil servants to access loans for house building from these finan-
cial institutions.

The government was determined to drastically reduce the housing problem in the low
income earner areas as shown by the effort they gave to the housing issues. However, they
were soon overwhelmed by the housing problem as the housing demand continues to grow
at rates that were difficult to cope with. The government inherited a housing back-log of 50
000 at independence but by 1986 the figure had jumped to 865,000 (Butcher 1993). Recent
figures peg the national housing waiting list at 1.2 million (Potts 2001a, b; Chitekwe-Biti
2009). The Economic Structural Adjustment Programme adopted by the government in the
late 1980s worsened the housing situation in Zimbabwe as it demanded the rolling back of
government activities in many sector to allow the private sector to deliver service in urban
areas. This resulted in privatisation of social services offered in urban areas. It therefore
meant that most of goods and services were now provided on market based prices and this
put the prices of houses beyond the reach of many urban poor. With no government assis-
tance, the low-income earners could hardly afford housing provided by the predominantly
private sector.

Kamete 2001 identified that the Zimbabwean government had been failing to provide
housing to the poor and it had been experimenting on policies that failed to provide perma-
nent solutions to the housing among the urban poor. All efforts to arrest the ever ballooning
housing demand seemed to be in vain. The national housing waiting list had peaked 1.2
million (Potts 2001a, b; Chitekwe-Biti 2009) and housing supply had been dwindling since
the adoption of economic reforms. At the turn of century Zimbabwe was supposed to deliv-
ering 162,000 housing units annually but it was only affording between 15,000 and 20,000
(Government of Zimbabwe 2008). By 2002 the production of housing units plummeted
to 5 500 units against a national annual demand of 250,000 units (Government of Zimba-
bwe 2008). This resulted in high occupancy rate averaging 12 households per stand (Potts
2001a, b). In some extreme situations the occupancy rate was as high as 18. The housing
shortage in Zimbabwe also manifested its self in mushrooming of backyard shacks and
unauthorised extensions as people try to cope with high demand for housing.

The housing problem and in particular the housing for the poor was epitomised by the
worldly condemned Operation Murambasvina, a government exercise that demolished all
illegal structures in the urban areas. The exercise demolished houses for more than 700 000
people and affected livelihoods of over 2 million people (Tibaijuka 2008; Potts 2001a, b;
Mpofu 2012; Gumbo 2010). The government, which had for some time adopted a lenient
stance towards informal housing dramatically changed their policy and reverted to their
non-tolerant attitude towards informal housing. The destructions, which many said were
politically motivated, brought a lot of suffering among the urban poor as many people were
left in open after the government embarked on the blitz against backyard shacks, illegal
settlements and extensions (Potts 2001a, b; Tibaijuka 2008).

3 Low income initiatives housing delivery in Bulawayo

Realising that it was hard to access housing in the urban areas, the poor in the city of Bula-
wayo have grouped together and came up with initiatives that are aimed at bringing shelter
to the urban poor. With partnership from the local non-governmental organisation, Zim-
babwe Homeless People’s Federation, the urban poor have been trying some interventions
that are aimed at providing housing to the urban poor. They have adopted a participatory

932 C. Average

1 3

approach to housing delivery, where the urban poor are actively participating in the hous-
ing delivery system. The urban poor in the city of Bulawayo are actively involved in the
provision housing starting from the planning stage where they are involved in provision of
housing that are appropriate to the urban poor. The major drive behind this initiative is the
realisation that the urban poor themselves are the best placed to deliver sustainable hous-
ing to the poor. This is very critical, because participatory approaches to housing delivery
are said to be effective in delivering houses to the urban poor. This approach can improve
project design leading to project delivery (Imparato and Ruster 2003). They further
argued that participatory means can lead to empowerment of participants as the process
will capacitate them to undertake development initiatives and can also result in improved
governance leading to democracy and poverty reduction (Das and Takahashi 2009). The
designing stage has empowered the urban poor in the city of Bulawayo because they can
now plan for their houses because they have been actively involved in the planning stage
with the help from the e faculty of the Built Environment of the National University of Sci-
ence and Technology. Two departments (department of Architecture and Landscape Archi-
tecture and Urban planning) have been involved in the designing and planning of houses
for the poor in the city. They have managed to provide appropriate sanitary facilities that
are now operational in the low income residential areas in the city. These sanitary facili-
ties have allowed these people to move away from communal toilets to individual systems,
where each household is now using its facility. The empowerment program has been very
vital in reducing cost of producing houses for the poor because the poor themselves can
now plan and design houses for their people a service they could have outsourced for a fee.
They also have been getting assistance from local polytechnic colleges where students from
the planning and quantity surveying have been helping to plan and carry out bills of quanti-
ties for their houses. They can now design houses that best suit their economic condition
and this will ensure project sustainability (Das and Takahashi 2009). Using examples from
India, Das and Takahashi (2009), further argued that participatory housing is very impor-
tant component of housing delivery system as it ensures targeting, democracy, transpar-
ency and can lead to costreduction. Participants are also willing to pay more when partici-
patory approaches are used in housing delivery system. For example, in India, participants
were supposed make a down-payment of 10% but some individuals were paying up to 33%.
This shows that participatory approaches can galvanise people to be actively involved in
the project.

Majale (2008), further commended that participatory approaches to housing delivery
is a move away from the inefficiencies of top-down approaches, which are characteristi-
cally rigid, unresponsive, corrupt and bureaucratic. He further argued that participatory
approaches ensure equity, transparency, accountability and civic engagement. Therefore,
the participation of the urban poor in provision of housing in the city of Bulawayo is the
right step towards provision of sustainable housing in the city. The urban poor have been
participating in the housing delivery system because it has been used to break bureaucratic
impediments that have for long been bedevilling the housing delivery system for. Prior to
this the urban poor have been in the dark in the housing delivery system but after this
they have been actively involved with all the city officials that are critical in the housing
delivery system and these city officials have been very helpful in allowing the poor to pro-
cess their housing plans. These city officials have also been helping these people to design
and plan house plans that are acceptable in the city. The participation of people under the
organisation of Homeless People’s Federation of Bulawayo can also be traced from the
mapping stage where the poor (who are predominantly former squatters in areas around
Bulawayo), are given the chance to identify the homeless in the city. This stage is very

933Low income housing problems and low-income housing solutions:…

1 3

important in identifying the right beneficiaries of the projects and will avoid misallocation
where undeserving people will unjustifiable benefit from the project. Sivam and Kuruppan-
nan (2002) commented that targeting is one of the problems encountered by low-income
housing projects, where in most cases the urban poor fail to benefit from projects targeted
to them. Sivam and Kuruppannan (2002) therefore recommended policy formulation that
can ensure correct targeting of the urban poor for an effective housing delivery to the poor.

The urban poor in the Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation have adopted an incre-
mental approach to developing their houses where individuals are allowed to develop their
properties at their own pace. They have been allowed to develop houses ranging from two-
roomed and four roomed houses. They are also using sky-loo toilets and Blair toilets wait-
ing to sewer reticulation infrastructure to be developed in the area. They are also getting
water from the communal boreholes waiting for water reticulation system to be installed
in the area. This incremental approach is an attempt to make house construction affordable
to the poor since the majority of beneficiaries do not have enough resources to build their
houses at once. Most of these people are unemployed and do not have permanent source
of income that could allow them to build and complete their houses at once. Most of the
beneficiaries in this housing scheme were drawn from informal settlements around the city
and their livelihoods were mainly in the informal sector and scavenging at dump sites in
the city. So they are allowed to start very small, either one or two rooms and then they are
allowed to extend as and when resources permit. This process gives them flexibility and
adaption to meet their varied and changing needs (Ettouney and Abderl-Kader 2003; Pugh
2001). Ettouney and Abderl-Kader (2003) further argued that incremental completion of
dwelling units ensures affordability as they can develop their properties when funds per-
mit. So the problems of land repossession, which was a major worry for those who cannot
afford to complete construction within stipulated time no-longer, affect them. In this way
economic viability of the project is ensured as the participants are allowed to gradually
develop their dwellings allowing them to prioritise and manage other needs that may crop
up in the process of construction of houses. This will ensure continuity of the project in an
economically enabling environment and also create ownership of the project as participant
will take full responsibility of their own development (Davy 2006). However, Pugh (2001),
pointed out that for effective incremental development, which measure to some standards,
there is need for a dependable long term employment and a stable economic growth oth-
erwise the whole process will create substandard housing which will contribute to slum
development. The urban poor in the city of Bulawayo also came up with a revolving fund
and a material brigade scheme in the production of building material and finances to assist
group members to build their houses. They contribute monthly subscriptions of US$1 and
this fund assists towards purchasing building material such as doors, window frames, river
sand, and quarry and pit sand. There is also a material building brigades which is providing
bricks and infrastructure for water and sewer reticulation.

All these initiatives are done to reduce the price of building and make construction
affordable to the urban poor. Affordability is one of the problems that are often faced by
the urban poor in their attempt to access housing in urban areas. The situation obtaining
in the country is that the financial resources to help the poor to build their houses are non-
existence; hence such initiatives by the poor will go a long way in assisting the members
in acquiring building materials which will help in their construction projects. Most of the
building societies in the country that were offering credit facilities are no longer offering
such facilities and the only available credit facilities are in the micro-finance, which are
offering financial assistance at very exorbitant rates ranging from 25 to 45%. At such rates
the people in the low income cannot afford such facilities. The urban poor are also people

934 C. Average

1 3

of no credit worthiness and are regarded as high risk people by financial institutions (Kam-
ete1997), which make it extremely difficult for the poor to access and make use of such
facilities. Under such circumstance therefore these local initiatives become very handy to
the urban poor in their quest for shelter. The formal financial institution is also not help-
ing because those that were giving financial assistance have since stopped providing such
facilities and the few that are available are also offering credit at very high rates ranging
from 20–35%. Such rates are almost the same as those offered in the informal sector. At
such rates again it makes the people in the informal sector unable to access such facilities
for the development of their houses. The financial institutions in Zimbabwe were never
helpful to the people n the low-income. According to Kamete (1997), financial institutions
in Zimbabwe are so stringent, unrealistic, inflexible and insensitive to the conditions of the
poor. They ask for collateral that is not found among the poor. Availing financial facilities
will go a long way in promoting investment in the housing sector and this will also benefit
the economy by contributing to Gross Domestic Product (Kissick et al. 2006).

The housing project by the poor in the city of Bulawayo has also entered into collabora-
tion with the city authorities to allow them collect local material such as river sand from
the silted rivers and streams. In this way they will rehabilitate these rivers, which will go a
long way in reducing flash floods which is a perennial problem in the city and also help to
restore the aquatic life thereby positively contributing to biodiversity. If the project is man-
aged properly it will result in resuscitation of the rivers and streams in the city, which will
encourage tourism and improve the quality of life in the neighbourhood.

4 Sustainability issues of low‑income housing in Bulawayo

The housing scheme is a noble idea and best initiatives for the poor who are fighting to
access houses in the city. It has generated a lot of interest among the poor as this has given
them some hopes to access housing in the city, a thing most of them have never thought
will materialise in their life time especially considering their financial conditions and the
economic condition prevailing in the country where the majority of the people are not
employed. The prospects offered by this project are therefore ideal for the poor who are
not able to raise enough resources to build their houses. The project therefore offers a ray
of hope for the homeless to get a roof over their heads, more still to own a house that is in
the individual’s name. The project has therefore generated a lot of enthusiasm among the
beneficiaries and they are ready to support the project to its finality. Their participation
in this housing scheme brings a very important aspect of the sustainability of the hous-
ing project. With the skills that they have acquired through their interactions with various
planning and design schools in the city of Bulawayo it seems the participants have been
empowered to carry on with the project even when the external support is removed, which
is a very important aspect of sustainability of the housing project. Also the generated inter-
est can ensure sustainability into the future. When the beneficiaries of the project are the
ones that are engineering and driving it there is greater likelihood of project sustainability.
This will ensure continuation and replication of the project (Taiwo and Adeboye 2013).
The participation of beneficiaries of the housing project also brings in a very important
aspect of sustainable housing because it is critical for various actors to be involved in the
housing provision (Klunder 2004). The most important stake holder is the local people and
local beneficiaries, who hold the most important information pertaining their needs and the
local environments (Olotuah and Bobadoye 2009; Winston 2010). There is also reuse of

935Low income housing problems and low-income housing solutions:…

1 3

resource such the waste from the sky-loo toilets which is treated for use as organic manure
in their backyard gardens. This avoids use of chemical fertilizers which can have detrimen-
tal effects when washed into the water courses. Also since the project is based on the local
skills it is therefore more sustainable than those projects depending on external resources.

However, there is need to create strong partnerships with other stakeholders which will
bring in more resources to assist the project and allow it to be run on a more stable finan-
cial footing. The financial situation is not sound as they are only relying on their meagre
savings schemes. The contributions are very small (US$1 per member per month) to allow
putting up the supper structure and the required infrastructure such as water and sewer
reticulation. For example, it now cost between US$18,000.00 and 25,000 to build a four
roomed house in the country and contributions generated from the monthly contribution
is a mere US$30.00. Therefore, using these resources alone, it will take between 50 and
67 years to construct one unit and for the first batch 30 beneficiaries it will take generations
to complete the projects. This is just to complete the super structure and to provide for the
supporting infrastructure such as water and sewer reticulation systems it will be asking for
too much from them. It therefore means leaving in environments that are semi-human for
the rest of their lives. The success of the first few cases is due to contributions that were
made by collaborating non-governmental organisation that has been putting money into
the project as seed capital to buy land for constructing their houses from the local council.
The council has also been very supportive of the programme because they have been giv-
ing stands to some of these urban poor for a nominal fee of just US$50.00 and they have
allowed them to start building their houses. Subserviced stands in the city of Bulawayo are
going for between US$4500.00 and US$7000.00. Such costs are beyond the reach of most
urban poor.

Sanitation issues are a big time bomb in the area because households are still using eco-
san and Blair toilets in a community where wells and bore holes are the primary sources
of water for daily use. There is a greater likelihood of contaminating the underground
water because the water table is very high because blair toilets flood during the rainy sea-
son thereby posing a serious environmental problem. This can lead to outbreaks of water
borne diseases such as diarrhoea typhoid and cholera. Although no such problems have
been recorded in the area, the continued use of such systems poses a serious environmental
threat to the community. There is therefore need for resources that will quickly assist those
people to put up water and sewer reticulation infrastructure in the area in order to avert
the impending environmental problem. Such infrastructure requires a substantial invest-
ment which the urban poor alone cannot accomplish. Sustainable housing is anchored by
creation of environments that reduce environmental and health impacts to the built up area
(Klunder 2004; Magigi and Majani 2006).

Leaving the poor to provide infrastructure needed for the housing scheme will also lead
to failure of the scheme because the poor alone cannot afford it since most of them were
selected from the informal settlement and are unemployed. There is a greater likelihood
that if they are going to provide such infrastructure it will be of poor quality, which is
again health time bomb. It will be a result of a lot of cost cutting measures that will com-
promise the standards of the infrastructure which will result into unhealthy environments.
According to Makoni et  al. (2004), infrastructure provision is a big stumbling block in
housing schemes for urban poor and is a major cause of high prevalence of diseases in such
neighbourhoods. Therefore, it is prudent for other stakeholders such as the city council
to help in the provision important infrastructure so that these people can live in safe and
liveable spaces. According to UN-Habitat (2012), the conditions of people in slum areas
is life threatening as these people live every day facing health risks such as diseases and

936 C. Average

1 3

injuries associated with poor construction. This directly contravenes the agreements that
were made at the UN-Habitat II Conferences that called for environmental issues as central
in the housing delivery system (Pugh 2001; UN-Habitat 2012). Pugh (2001) further argued
that self-help housing schemes are potential health hazards because of poor infrastructure
provision and such schemes are responsible for 25% of preventable ill-heath such as diar-
rhoea and respiratory diseases. He therefore called up the government to assist in the provi-
sion of utilities and infrastructure in self-help housing projects so as to avert disease out-
breaks. In the Bulawayo housing project there is need for bringing another stakeholder that
will assist in financing the provision of infrastructure for water, sewer and other services.

Although the material brigades are supposed to provide material to build water and
sewer reticulation infrastructure, the major concern is that of affordability considering the
costs involved are very huge and the financial status of the people involved is very poor.
As illustrated above these urban poor cannot afford to put up the housing super structure
and asking to put up the infrastructures will be asking for too much from them. Funding
is a critical component for sustainable housing provision for the poor (Ross et  al. 2010;
Bredenoord 2016). It will take a very long time to complete such developments without
assistances from other stakeholders. Bredenoord further argued that the poor cannot be left
alone to drive sustainable housing because the responsibility is too heavy for them. They
therefore require the assistance of local governments, non-governmental organisations and
the corporate world to achieve it. Leaving the whole project to the urban poor is therefore
counter development as it is tantamount to creation of another slum condition, which again
brings in another sustainability problem of the housing scheme. This again contravenes the
demands of Millennium Development Goals which calls for reduction of a billion people
living under slum conditions. Lack of support for the poor also reflects segregatory hous-
ing policies, which is against the principles of ‘just city’ and rights to the city (Sandercok
1998; Marcuse 2009). There is the need to integrate the needs of the poor in city develop-
ment plans so that there is comprehensive and coordination of activities for sustainable city
development. A situation where initiatives of the poor are running parallel and in isolation
to the mainstream programmes in cities is not healthy for sustainable development of the
city and usually reflects exclusive and elitist urbanisation policy that does not take care
of the needs of the diversity of urban society. The city needs to reflect the diverse and
cosmo-polis of the city in its entire development agenda and its development programmes
should focus on uplifting the conditions of the poor in line with the tenets of sustainable
development. The city should show that it provides for the diversity of its urban popula-
tion. According to UN-Habitat (2012), sustainable housing should offer accommodation
that fulfils the diverse social and cultural needs of its people.

5 Conclusions and recommendations

The housing for the low-income people has been a perennial problem in Zimbabwe with
no permanent solution in site. The problem has persisted ever since the colonial period
where the government and local authorities had virtually no policy for housing the urban
poor. The housing policy did not cater for the urban poor hence this sector has not been
provided. The post-colonial government made some inroads but was later overwhelmed
and overtaken by the problem and very little has been achieved in terms of providing hous-
ing to the urban poor. The private sector has never invested in the low-income housing
schemes as they regard it as a high risk and low return investment area. The conditions

937Low income housing problems and low-income housing solutions:…

1 3

set by the private sector automatically ruled out the participation of low-income earners
because of their stringent conditions that are not sensitive to the conditions of the poor.
Therefore, the only viable means to deliver housing to the urban poor is through participa-
tory approach. It is feasible, viable, affordability and flexibility. It is also the best way of
effectively targeting beneficiaries as the poor are allowed to identify their members who
should benefit from the project.

However, such projects require financial assistance especially in the provision of infra-
structure so as to create better living conditions. The participation of the urban poor in the
provision of housing is a noble idea but there is need to involve other stakeholders who will
assist the poor in achieving their dreams of accessing housing in the city of Bulawayo. The
urban poor alone cannot address the housing problem. There is need for other stakeholders
that can assist them to access descent housing in the city. These stakeholders should assist
in the provision of infrastructure that will allow the urban poor to access descent housing.
Allowing the urban poor to stay where they are, with no proper utilities and infrastructure
is just as good as creating another slum settlement and this is not sustainable.

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  • Low income housing problems and low-income housing solutions: opportunities and challenges in Bulawayo
    • Abstract
    • 1 Background of the study
    • 2 Low income housing in Zimbabwe: a historical overview
    • 3 Low income initiatives housing delivery in Bulawayo
    • 4 Sustainability issues of low-income housing in Bulawayo
    • 5 Conclusions and recommendations
    • References

sustainability

Article

On Transforming Unused Urban Spaces to Social Housing for
Self-Employed People in Ho Chi Minh City: An Architectural
Space Design Proposal

Le-Minh Ngo 1,* , Hai-Binh Nguyen 1, Thi-Phuong Uyen Nguyen 2 and Thi-Minh Dieu Nguyen 3

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Citation: Ngo, L.-M.; Nguyen, H.-B.;

Nguyen, T.-P.U.; Nguyen, T.-M.D. On

Transforming Unused Urban Spaces

to Social Housing for Self-Employed

People in Ho Chi Minh City: An

Architectural Space Design Proposal.

Sustainability 2021, 13, 12175. https:

//doi.org/10.3390/su132112175

Academic Editor: Nicholas Chileshe

Received: 4 September 2021

Accepted: 26 October 2021

Published: 4 November 2021

Publisher’s Note: MDPI stays neutral

with regard to jurisdictional claims in

published maps and institutional affil-

iations.

Copyright: © 2021 by the authors.

Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.

This article is an open access article

distributed under the terms and

conditions of the Creative Commons

Attribution (CC BY) license (https://

creativecommons.org/licenses/by/

4.0/).

1 Faculty of Civil Engineering, Ton Duc Thang University, Ho Chi Minh City 700000, Vietnam;
[email protected]

2 Research Center of Environment, Southern Institute of Social Sciences, Ho Chi Minh City 700000, Vietnam;
[email protected]

3 Faculty of Engineering and Technology, Hong Bang International University,
Ho Chi Minh City 700000, Vietnam; [email protected]

* Correspondence: [email protected]

Abstract: As with many metropolitan areas, social housing (SH) provision, which can improve
living standards and social welfare, is crucial for urban socio-economic development strategies in
Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC). However, there have been issues relating to promoting social housing
in the Vietnamese context resulting from the property market and the design. The former is a
failure to attract investors. The latter relates to lacking housing models for the mid- and low-income
communities. Currently, many low-income families who have low access to the general job market
in HCMC have to make a living by running their own business at home. This situation leads to
low-income housing establishments in some residential areas. Thus, the planning approach in
social housing needs to solve both the demand for low-cost housing and promoting self-employed
activities. In this paper, mixed methods, including observation, questionnaires, interviews, data
aggregation, and comparison, were conducted with supporting legal conditions and corresponding
operating conditions to propose appropriate designs for the SH for self-employed people in HCMC.
First, observing and analyzing urban spaces helped identify the unused urban areas that solve
the investment issue. Then, after studying the development of social housing in different contexts
via the questionnaire and in-depth interviews, self-employed households’ basic information and
their business needs in using SH spaces were identified in some districts. Then, based on the legal
framework and practical projects, optimal space designs were formed.

Keywords: social housing; self-employed people; unused urban space; Ho Chi Minh City

1. Introduction

The open-door policy and multisectoral economic development directly drive all
urban activities. In Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), social housing (SH) is considered a
solution to improve living conditions to stabilize social, economic, and environmental
urban development [1]. In HCMC, most self-employed people who are low income live in
the outskirts of the city, such as Thu Duc city, District 9, and District 12. Their settlement
is mainly temporary houses made of low-quality recycled materials, including coconut
leaves; raincoats; oil papers; cartons; pallets; old, corrugated iron; or industrial wastes.
The architectural form is poor, the colors are somberly created from wasted and recycled
materials. The living spaces are composed with minimal functions (See Figures 1 and 2) [2].
The infrastructure for residential areas is lacking. The quality of the living environment is
poor because of carelessness from the government. The appearance of many dangerous
diseases is imminent in these areas. There are still many people who have to make a living
from unstable jobs, although they already had a home, especially self-employed ones who

Sustainability 2021, 13, 12175. https://doi.org/10.3390/su132112175 https://www.mdpi.com/journal/sustainability

Sustainability 2021, 13, 12175 2 of 16

do not belong to any formal organization and have low income [3]). According to the VeT
organization (a non-governmental organization operating in Vietnam, specializing in urban
and housing improvement for low-income people), low-income is classified in the range
between 25 USD and 265 USD per month, which is lower than the average income rate of
HCMC. According to the World Bank (WB), a self-employed person having a low income
has to spend at least 66% of their earnings on food and drink. The remaining 34% is spent
on other fundamentals, such as housing, health care, and education. The monthly income
of these people is just enough to cover essential daily expenditure [4]. Because of that, their
living standard is just slightly above the minimum level. Therefore, the development of
social housing in Ho Chi Minh City is urgent to maintain the fabric of society and improve
the quality of life through (1) meeting the affordable housing demands for low-income
people and (2) promoting economic values [5].

Sustainability 2021, 13, x FOR PEER REVIEW 2 of 16

make a living from unstable jobs, although they already had a home, especially

self-employed ones who do not belong to any formal organization and have low income

[3]). According to the VeT organization (a non-governmental organization operating in

Vietnam, specializing in urban and housing improvement for low-income people),

low-income is classified in the range between 25 USD and 265 USD per month, which is

lower than the average income rate of HCMC. According to the World Bank (WB), a

self-employed person having a low income has to spend at least 66% of their earnings on

food and drink. The remaining 34% is spent on other fundamentals, such as housing,

health care, and education. The monthly income of these people is just enough to cover

essential daily expenditure [4]. Because of that, their living standard is just slightly above

the minimum level. Therefore, the development of social housing in Ho Chi Minh City is

urgent to maintain the fabric of society and improve the quality of life through (1) meet-

ing the affordable housing demands for low-income people and (2) promoting economic

values [5].

Figure 1. Current status of living space of migrant workers in HCMC, with front porch for trans-

porting equipment and space for drying clothes (Source: [6]).

Figure 2. The cramped living space combines with the living and manual work of employers

(Source: [7]).

The implementation process shows that there are still many inadequacies and dif-

ficulties in the development of social housing, which focuses on the issue of space design

and development. The investment in developing social housing has not yet attracted in-

vestors to participate in the social housing market because the policies on some admin-

istrative procedures are still complicated, such as having to appraise the selling price,

rental price, controlling profits, limited land funds, etc., causing difficulties for investors

[8].

In Vietnam, the social house provides for people specified in the policies on housing

support in the Housing Law 2014 [1]. In Articles 53 and 58 of this Law, there are forms

Figure 1. Current status of living space of migrant workers in HCMC, with front porch for transport-
ing equipment and space for drying clothes (Source: [6]).

Sustainability 2021, 13, x FOR PEER REVIEW 2 of 16

make a living from unstable jobs, although they already had a home, especially

self-employed ones who do not belong to any formal organization and have low income

[3]). According to the VeT organization (a non-governmental organization operating in

Vietnam, specializing in urban and housing improvement for low-income people),

low-income is classified in the range between 25 USD and 265 USD per month, which is

lower than the average income rate of HCMC. According to the World Bank (WB), a

self-employed person having a low income has to spend at least 66% of their earnings on

food and drink. The remaining 34% is spent on other fundamentals, such as housing,

health care, and education. The monthly income of these people is just enough to cover

essential daily expenditure [4]. Because of that, their living standard is just slightly above

the minimum level. Therefore, the development of social housing in Ho Chi Minh City is

urgent to maintain the fabric of society and improve the quality of life through (1) meet-

ing the affordable housing demands for low-income people and (2) promoting economic

values [5].

Figure 1. Current status of living space of migrant workers in HCMC, with front porch for trans-

porting equipment and space for drying clothes (Source: [6]).

Figure 2. The cramped living space combines with the living and manual work of employers

(Source: [7]).

The implementation process shows that there are still many inadequacies and dif-

ficulties in the development of social housing, which focuses on the issue of space design

and development. The investment in developing social housing has not yet attracted in-

vestors to participate in the social housing market because the policies on some admin-

istrative procedures are still complicated, such as having to appraise the selling price,

rental price, controlling profits, limited land funds, etc., causing difficulties for investors

[8].

In Vietnam, the social house provides for people specified in the policies on housing

support in the Housing Law 2014 [1]. In Articles 53 and 58 of this Law, there are forms

Figure 2. The cramped living space combines with the living and manual work of employers
(Source: [7]).

The implementation process shows that there are still many inadequacies and difficul-
ties in the development of social housing, which focuses on the issue of space design and
development. The investment in developing social housing has not yet attracted investors
to participate in the social housing market because the policies on some administrative
procedures are still complicated, such as having to appraise the selling price, rental price,
controlling profits, limited land funds, etc., causing difficulties for investors [8].

In Vietnam, the social house provides for people specified in the policies on housing
support in the Housing Law 2014 [1]. In Articles 53 and 58 of this Law, there are forms

Sustainability 2021, 13, 12175 3 of 16

and preferential policies of social housing development. The government invests in social
housing with various sources of budget. The capital would be the state budget, national
bonds, development subsidies, concessional loans from donors, and national investment
credit. The other sources can come from the build-transfer contract in the construction
project, in which land is determined to build social housing under regulations for lease or
purchase. However, to reduce the budget for SH development, the government encourages
socialization policies. The socialization policy enables the private sector to develop social
housing, including enterprises, cooperatives, households, and individuals. The policy
supports investors to lease or sell with the state’s incentives, such as exemption from
land use tax. The land for SH development is the state’s land and could be provided for
investors. The government also reduces or exempts investors from value-added tax (VAT),
income tax to attract investors. Preferential loans from the bank or being funded by the
People’s Committee in the infrastructure construction of SH are also new regulations to
ensure SH develops effectively [1]. In addition, according to current Vietnamese standards
on social housing, the apartments are large and sold at a high price. Therefore, poor people
cannot afford this type of housing, so they sell their priority of buying SH to others. This
situation creates a speculative price issue.

In the previous project, because of lacking research on living spaces designed for low-
and mid-income groups, the SH products cannot meet the demand for housing for those
people. In choosing the location for construction, the SH projects are often arranged in
suburban areas or newly expanded districts. Besides selected spaces, unused spaces in
the city or spaces in the “pending plan” (the state of a land area that has been recorded
by a competent state agency in the land use plan for one or more different purposes,
announced to be retrieved for the implementation of the plan, but the owner still does not
carry out the planned schedule) should be considered for the SH projects [9,10]. These
types of spaces can be used to provide the urgent need for social housing through land use
transformation supervised by the government. Accordingly, significant benefits will be
achieved, such as reusing or revitalizing abandoned spaces, promoting public transport
accessibility, enabling more people to access the job market.

The form of social housing for self-employed workers was developed in Southeast
Asian countries in the late 20th century. In some areas, slums with ineffective land use
planning have been carried out by some studies. Based on that, the government takes ad-
vantage of the reclamation and reuse of these spaces to develop social housing to improve
and ensure the living conditions for people, especially freelancers. Typically, in Thailand,
according to research by the group of authors Nattawut Usavagovitwong, Aim-on Pruk-
suriya, Wanida Supaporn, Chaiwat Rak-U, Diane Archer, and Gordon McGranahan [11],
low-income groups prefer to live in “under-living standard” areas such as slums instead of
affordable low-income housing areas because of money making advantages. At the same
time, the research checks the identification of low-rise, low-income housing of communities
in slums or “Baan Mankong” areas (housing built by the community through the govern-
ment’s support where the community is organized with elected representatives managing
the households; monthly repayment of the 15-year collective loan provided by CODI for
the upgrade.). Besides, the ineffective land use compared to communal apartments in
Bangkok, Thailand, is also uncovered. In Indonesia, in the city of Surakarta, “Kampung”
settlements (a settlement or concentrated community, population density from low to
high, where low-income families usually live. Kampung was developed as a result of
urbanization, where urbanites from the same rural area lived close together and originally
settled in the suburban areas.) are developed in association with food supplement and
employment, similar to the community houses in Bangkok. The sustainable development
of the “Kampung” in Surakarta is based on the resident’s perception and ideas in all the
planning and infrastructure construction [12].

In the residential areas of Baan Mankong, Bangkok, when organizing home space for
“freelance workers” (the majority of residents living here work in the unofficial economy
as street vendors, taxi drivers, and other self-employed activities), there is an open space at

Sustainability 2021, 13, 12175 4 of 16

the front of the house to store the equipment and mobile kiosks of street vendors. These
open spaces are used for socializing, cooking, and commercial activities. The majority of
the ground floor is for goods shelves and other equipment storage. The ground floor is
optimized for business activities, while the living spaces are organized on the upper floor.
This form of organization is well known as “street house” in the Vietnam context. In recent
years, some social housing projects have considered engaging the business above spaces in
the implication model. Due to such interactions, social housing transformation needs to be
viewed synthetically, with all aspects of sustainability in general [13,14].

From the current situation of social housing development, particularly in Ho Chi
Minh City, it is urgent to find the solution for low-cost housing that enables poor people
to run their businesses for living at home. Through the survey and analysis of urban
space, the research team proposes unused urban spaces that can be utilized for the SH
construction. Taking advantage of these spaces helps to optimize the use of urban spaces
and reduce pressure on land demands, reducing investment costs as well as pressure from
land compensation and clearance and infrastructure investment. Based on people’s needs
and basic housing design requirements, the research team will propose the design of a
house for low-income people in Ho Chi Minh City with the following criteria: (1) private
spaces but can be opened when needed; (2) multi-function (diverse activities) in the same
space at many times; and (3) can develop a business at home. From there, a model of
social housing is proposed, with four solutions to organize space for self-business activities
according to different levels of space conversion, including fixed space, self-business,
reloading space, and multi-faceted space.

2. Materials and Methods

This study aims to analyze the demand for social housing with relative requirements
in the current status of specific areas in Ho Chi Minh city. The mixed methods, including
observation, questionnaires, interviews, data aggregation, and comparisons, are conducted
to approach the research objectives. The provision of social housing is for people who
have low access to the housing market. Therefore, SH development helps maintain the
city’s diverse fabric of society by (1) ensuring the affordable housing provision is targeted
at low- and middle-income households and (2) forcing economic values [15]. To develop
affordable housing in HCMC, eight requirements are grouped into three main basic criteria:
quality, accessibility, and design (Table 1).

Table 1. Criteria to develop SH in HCMC.

No. Criteria Requirements

1 Quality 1. Structure and 2. Construction: ability for conversion/extension,
installation quality of building sections (ceiling, doors, windows), age
3. Building services and 4. Health safety and security, promoting natural
factors: natural lighting, ventilation, water supplement, and sanitation
5. Users comfort: thermal comfort, ventilation
6. Maintenance: easy to maintain

2 Accessibility 7. Site Planning: location and layout, access to city transport, job market

3 Design 8. Architecture: distinctive characteristics, appearance of house/apartment,
space organization serving basic needs (rooms, kitchen, bath, lounge)

The investigated areas are located in Go Vap and Binh Thanh District. The reasons
for choosing these areas are the specific location and demographic characteristics. Go Vap
and Binh Thanh District are along the two main national road routes, QL1A and QL13.
These two districts are planned as the entrance of HCMC from the northern cities and
Highland cities. Moreover, these two districts take advantage of connecting with the city
center (See Figure 3). Due to these characteristics, Go Vap and Binh Thanh districts have
diverse demographics and labor markets.

Sustainability 2021, 13, 12175 5 of 16

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The investigated areas are located in Go Vap and Binh Thanh District. The reasons

for choosing these areas are the specific location and demographic characteristics. Go

Vap and Binh Thanh District are along the two main national road routes, QL1A and

QL13. These two districts are planned as the entrance of HCMC from the northern cities

and Highland cities. Moreover, these two districts take advantage of connecting with the

city center (See Figure 3). Due to these characteristics, Go Vap and Binh Thanh districts

have diverse demographics and labor markets.

Based on some key stakeholders’ views, SH development tendencies will be ex-

plored. Through observation, the general situation of the investigated site is clarified, in-

cluding the network of potential spaces to develop SH, essential needs, and lifestyles of

self-employment. A list of photos is recorded after each survey to ensure data accuracy

from questionnaires and interviews. The questionnaires are conducted in 30 households

who are self-employed in each ward of the two mentioned districts with four sections.

The samples are in low- and mid-income groups. The first section is to collect the local

living conditions of the study area and the general perceptions of people about SH. In the

following section, the daily lifestyle, experiences, and psychological characteristics of the

users are identified. Questions regarding the need to use spaces to live and to conduct

trading activities are listed in the third section. Finally, levels of flexibility in living space

organization are evaluated by the participants. Representatives, including the managers

of wards, headers of each building block, and security guard, are chosen as core samples

for an interview with the same structure of questionnaire information. In total, 210 sam-

ples are carried out. The study concentrates on analyzing the collected data in sections 3

and 4. The data from the first two sections are used to compare and check with sections 3

and 4 to ensure the solution of SH meets the demand of local communities.

Data evaluation and analysis are implemented by descriptive statistical methods by

IBM SPSS software. Multiple percentage calculations are mainly used to process data

from the questionnaires to distribute various indicators in groups and identify accumu-

lative percentages.

Figure 3. Location of Go Vap and Binh Thanh District on the map of Ho Chi Minh City (Source: This
figure is created by the authors).

Based on some key stakeholders’ views, SH development tendencies will be explored.
Through observation, the general situation of the investigated site is clarified, including
the network of potential spaces to develop SH, essential needs, and lifestyles of self-
employment. A list of photos is recorded after each survey to ensure data accuracy from
questionnaires and interviews. The questionnaires are conducted in 30 households who are
self-employed in each ward of the two mentioned districts with four sections. The samples
are in low- and mid-income groups. The first section is to collect the local living conditions
of the study area and the general perceptions of people about SH. In the following section,
the daily lifestyle, experiences, and psychological characteristics of the users are identified.
Questions regarding the need to use spaces to live and to conduct trading activities are
listed in the third section. Finally, levels of flexibility in living space organization are
evaluated by the participants. Representatives, including the managers of wards, headers
of each building block, and security guard, are chosen as core samples for an interview
with the same structure of questionnaire information. In total, 210 samples are carried out.
The study concentrates on analyzing the collected data in Sections 3 and 4. The data from
the first two sections are used to compare and check with Sections 3 and 4 to ensure the
solution of SH meets the demand of local communities.

Data evaluation and analysis are implemented by descriptive statistical methods
by IBM SPSS software. Multiple percentage calculations are mainly used to process
data from the questionnaires to distribute various indicators in groups and identify
accumulative percentages.

3. Current Situation of Social Housing Development

The term “social housing” was developed in the UK, USA, and Canada in the 1970s
and gradually spread to Asian countries, such as Japan, Korea, and China. SH is provided
to poor people who have no income or insignificant income [8,10]. In Vietnam, SH is also
developed for social balance goals without any business purposes. The SH is accommo-

Sustainability 2021, 13, 12175 6 of 16

dation for those who cannot afford a house or an apartment with the primary function.
According to Articles 49, 50, and 51 of the Housing Law in 2014, SH is invested in by the
government. SH is provided for people who can prove that they are in a low-, mid-, or no
income group and (1) they do not own residential land or housing or (2) the house is an
insufficient living space for all family members or (3) the house is damaged. In Vietnam,
the concept of social housing has a narrower scope than affordable housing because of the
policies for implementation and users [1]. In most cases, the SH is mainly located in remote
and unattractive locations or planned for poor living quality. Hence, the social housing
policy is controversial. Some people argue that SH provides affordable housing for many
different households while SH brings living conditions [16]. In most SH projects, the poor
social network and facilities requirements have been highlighted. However, in the future
development strategies of HCMC, the SH would provide a large number of living spaces
for vulnerable groups (see Figure 4).

Sustainability 2021, 13, x FOR PEER REVIEW 7 of 16

group. Their income is unstable. They have to accept this situation and try to earn money

that is just sufficient to pay for basic daily needs. Self-employed people in the survey are

mainly women. They have to walk from the early morning to sell goods. Their business

depends on social networks, economic relationships, seasonal job opportunities, and

various sources of subsidy (see Figures 5 and 6). A group of people who suffer the same

situation connect and make a community in some residential areas. These communities

share the economic interest as well as social benefits and create a specific urban social

pattern [17].

The mentioned self-employed people cannot join the urban job market and their

self-employment is considered the informal economic sector [18]. The reason is that these

types of trading activities are freely developed and not managed by any official organi-

zation. Therefore, currently, there is no program or policy on finance or planning and

management for social housing for self-employed people.

Figure 4. House for workers in District 7, HCMC (Source: This photo was taken by the first author).

Figure 5. Self-employed people in HCMC (Source: This photo was taken by the first author).

Figure 4. House for workers in District 7, HCMC (Source: This photo was taken by the first author).

Moreover, the social housing projects are sold at a high price which exceeds the ability
of low- and mid-income people. This situation results from speculation and fluctuation
of the housing market. Therefore, to have a lower price, social housing has a lower
quality of construction. In recent years, SH development in HCMC has had four main
issues: (1) identification of land use with priority for social housing development by the
government, (2) accessibility to the labor market from the SH location, (3) capital for SH
development, and (4) the gap between design criteria and users. These issues are detailed
in Table 2 below.

Table 2. The issues of SH development in HCMC.

Criteria. Issues

Quality The social housing with low quality of construction: degradation after a
short term of use.
Social houses criteria of government policies are sufficient facility, spaces
with good quality: the price is very high so that low- and mid-income
households cannot afford it and they sell their plots to others.

Accessibility A new residential area is often located far from the center or the main urban
routes, which causes significant disadvantages for people who mainly make
a living by trading activities.

Design The living space has not been designed to meet the lifestyle and daily needs
of low- and mid-income people.

In conclusion, SH development in HCMC has four main issues, including (1) identi-
fication of land use with priority for social housing development by the government, (2)

Sustainability 2021, 13, 12175 7 of 16

accessibility to the labor market from the SH location, (3) capital for the SH development,
and (4) a gap between design criteria and users.

Lifestyle and psychological characteristics of self-employed people are clarified by
questionnaire and interview in seven wards of the Binh Thanh and Go Vap Districts. The
results show that their trading activities do not need huge capital, specific instruments, or
skills. Therefore, many people who are not well educated or professionally trained run
small businesses. The majority of participants know that they are in the lowest income
group. Their income is unstable. They have to accept this situation and try to earn money
that is just sufficient to pay for basic daily needs. Self-employed people in the survey are
mainly women. They have to walk from the early morning to sell goods. Their business
depends on social networks, economic relationships, seasonal job opportunities, and
various sources of subsidy (see Figures 5 and 6). A group of people who suffer the same
situation connect and make a community in some residential areas. These communities
share the economic interest as well as social benefits and create a specific urban social
pattern [17].

Sustainability 2021, 13, x FOR PEER REVIEW 7 of 16

group. Their income is unstable. They have to accept this situation and try to earn money

that is just sufficient to pay for basic daily needs. Self-employed people in the survey are

mainly women. They have to walk from the early morning to sell goods. Their business

depends on social networks, economic relationships, seasonal job opportunities, and

various sources of subsidy (see Figures 5 and 6). A group of people who suffer the same

situation connect and make a community in some residential areas. These communities

share the economic interest as well as social benefits and create a specific urban social

pattern [17].

The mentioned self-employed people cannot join the urban job market and their

self-employment is considered the informal economic sector [18]. The reason is that these

types of trading activities are freely developed and not managed by any official organi-

zation. Therefore, currently, there is no program or policy on finance or planning and

management for social housing for self-employed people.

Figure 4. House for workers in District 7, HCMC (Source: This photo was taken by the first author).

Figure 5. Self-employed people in HCMC (Source: This photo was taken by the first author). Figure 5. Self-employed people in HCMC (Source: This photo was taken by the first author).

The mentioned self-employed people cannot join the urban job market and their self-
employment is considered the informal economic sector [18]. The reason is that these types
of trading activities are freely developed and not managed by any official organization.
Therefore, currently, there is no program or policy on finance or planning and management
for social housing for self-employed people.

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Figure 6. Pho stall with an area of 2m × 3m space on the ground floor of a self-business (Source:

[19]).

4. Possibility to Make Use of Unused Spaces in Urban Areas

“Unused space” is considered a part of urban public space. The space lies outside or

between the buildings, under the flyover, or the empty space in the park. Unused spaces

are also determined by the market or limited by the facade of the buildings, the ground,

the sky, or green spaces. Currently, these spaces have not been used effectively by the

community. Many of them are vacant land or even abandoned for a long time with poor

conditions and expected suitable solutions [18]. Regarding the housing development

under the flyover in Hong Kong, where the land value and population density are too

high, there have been proposals to build houses under the bridge. However, these pro-

posals have not been implemented yet. To ensure the feasibility of solutions, it is neces-

sary to have more in-depth studies with sufficient scientific and practical analysis in each

context [20,21]. In this paper, the research proposes transforming the unused space in the

study area as a reference model for future research. Unused spaces in urban areas are

defined with the following basic characteristics and benefits:

 Unused space is a place to organize social activities and exchanges, encourage peo-

ple to communicate with each other, rest, entertain, undertake sports.

 Unused space can adjust the living environment in terms of climate (balance of

temperature, humidity, natural ventilation), limit dust in the air, reduce noise in

living areas, and improve sanitation and environmental quality.

 Unused space provides cultural and aesthetic needs. The space organization and

decoration will positively affect people’s psychology and adjust their behavior to the

environment.

In fact, unused space in Ho Chi Minh City is often exploited and used for many

different informal purposes. However, their use function has changed, partially or en-

tirely. They are no longer serving the community and creating urban beauty. For exam-

ple, space at the foot of overpasses, the empty spaces in public parks, or the spaces

running along rivers or canals are gradually being polluted due to being occupied with

serving spontaneous business activities, street vendors, and parking lots, instead of

providing space for the community. Currently, in Ho Chi Minh City, we can find possible

unused spaces to intervene, including (1) parks—vacant land plots or rarely used by the

community, (2) the space above the parking lot, the training ground, (3) at the foot of the

overpass (the space below the foot of the bridge is vacant or only used as the parking lot

and to plant trees) (see Figures 7 and 8), (4) people’s markets, and (5) degraded dormitory

areas which are waiting to be cleared. Suppose the mentioned spaces are transformed

Figure 6. Pho stall with an area of 2 m × 3 m space on the ground floor of a self-business (Source: [19]).

4. Possibility to Make Use of Unused Spaces in Urban Areas

“Unused space” is considered a part of urban public space. The space lies outside or
between the buildings, under the flyover, or the empty space in the park. Unused spaces
are also determined by the market or limited by the facade of the buildings, the ground,
the sky, or green spaces. Currently, these spaces have not been used effectively by the
community. Many of them are vacant land or even abandoned for a long time with poor
conditions and expected suitable solutions [18]. Regarding the housing development under
the flyover in Hong Kong, where the land value and population density are too high, there
have been proposals to build houses under the bridge. However, these proposals have not
been implemented yet. To ensure the feasibility of solutions, it is necessary to have more
in-depth studies with sufficient scientific and practical analysis in each context [20,21]. In
this paper, the research proposes transforming the unused space in the study area as a
reference model for future research. Unused spaces in urban areas are defined with the
following basic characteristics and benefits:

• Unused space is a place to organize social activities and exchanges, encourage people
to communicate with each other, rest, entertain, undertake sports.

• Unused space can adjust the living environment in terms of climate (balance of
temperature, humidity, natural ventilation), limit dust in the air, reduce noise in living
areas, and improve sanitation and environmental quality.

• Unused space provides cultural and aesthetic needs. The space organization and
decoration will positively affect people’s psychology and adjust their behavior to
the environment.

In fact, unused space in Ho Chi Minh City is often exploited and used for many
different informal purposes. However, their use function has changed, partially or entirely.
They are no longer serving the community and creating urban beauty. For example,
space at the foot of overpasses, the empty spaces in public parks, or the spaces running
along rivers or canals are gradually being polluted due to being occupied with serving
spontaneous business activities, street vendors, and parking lots, instead of providing
space for the community. Currently, in Ho Chi Minh City, we can find possible unused
spaces to intervene, including (1) parks—vacant land plots or rarely used by the community,
(2) the space above the parking lot, the training ground, (3) at the foot of the overpass
(the space below the foot of the bridge is vacant or only used as the parking lot and to
plant trees) (see Figures 7 and 8), (4) people’s markets, and (5) degraded dormitory areas
which are waiting to be cleared. Suppose the mentioned spaces are transformed into social

Sustainability 2021, 13, 12175 9 of 16

housing or temporary housing. In that case, it needs to ensure a technical infrastructure
system connection, sanitary requirements, environment, and housing architecture without
affecting adjacent structures.

Sustainability 2021, 13, x FOR PEER REVIEW 9 of 16

into social housing or temporary housing. In that case, it needs to ensure a technical in-

frastructure system connection, sanitary requirements, environment, and housing archi-

tecture without affecting adjacent structures.

In conclusion, with the idea of using unused space in urban areas to develop social

housing, the poor bring huge economic and social benefits. If the idea is implemented, it

will help to serve a huge demand for housing in HCMC. Solutions to utilize the empty

space in urban areas as housing for the poor people will improve social security and the

quality of life, and enhance the cultural and spiritual life of the communities, particularly

workers (see Figures 9 and 10).

Figure 7. The potential unused spaces in urban areas (Source: This photo was taken by the first

author).

Figure 8. Unused space is occupied under the overpass in HCMC (Source: This photo was taken by

the first author).

Figure 7. The potential unused spaces in urban areas (Source: This photo was taken by the
first author).

Sustainability 2021, 13, x FOR PEER REVIEW 9 of 16

into social housing or temporary housing. In that case, it needs to ensure a technical in-

frastructure system connection, sanitary requirements, environment, and housing archi-

tecture without affecting adjacent structures.

In conclusion, with the idea of using unused space in urban areas to develop social

housing, the poor bring huge economic and social benefits. If the idea is implemented, it

will help to serve a huge demand for housing in HCMC. Solutions to utilize the empty

space in urban areas as housing for the poor people will improve social security and the

quality of life, and enhance the cultural and spiritual life of the communities, particularly

workers (see Figures 9 and 10).

Figure 7. The potential unused spaces in urban areas (Source: This photo was taken by the first

author).

Figure 8. Unused space is occupied under the overpass in HCMC (Source: This photo was taken by

the first author).
Figure 8. Unused space is occupied under the overpass in HCMC (Source: This photo was taken by
the first author).

In conclusion, with the idea of using unused space in urban areas to develop social
housing, the poor bring huge economic and social benefits. If the idea is implemented, it
will help to serve a huge demand for housing in HCMC. Solutions to utilize the empty
space in urban areas as housing for the poor people will improve social security and the
quality of life, and enhance the cultural and spiritual life of the communities, particularly
workers (see Figures 9 and 10).

Sustainability 2021, 13, 12175 10 of 16Sustainability 2021, 13, x FOR PEER REVIEW 10 of 16

Figure 9. The idea of designing a housing area for the poor people at the foot of Phu My Bridge,

District 7, HCMC (Source: This figure is created by the authors).

Figure 10. The idea of designing a housing area for the poor people at the foot of Phu My Bridge,

District 7, HCMC (Source: This figure is created by the authors).

5. Proposed Solutions for Organizing Space for Social Housing

The data are collected from the survey conducted with 210 questionnaires in seven

wards of Binh Thanh District and Go Vap District, Ho Chi Minh City, in 2019. According

to the second section of the questionnaire, the lifestyle characteristics of self-employed

people are identified. The third group of questions is related to the needs of

self-employed people to use spaces in their houses. Accordingly, even though the space

is still limited, employees always want to ensure their privacy and, at the same time, that

the private space is able to open with surrounding spaces if needed. This is explained by

their tendency to have neighboring relationships remain (neighbors, colleagues, and even

acquaintances share the same house). The openness of the self-employed people’s hous-

ing spaces also promotes job opportunities, sources of profit, and makes it easier to re-

ceive support in an emergency. Respondents’ feedback also shows that workers need

flexible spaces, which flexibly transform from private mode to trading mode during the

daytime.

Based on the collected data in the fourth section, the solutions for the flexible spatial

organization are capable of serving many living and trading activities. Self-employment

activities repeat daily at a specific timeframe. Therefore, the ground floor planning

should avoid closed spaces or private functions. Instead, flexible and multi-purpose

spaces are added. In each type of spatial organization, the flexible level in space trans-

formation and using values of the house is identified based on the flow of activities of

self-employed people [22,23], the timeframe, and specific jobs of each family member.

The authors propose centralized functions with the relative properties changed flexibly

by various timeframes. A single space can be coordinated with diverse functions, such as

trading, welcoming guests, family gathering activities, studying, working, worshipping,

reading and sleeping, eating and cooking, and preparing goods for sale [24].

Figure 9. The idea of designing a housing area for the poor people at the foot of Phu My Bridge,
District 7, HCMC (Source: This figure is created by the authors).

Sustainability 2021, 13, x FOR PEER REVIEW 10 of 16

Figure 9. The idea of designing a housing area for the poor people at the foot of Phu My Bridge,

District 7, HCMC (Source: This figure is created by the authors).

Figure 10. The idea of designing a housing area for the poor people at the foot of Phu My Bridge,

District 7, HCMC (Source: This figure is created by the authors).

5. Proposed Solutions for Organizing Space for Social Housing

The data are collected from the survey conducted with 210 questionnaires in seven

wards of Binh Thanh District and Go Vap District, Ho Chi Minh City, in 2019. According

to the second section of the questionnaire, the lifestyle characteristics of self-employed

people are identified. The third group of questions is related to the needs of

self-employed people to use spaces in their houses. Accordingly, even though the space

is still limited, employees always want to ensure their privacy and, at the same time, that

the private space is able to open with surrounding spaces if needed. This is explained by

their tendency to have neighboring relationships remain (neighbors, colleagues, and even

acquaintances share the same house). The openness of the self-employed people’s hous-

ing spaces also promotes job opportunities, sources of profit, and makes it easier to re-

ceive support in an emergency. Respondents’ feedback also shows that workers need

flexible spaces, which flexibly transform from private mode to trading mode during the

daytime.

Based on the collected data in the fourth section, the solutions for the flexible spatial

organization are capable of serving many living and trading activities. Self-employment

activities repeat daily at a specific timeframe. Therefore, the ground floor planning

should avoid closed spaces or private functions. Instead, flexible and multi-purpose

spaces are added. In each type of spatial organization, the flexible level in space trans-

formation and using values of the house is identified based on the flow of activities of

self-employed people [22,23], the timeframe, and specific jobs of each family member.

The authors propose centralized functions with the relative properties changed flexibly

by various timeframes. A single space can be coordinated with diverse functions, such as

trading, welcoming guests, family gathering activities, studying, working, worshipping,

reading and sleeping, eating and cooking, and preparing goods for sale [24].

Figure 10. The idea of designing a housing area for the poor people at the foot of Phu My Bridge,
District 7, HCMC (Source: This figure is created by the authors).

5. Proposed Solutions for Organizing Space for Social Housing

The data are collected from the survey conducted with 210 questionnaires in seven
wards of Binh Thanh District and Go Vap District, Ho Chi Minh City, in 2019. According
to the second section of the questionnaire, the lifestyle characteristics of self-employed
people are identified. The third group of questions is related to the needs of self-employed
people to use spaces in their houses. Accordingly, even though the space is still limited,
employees always want to ensure their privacy and, at the same time, that the private space
is able to open with surrounding spaces if needed. This is explained by their tendency to
have neighboring relationships remain (neighbors, colleagues, and even acquaintances
share the same house). The openness of the self-employed people’s housing spaces also
promotes job opportunities, sources of profit, and makes it easier to receive support in an
emergency. Respondents’ feedback also shows that workers need flexible spaces, which
flexibly transform from private mode to trading mode during the daytime.

Based on the collected data in the fourth section, the solutions for the flexible spatial
organization are capable of serving many living and trading activities. Self-employment
activities repeat daily at a specific timeframe. Therefore, the ground floor planning should
avoid closed spaces or private functions. Instead, flexible and multi-purpose spaces are
added. In each type of spatial organization, the flexible level in space transformation and
using values of the house is identified based on the flow of activities of self-employed
people [22,23], the timeframe, and specific jobs of each family member. The authors propose
centralized functions with the relative properties changed flexibly by various timeframes.
A single space can be coordinated with diverse functions, such as trading, welcoming
guests, family gathering activities, studying, working, worshipping, reading and sleeping,
eating and cooking, and preparing goods for sale [24].

Sustainability 2021, 13, 12175 11 of 16

Based on the survey results, the authors propose several solutions to organize housing
space for self-employed activities in Ho Chi Minh City. There are four main types of spaces
below, including fixed space, self-business, reloading space, and multi-faceted space.

• Fixed space (see Figure 11)

Sustainability 2021, 13, x FOR PEER REVIEW 12 of 16

le spaces

Self-busines

s space
Large Door

Communica

te with

others

Changeable
Multi-facete

d space
One side

Reloading

space
Small 3 + 1 facet Private Changeable

Multi-facete

d space
One side

Multi-facete

d space
Small 1+ n facet Shared Changeable

Other

spaces

At the

centre of

house

Figure 11. Fixed space for self-employed people.

Figure 12. Self-business space for self-employed people.

Figure 13. Reloading space for self-employed people.

Figure 11. Fixed space for self-employed people.

The space that serves the main function is fixed and almost unchanged over time. This
space is for the basic needs of family members, often combined with the hard infrastructure
of buildings. There are two types of fixed space: (1) closed fixed space (toilet) and (2)
opened fixed space (kitchen, courtyard, etc.).

• Self-business space (see Figure 12)

Sustainability 2021, 13, x FOR PEER REVIEW 12 of 16

le spaces

Self-busines

s space
Large Door

Communica

te with

others

Changeable
Multi-facete

d space
One side

Reloading

space
Small 3 + 1 facet Private Changeable

Multi-facete

d space
One side

Multi-facete

d space
Small 1+ n facet Shared Changeable

Other

spaces

At the

centre of

house

Figure 11. Fixed space for self-employed people.

Figure 12. Self-business space for self-employed people.

Figure 13. Reloading space for self-employed people.

Figure 12. Self-business space for self-employed people.

To meet business needs and carry out economic activities, the authors propose to
organize a self-business space in apartments or on the ground floor of a house. It is the
first exposed space when entering an apartment. This space is a place to communicate,
exchange, buy and sell goods, or other self-employed activities (see Figures 6 and 11).

For the social space for self-employed people, the “self-business” space is the soul
of an apartment. Depending on the characteristics of family members, it will be a place
for work, selling, tools storage, or connect to a fixed space. This can be used as the
kitchen. It can be seen that the space is mainly used for business activities. After hours of
working, it will become a family gathering activity. Besides being a business space, it is
a place for social communication by enabling neighbors to come and sit. By promoting
neighborhood engagement, this type of space helps to increase empathy and strengthen
social relationships. In many cases, running this type of space can increase opportunities
for self-improvement through social networks. This process helps to improve the quality
of life and form a motivation for the local community in social housing.

• Reloading space (see Figure 13)

Sustainability 2021, 13, 12175 12 of 16

Sustainability 2021, 13, x FOR PEER REVIEW 12 of 16

le spaces

Self-busines

s space
Large Door

Communica

te with

others

Changeable
Multi-facete

d space
One side

Reloading

space
Small 3 + 1 facet Private Changeable

Multi-facete

d space
One side

Multi-facete

d space
Small 1+ n facet Shared Changeable

Other

spaces

At the

centre of

house

Figure 11. Fixed space for self-employed people.

Figure 12. Self-business space for self-employed people.

Figure 13. Reloading space for self-employed people. Figure 13. Reloading space for self-employed people.

As mentioned above, employees need to ensure individuality in their own space but,
at the same time, they still need a certain openness with the surrounding spaces. They
tend to have stable neighboring relationships (neighbors, colleagues) which can be a source
of information for job opportunities. Therefore, the proposed reloading space is an open
but private space at the same time, based on the 3-wall technique, where adjacent spaces
are created. This solution aims to ensure individuality and the openness for the reloading
space and the adjacent spaces. Thereby the spatial use is maximized

• Multi-faceted space (see Figure 14)
Sustainability 2021, 13, x FOR PEER REVIEW 13 of 16

Figure 14. Multi-faceted space for self-employed people.

Figure 15. Proposed solution for division in multi-faceted space for self-employed people.

Figure 16. Organization of housing ground with four types of flexible spaces.

Therefore, based on the classification following the use function and determination

of the proper locations of four spaces (fixed space, self-business space, reloading space,

and multi-faceted space), this study has proposed an architectural space design proposal

for SH serving self-employed people in HCMC. Especially, solutions for flexible and

convenient changes of spaces to help optimize the size and volume of space inside the

apartment, serving self-employed people, are emphasized (see Figure 17).

Figure 14. Multi-faceted space for self-employed people.

Multi-faceted space plays a role as a buffer space. It is neutral with flexible functions,
from private use to shared use. This type of space has the potential to convert into a
self-employed space (Figure 12) or a reloading space (Figure 13), and vice versa. Reloading
space and self-employed space may be expanded, encroached on by the multi-faceted
space, and vice versa, with a specific partition that may make use of space in different
floors and areas (See Figure 15).

Sustainability 2021, 13, x FOR PEER REVIEW 13 of 16

Figure 14. Multi-faceted space for self-employed people.

Figure 15. Proposed solution for division in multi-faceted space for self-employed people.

Figure 16. Organization of housing ground with four types of flexible spaces.

Therefore, based on the classification following the use function and determination

of the proper locations of four spaces (fixed space, self-business space, reloading space,

and multi-faceted space), this study has proposed an architectural space design proposal

for SH serving self-employed people in HCMC. Especially, solutions for flexible and

convenient changes of spaces to help optimize the size and volume of space inside the

apartment, serving self-employed people, are emphasized (see Figure 17).

Figure 15. Proposed solution for division in multi-faceted space for self-employed people.

Sustainability 2021, 13, 12175 13 of 16

Thus, to effectively exploit spaces for living and trading at many times of the day, the
authors aim to organize a flexible space that is capable of serving many activities. The
solution is to create a flexible space inside many other spaces for users demands without
breaking the main structure of the house. This space can include semi-private activities
of family members such as studying and working (see Figure 16). These figures as below
are created by the authors. Table 3 summarizes the characteristics of the proposed types of
multi-faceted space.

Sustainability 2021, 13, x FOR PEER REVIEW 13 of 16

Figure 14. Multi-faceted space for self-employed people.

Figure 15. Proposed solution for division in multi-faceted space for self-employed people.

Figure 16. Organization of housing ground with four types of flexible spaces.

Therefore, based on the classification following the use function and determination

of the proper locations of four spaces (fixed space, self-business space, reloading space,

and multi-faceted space), this study has proposed an architectural space design proposal

for SH serving self-employed people in HCMC. Especially, solutions for flexible and

convenient changes of spaces to help optimize the size and volume of space inside the

apartment, serving self-employed people, are emphasized (see Figure 17).

Figure 16. Organization of housing ground with four types of flexible spaces.

Table 3. Summary of all characteristics of four types of space design.

Spaces Volume Limit Function Characteristics Connection Position

Fixed space Small 2 + 2 facet Shared Unchangeable Other spaces One side

Self-business space Large Door
Communicate

with others
Changeable Multi-faceted space One side

Reloading space Small 3 + 1 facet Private Changeable Multi-faceted space One side

Multi-faceted space Small 1+ n facet Shared Changeable Other spaces
At the centre

of house

Therefore, based on the classification following the use function and determination of
the proper locations of four spaces (fixed space, self-business space, reloading space, and
multi-faceted space), this study has proposed an architectural space design proposal for SH
serving self-employed people in HCMC. Especially, solutions for flexible and convenient
changes of spaces to help optimize the size and volume of space inside the apartment,
serving self-employed people, are emphasized (see Figure 17).

Sustainability 2021, 13, 12175 14 of 16
Sustainability 2021, 13, x FOR PEER REVIEW 14 of 16

Figure 17. General diagram of four types of spaces in housing for self-employed people.

6. Discussion

6.1. Discuss the Solutions and Results of the Paper

The research highlights the lifestyle and psychological characteristics of

self-employed people and their specific needs in social housing development. The

self-employment activities presented in Section 1 and Section 3 show the need to organ-

ize various types of flexible spaces in SH. The organization of these spaces should be

based on the work characteristics of the self-employed people with required workspaces

while still ensuring basic family activities. The authors have proposed solutions in or-

ganizing social housing spaces for self-employed people in HCMC in terms of construc-

tion site selection and design. The solutions have to set the essential housing criteria with

quality, accessibility, and arch-design as a priority.

Our research has suggested four types of social housing apartments for

self-employed people. These types are composed of a fixed space, reloading space, mul-

ti-faceted space, and self-business space. The combination and transition between the

four types of space are based on the principle of prestressed space. The priorities in space

arrangement consider ensuring the maintenance of living spaces and business space with

minimal influences between spaces.

6.2. Results and Effectiveness of the Solution

For the land selection for SH construction, the research takes advantage of the

available empty spaces in the urban areas. This solution can optimize the urban land by

reusing some spaces or redevelopment for trading areas. In addition, this location pro-

motes many people to access the urban public transport and job market. The social

Figure 17. General diagram of four types of spaces in housing for self-employed people.

6. Discussion
6.1. Discuss the Solutions and Results of the Paper

The research highlights the lifestyle and psychological characteristics of self-employed
people and their specific needs in social housing development. The self-employment
activities presented in Sections 1 and 3 show the need to organize various types of flexible
spaces in SH. The organization of these spaces should be based on the work characteristics
of the self-employed people with required workspaces while still ensuring basic family
activities. The authors have proposed solutions in organizing social housing spaces for
self-employed people in HCMC in terms of construction site selection and design. The
solutions have to set the essential housing criteria with quality, accessibility, and arch-
design as a priority.

Our research has suggested four types of social housing apartments for self-employed
people. These types are composed of a fixed space, reloading space, multi-faceted space,
and self-business space. The combination and transition between the four types of space are
based on the principle of prestressed space. The priorities in space arrangement consider
ensuring the maintenance of living spaces and business space with minimal influences
between spaces.

6.2. Results and Effectiveness of the Solution

For the land selection for SH construction, the research takes advantage of the available
empty spaces in the urban areas. This solution can optimize the urban land by reusing
some spaces or redevelopment for trading areas. In addition, this location promotes many
people to access the urban public transport and job market. The social housing projects for

Sustainability 2021, 13, 12175 15 of 16

low-income people consider urban’s “pending planning” plots. This recommendation can
create a new direction in solving the needs of social housing for self-employed people as
well as the massive demand on the housing market in HCMC

6.3. Future Research Directions

For future research, to ensure the feasibility of social housing projects for self-employed
people in HCMC, it is necessary to review legal documents. The regulations need to be
reviewed, focusing on social housing projects in vacant public spaces, public-private part-
nerships in investment, and the mechanism for investment in the social housing project.
The details on technical solutions, including movable modular housing architecture with
specific building technology, have to be considered with housing management solutions.

7. Conclusions
7.1. Research’s Contribution

This study illustrates the basic issues in developing social housing and sets the foun-
dation for social housing development for workers in Ho Chi Minh City. At the same
time, the research provides some insight in solving the housing demand of HCM with the
alternative housing forms.

The study clarifies some ambiguous points in understanding “social housing” and
“freelance workers or self-employed people” in Vietnam. Finally, the solution comes up
with designs for flexible, adaptive living spaces for the specific urban social group.

In addition, our study demonstrates models which may provide ideas to be imple-
mented in various locations of HCMC. The solution recommends a way to effectively use
urban land and improve the living quality of housing in HCMC, and many other cities, by
reusing and renovating some abandoned or unused urban space. Furthermore, the solution
can reduce the pressure on finding investors in social housing development projects.

7.2. Research’s Limitation to Expand the Direction of Further Researches

The proposed solution concentrates on developing a new small model as a basic
apartment for an urban group. For further steps, the research would be conducted in
many groups of the community to ensure balancing the benefits of various labor groups in
accessing the housing market. Moreover, the right to own or rent social houses would be
modified based on the characteristic of migration in HCMC. The site selection for social
housing is conducted in part in some districts. Hence, the network of social housing and
their relationship with the city centers need to be investigated.

Author Contributions: Conceptualization, L.-M.N. and H.-B.N.; formal analysis, H.-B.N. and
T.-P.U.N.; methodology, L.-M.N. and T.-M.D.N.; project administration, L.-M.N.; resources, T.-P.U.N.;
software, H.-B.N.; writing—original draft, L.-M.N. and T.-P.U.N.; writing—review and editing,
L.-M.N., T.-M.D.N. and H.-B.N. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of
the manuscript.

Funding: This research received no external funding.

Institutional Review Board Statement: Not applicable.

Informed Consent Statement: Not applicable.

Data Availability Statement: Not applicable.

Acknowledgments: A portion of the research for this paper was conducted by Le-Minh Ngo, which
was made possible by a 2018–2020 Ho Chi Minh City Department of Science and Technology Grant.
Le-Minh Ngo also wishes to thank Ton Duc Thang University for hosting the research activities,
and to the students and lecturers who participated in the research. Among the contributions, space
design solutions were designed and illustrated by the master’s students of architecture, under the
supervision of Le-Minh Ngo, in 2018–2019.

Conflicts of Interest: The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Sustainability 2021, 13, 12175 16 of 16

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Reproduced with permission of copyright owner. Further reproduction
prohibited without permission.

Pfaff et al. BMC Public Health (2021) 21:2253
https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-021-12256-9

R E S E A R C H A R T I C L E

The little things are big: evaluation
of a compassionate community approach
for promoting the health of vulnerable persons
Kathryn Pfaff1* , Heather Krohn1, Jamie Crawley1, Michelle Howard2, Pooya Moradian Zadeh3, Felicia Varacalli1,
Padma Ravi1 and Deborah Sattler4

Abstract
Background: Vulnerable persons are individuals whose life situations create or exacerbate vulnerabilities, such as low
income, housing insecurity and social isolation. Vulnerable people often receive a patchwork of health and social care
services that does not appropriately address their needs. The cost of health and social care services escalate when
these individuals live without appropriate supports. Compassionate Communities apply a population health theory of
practice wherein citizens are mobilized along with health and social care supports to holistically address the needs of
persons experiencing vulnerabilities.

Aim: The purpose of this study was to evaluate the implementation of a compassionate community intervention for
vulnerable persons in Windsor Ontario, Canada.

Methods: This applied qualitative study was informed by the Consolidated Framework for Implementation Research.
We collected and analyzed focus group and interview data from 16 program stakeholders: eight program clients,
three program coordinators, two case managers from the regional health authority, one administrator from a part-
nering community program, and two nursing student volunteers in March through June 2018. An iterative analytic
process was applied to understand what aspects of the program work where and why.

Results: The findings suggest that the program acts as a safety net that supports people who are falling through
the cracks of the formal care system. The ‘little things’ often had the biggest impact on client well-being and care
delivery. The big and little things were achieved through three key processes: taking time, advocating for services and
resources, and empowering clients to set personal health goals and make authentic community connections.

Conclusion: Compassionate Communities can address the holistic, personalized, and client-centred needs of people
experiencing homelessness and/or low income and social isolation. Volunteers are often untapped health and social
care capital that can be mobilized to promote the health of vulnerable persons. Student volunteers may benefit from
experiencing and responding to the needs of a community’s most vulnerable members.

Keywords: Vulnerable populations, Homeless persons, Community participation, Program evaluation,
Compassionate communities, Health services research, Implementation science, Qualitative research

© The Author(s) 2021. Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which
permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the
original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or
other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line
to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory
regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this
licence, visit http:// creat iveco mmons. org/ licen ses/ by/4. 0/. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http:// creat iveco
mmons. org/ publi cdoma in/ zero/1. 0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated in a credit line to the data.

Background
Vulnerable populations experience significant barriers
accessing social, economic, political, and environmen-
tal resources [1, 2]. The result is poorer health. Without
resources, these persons become unable to protect or

Open Access

*Correspondence: [email protected]
1 Faculty of Nursing, University of Windsor, Windsor, Canada
Full list of author information is available at the end of the article

Page 2 of 10Pfaff et al. BMC Public Health (2021) 21:2253

care for themselves, either permanently or temporarily,
often due to physical, mental, emotional or other causes
[3, 4]. While there is debate surrounding the term ‘vul-
nerability’, its indicators include homelessness or housing
insecurity, low-income, physical or mental frailty, social
isolation, and having a physical or mental disability [3, 5].
For the purpose of this study, we use these criteria as our
definition of vulnerability.

Low income is the most significant predictor of experi-
encing vulnerability [3, 5]. In Canada, almost one-tenth
of the population experiences low income [5]. Nearly one
in five Canadians who rent housing spend more than 50%
of their income solely on rent [6], putting them at risk
of homelessness [7]. One quarter of a million Canadians
experience homelessness, and every night, 35,000 peo-
ple sleep in parks and on the streets [6]. These statistics
do not include the hidden homeless. The hidden home-
less lack permanent housing and frequently sleep in their
cars or ‘couch-surf ’; the latter involves relying on family,
friends for providing sleeping accommodations [8, 9].
Accordingly, 2.3 million Canadians report experienc-
ing hidden homelessness at some point in their lives [9].
Regardless of homelessness type, these people experience
significant challenges in finding a job, living a healthy
lifestyle, and maintaining relationships with others [10].
People who experience homelessness are at greater risk
for acute and chronic illnesses [11] and the chance of liv-
ing until the age of 75 is approximately 32% in males and
60% in females [12]. Sadly, they may only receive a patch-
work of health and social care services that are often not
well coordinated.

Eliminating health care and social service gaps and
reducing barriers to accessing care is challenging at the
individual, community, and population health levels. In
Canada, funding is insufficient to address the housing
needs of low-income citizens, and there are inadequate
numbers and availability of shelter beds [13]. People
experiencing low income and homelessness often feel
stigma and therefore, lack trust in providers when access-
ing care [14]. People who experience indicators of vul-
nerability may not view these indicators as problematic
[3] making identification, engagement, and intervention
difficult.

The compassionate community movement
Compassionate Communities (CCs) are spreading world-
wide but are relatively new in Canada. The CC move-
ment is a population-based theory of practice that calls
on society to intentionally contribute to caring for its
citizens [15], especially those experiencing indicators
of vulnerability. In this model, citizens are purpose-
fully mobilized as volunteers with health and social care
institutions to help people in need identify their own

person-centred goals for living well. People are then con-
nected with community resources and empowered to act
on their goals and needs. With collective engagement,
a CC becomes an interplay of caring actions with and
among a community, its citizens, and health/social care
organizations [15].

In Canada, the CC movement is led by a collective of
palliative care stakeholder organizations [16–18], but the
approach is adaptable for people of wide-ranging health
needs and vulnerabilities. The CC theory of practice can
be implemented to best suit a community’s priorities,
needs, and resources. When strategically put into prac-
tice, CCs can improve the quality of life for persons living
with precarious health, social and environmental circum-
stances [19].

The Windsor‑Essex compassion care community
The Windsor-Essex Compassion Care Community
(WECCC) is a collective of volunteers and 65 health/
social care organizations that partner in identifying and
reducing the unmet needs of persons living with complex
health and social issues [19]. Target populations include
seniors, the frail elderly, people with chronic disease and
disabilities, and people living in social isolation. WECCC
staff and volunteers assist clients to identify their own
personal needs, goals, and preferred interventions.

The Vulnerable Persons (VP) Program, a sub-project of
the WECCC, was born out of a need to provide focused
support for people living with low income and housing
insecurity in Windsor-Essex, Ontario Canada. In col-
laboration with the regional health authority, Family Ser-
vices Windsor-Essex, the Hospice of Windsor and Essex
County, the primary care sector and others, VP program
staff and volunteers have worked with over 400 individu-
als to develop goals that address their unmet health and
social needs. Clients are never discharged, and service
level is determined by client need. Programming var-
ies from face-to-face intervention with fully integrated
health and social care supports, to scheduled check-
in calls by staff and volunteers for assessing client goal
achievement and quality of life.

Currently, little is known about the experiences of CC
stakeholders and how to successfully implement CCs
among vulnerable persons. This information is needed
to improve and spread this program and to inform oth-
ers who are implementing similar initiatives. The purpose
of this exploratory study was to evaluate the implemen-
tation of a compassionate community intervention for
vulnerable persons in Windsor Ontario, Canada. In par-
ticular, we sought to describe and interpret stakeholder
experiences about the program’s characteristics, its pro-
cesses, and potential impacts and opportunities.

Page 3 of 10Pfaff et al. BMC Public Health (2021) 21:2253

Methods
We employed an applied qualitative approach [20] to
describe and interpret stakeholder perspectives about the
VP program. This approach enabled us to critically exam-
ine the data to develop a rich understanding of the stake-
holder experiences, the program’s processes, its impacts,
and areas for improvement. WECCC’s research and eval-
uation program is guided by constructs of the Consoli-
dated Framework for Implementation Research (CFIR)
[21, 22]. In this evaluation we focused on several con-
structs within its domains – characteristics of individuals,
intervention characteristics, outer setting, and program
processes [21]. We deemed them to be the core domains
on which to focus for understanding the ‘what’ and ‘how’
of the VP program implementation.

Sample and recruitment
We used convenience sampling to identify individuals
who met the following criteria: (1) being either a pro-
gram client or a stakeholder who is actively engaged in
program delivery, (2) over the age of 18 and (3) English
speaking. Participants were recruited by WECCC office
staff using a structured script over a four-month period
of time between March and June 2018. The final sample
included 16 program stakeholders made up of three VP
coordinators, two community case managers from the
regional health authority, one administrator of a key part-
ner community program, two nursing student volunteers
who had completed a community clinical experience
with the VP program, and eight VP clients. Among the
VP clients, one person was experiencing homelessness
at the time of data collection. The remaining clients were
previously homeless but living in temporary and/or pre-
carious living situations.

Data collection
We conducted one focus group with five VP clients and
individual telephone interviews with three clients who
were unable to attend the focus group. A focus group was
purposefully selected as we sought to gather and validate
collective client perspectives about the program. The
focus group took place at the Hospice of Windsor and
Essex County and transportation to the Hospice was pro-
vided for VP clients. It was facilitated by JC. Field notes
were documented by HK and observations noted by KP.
Individual telephone interviews were also completed with
the VP care coordinators, the community care case man-
agers, the partner program administrator, and the stu-
dent volunteers. These interviews were completed by JC,
HK, and KP. The interview guide was developed for this
study with questions and prompts informed by the CFIR
Interview Guide tool [21]. Refer to Supplementary 1. The
same interview schedule was used for all stakeholders. .

All focus group and interview data were digitally audio-
recorded and transcribed verbatim by a trained tran-
scriptionist and research assistants. Two VP coordinators
and three participants agreed to engage in member check
interviews in which we shared the emerging themes and
invited them to confirm, disconfirm, and offer further
explanations. There was agreement from participants
regarding the emerging findings. We confirmed data
redundancy for the overall themes and therefore ceased
data collection.

Analysis
We applied Sally Thorne’s pragmatic approach to
selecting data analysis procedures [20]. Three nursing
researchers (KP, HK and JC) and a research assistant
(FV) iteratively reviewed the transcripts individually.
We met as a team to discuss early insights and potential
codes. A codebook was established to support early cod-
ing and researcher consistency with coding. During open
coding, new codes were created and documented on the
transcripts by each member of the team. We simultane-
ously extracted meaningful/powerful quotes to a shared
word document. During weekly team meetings, codes
were reviewed, revised and some were abandoned as
they were deemed to not reflect the data. Throughout
the process, we applied a constant comparative approach
[23] to the data comparison, and re-organization of the
data into categories that were later collapsed into emerg-
ing themes. During this time, we considered a range of
possibilities, took care to avoid premature closure [20]
and documented our decisions. We met weekly in the
last 3 weeks of analysis to agree upon the overall theme
and its sub-categories. We collated and shared our indi-
vidual memos and analytic insights in face-to-face dis-
cussions, and then mapped these notes to our themes as
a method for validating our interpretations. Decisions
were reached by consensus and the findings were unani-
mously approved by the team.

Ethical considerations
Ethics clearance was granted by the University of Wind-
sor Research Ethics Board (REB# 16–047). Consent was
gathered and documented individually for all participants
in both the focus groups and the interviews. All partici-
pants were invited to create and share their preferred
pseudonyms and to ask any questions of the researchers
before beginning the focus groups and interviews. Focus
group participants were reminded that confidentiality
could not be assured due to the group nature of data col-
lection, but participants agreed to not share information
provided by others. Client participants were assured that
their decision to participate (or not participate) would
have no impact on their program services.

Page 4 of 10Pfaff et al. BMC Public Health (2021) 21:2253

Results
The findings are organized and presented in the following
sections: (1) participant characteristics, (2) intervention
characteristics, (3) program processes, and (4) impacts
and opportunities for improvement.

Participant characteristics
Vulnerable clients were described (by self and providers)
as “invisible” within the system and being socially iso-
lated. They were also characterized by providers as hav-
ing “brittle support systems”, being disconnected from
family, and having “no one looking out for them.” Cli-
ents and providers described complex health issues that
include, but were not limited to developmental disabili-
ties, anxiety, depression, renal failure, immobility, and
pain. Life challenges that prompted referral to the pro-
gram included homelessness, financial insecurity, elder
abuse, bereavement, and caregiver burden. As stated
by one care coordinator: “Life has kind of dealt them a
crappy hand. A lot of times it’s about the social determi-
nants of health and some people just aren’t as privileged
as others … and there’s just not the supports in place, or
there are supports but they’re not readily acceptable to
people and it prevents them from really getting the help
that they need …” (VP Coordinator 2).

Intervention Characteristics – The Little Things are Big.
The analysis revealed one overarching meta-theme that

describes the characteristics of the intervention, ‘the little
things are big’. Clients and providers frequently referred
to the program’s ability to address ‘the little things’ that
often go unnoticed at the systems level, but that have a
big impact on client health and quality of life: “We have
fairly large caseloads and we don’t have like the days to
spend working on the smaller tasks that are big for our
patient. Like we put in the care plans, we put in the ser-
vices for them but…it was the little things, like she [the cli-
ent] wasn’t able to wash her hair and her daughter was
burning out and didn’t have contact with anyone in the
community.” (Community case manager).

The ‘little things’ commonly involved assisting with per-
sonal and practical needs (personal care, groceries, meal
preparation, finances, home maintenance) that kept cli-
ents healthy, safe, and in some cases prevented them from
being evicted and/or being able to remain in their homes.
“I have a gentleman that I’m working with, he’s got ALS
[Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis] and he needs somebody to
go to his house and just help him get his lunch from his
stove to his table, that’s it. I mean it seems like such a sim-
ple thing, but he had a great deal with difficultly doing
that” (VP care coordinator 1). Jane, a VP client, shared
the following: “He helped me with my portable air con-
ditioner, setting it up and so we got it running…I have a
medical alert button and he put it all together…and made

a phone call that took like an hour with these people, but
he saved me $300 …”.

Social support was perceived as a little but significant
thing for clients, staff and students “A lot of people think
you have to constantly be doing physical things for people
or sending referrals, but a lot of people just want someone
to talk to … especially vulnerable people who don’t often
get the opportunity to just sit and chat with somebody. It
is very beneficial, and I love seeing people’s lives change,
specifically for the better, just through the support that
we’re able to give them” (VP coordinator 2).

Some clients received friendly visits from WECCC
volunteers and/or were connected with WECCC’s com-
munity partner programs. All participants described the
importance of therapeutic communication and listening
skills as being the core component of the program inter-
vention. Molly stated: “That was a comfort to me to know
that there were individuals concerned with little, old me
in the sense that … we all come from different parts of a
community and they’ve included everybody and that’s a
very emotional thing for me to have support from people
that I don’t even know.”

Clients receive ongoing, free support and this was per-
ceived as a “big thing” for clients and the program.

“Obviously there’s no cost so that’s a big thing, but we
never tell them they’re discharged from our program
so we can see them once a week until they feel sup-
ported which I think is a huge relief for them because
they don’t want to tell us their whole story, be done
with us in four weeks and then move on to their next
worker. So that’s a big thing for us. Even when …
we’re not seeing them on a weekly basis, we continue
check-in calls whether that be monthly, six months,
one year so it’s a huge relief for them … to know they
always have our support (VP coordinator 3).

Program processes
The little and big things are addressed through three key
processes: (1) taking time, (2) advocacy, and (3) empow-
erment. Each process is reported in the following text.

Taking time
Taking time was a key process that enabled the sub-pro-
cess of advocacy and empowerment: “… when we go to
a home, we’re having a conversation with the client at a
pace that’s appropriate to them with intentions of build-
ing a report with client and in doing so, they begin opening
up about things that they want to work on, difficulties that
they’re having that they often have not shared with other
people…” (VP coordinator 1). The importance of this pro-
cess was echoed by another care coordinator: “Most other
professionals that go out to people’s homes, they are so

Page 5 of 10Pfaff et al. BMC Public Health (2021) 21:2253

focused … that it’s a pretty quick conversation. Whereas
our conversations are much more open ended … ‘so what
is it that you think you could do? What would you need to
improve [your] quality of life?’ This is a very big question
and is not trying to fit their answer into some predeter-
mined kind of things that you can offer. So, it takes time”
(VP coordinator, 2).

Time spent listening and communicating therapeuti-
cally was highly valued, whether it occurred face-to-face
or by telephone – “I appreciate how they don’t just [say]
o.k. here is what we talked about last visit and drop a
bunch of papers in front of you and you know it’s all curt
like it is with a lot of offices you know. They take the time
to discuss with you between your options which ones are
best for you …” (Hunch).

Receiving a monthly check-in call was the most fre-
quently valued intervention reported by clients and pro-
viders. In some cases, the call filled a gap when other
services had run out and offered a sense of security and
social connectedness: The client asked me when I talked
to him last, ‘Would you be able to call and just check up
to make sure I’m doing okay? Can you please call me in
a month just to check in?’… So, I’ll call again in another
month (VP coordinator 2).

Advocacy
The process of advocacy encompassed activities such as
researching programs and services, contacting providers
and community organizations, and explaining the client’s
complex health and living situation. Advocacy work was
successful in securing vital care and services, such as free
and/or affordable transportation for clients, funding for
medical equipment, prescription medications, assistance
with activities of daily living, and temporary housing.

A community case manager from the regional health
authority described the following example of advocacy
work:

“I have this mid 70s lady who falls into the category
of having a brittle support system, had a fire in the
summer in her condo, she’s on hemodialysis. She …
was missing dialysis a lot, was going to the ER with
shortness of breath … A constant ride to dialysis was
the reason she was missing it plus she was suffering
some depression … It took a lot of coordination, but
we were able to get her rides. I was able to get her
providers to start early, to get her ready for dialysis,
get her on and off transport … WECCC dug deeper
and was able to connect with the social worker and
found funding to get this ride and now her dialysis
times have been changed… The patient is now going
to dialysis.”

Greg shared an example of advocacy when facing home-
lessness after being discharged following a recent hospi-
talization: “I’ve been [living] with a broken back over 10
years ago when I went backwards down the basement
stairs … I ended up with a fractured skull and a cerebral
hemorrhage … He [VP care coordinator] helped me find
a place and he booked me in a [rest home] for about nine
months … and did some work on getting me an electric
scooter …. [my] mobility is not getting better…”

Empowerment
Writing personal health goals was identified as the key
process for client empowerment by six clients and all of
the other stakeholders: “I think the most important part
of it is the establishing of SMART [Specific, Measurable,
Attainable, Relevant, Time-Bound] goals. Those provide
direction and they also help actually motivate the clients
to achieve the goal that they have identified.” (VP coordi-
nator 1).

Some participants were affirmed by the power of goal
setting for clients living in precarious life circumstances.
Shawn explained: “You would like never put that two and
two together yourself but to have somebody say to you
‘Yes you know this is something that you can do.’ That just
makes you feel productive as a person, definitely.” The pro-
gram administrator from a partner community program
shared the following: “One of our clients who is palliative
… there’s a persistent level of depression … but you know
she was still able to make some goals. She was still able
identify that ‘I would want to do this, this and this’ before
it all ends for her.”

The nursing students validated the value and power of
goal setting for empowerment. Brianna explained: “You’re
asking them ‘what can you do to improve your quality of
life?’…and it helps people realize, ‘Oh I can change this. I
don’t want this to be my life the way it is’ and we help with
figuring it out … A lot of the time too we would help make
goals for the patients and say, ‘o.k. we’ll do this to help
you get to here’ and by the time we called the next week…
they’ve done it on their own.”

Making social connections was one of the most iden-
tified goals reported by clients and staff. “Getting out
more is the number one reason people are referred to us,
it’s just people are so isolated and so getting out more is
one of the biggest goals” (VP Coordinator 2). Clients were
empowered to improve their social connections and their
personal well-being through intentional connections
to community activities, such as card groups and yoga.
“We’re empowering them to create one linkage that leads
to the next in the community so just getting them involved
in other programs so they have some kind of care circle in
their life” (VP Coordinator 3). Transportation provided by
the local hospice enabled attendance at some programs.

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“You know I get to meet people and get out of here…with
the rheumatoid I wake up with pain every day…my goal is
to get back swimming … See if that benefits it [the pain].
There’s other things Hospice offers, other programs, ‘Living
with Chronic Pain’ is one of them” (Greg).

A few clients were empowered to use their talents to
give back to the community. “We had one client who
was good at knitting or crocheting so we suggested that
maybe she find a program where she could knit, knit hats
for babies… … we did have a few clients who were heav-
ily involved in advocacy for low income people as well as
homeless people … (nursing student volunteer). One par-
ticipant described how she made woven mats from plas-
tic milk bags for people living on the streets, and another
participant set up a Facebook group to promote social
connection and advocacy for the homeless and those at
risk for homelessness.

Impacts and opportunities for improvement
The qualitative data suggest positive health impacts for
clients and benefits for the community and the health
care system. In most situations, the program serves as a
safety net that supports people who are falling through
the cracks of the formal care system.

“One of our clients, who had a stroke, she lost func-
tion in her right arm and her right leg … she was
given a manual wheel chair and for two years she
lived in an environment in which she was literally
going in circles right because she didn’t have use in
one of her arms in order to keep this wheel chair
straight and she lived like that for two years! To me
that sounded like an absolute system failure but one
that really could have been avoided had she called
the system, called the LHIN, called the doctor, any
of these kinds of people who would’ve been able to
intervene and should have intervened but she didn’t
… if our clients are receiving monthly check-in calls,
something like that will not happen.” (VP Coordina-
tor 1)

All of the clients reported benefits from increased social
interaction and a connection with their community. The
participants described multiple examples of how the
program is directly reducing use of emergency services,
preventing homelessness, improving client safety, and in
a few cases, averting attempted and completed suicides.

“One member tried to kill himself … When he was
released, he was sent to our program through the
social worker. He had no other supports just himself
and he lives with his brother, so we set him up with
the crisis number and made a goal for him and his
brother to be a support system for one another. They

get out walking at least once a week and they hold
each other accountable … He also wanted to work
part time … so I gave him a number to the unem-
ployment centre in his area, and he reached out
to them himself … created his own resume, and he
actually landed himself a job” (VP coordinator 3).

Although long-term community investments are needed,
short-term support for securing safe housing and pre-
venting homelessness was reported as a positive impact
of the program: One client with hoarding behaviours
described how the program enabled her to avoid evic-
tion by negotiating a plan to reduce the clutter: “I had the
fire marshal come in here … my house was ransacked and
then I just let it go because I suffer from depression … and
alcoholism. She’s (the landlord) given me like a week to get
one room done and a week to get another room done and
he’s [the volunteer] helping me out … He’s helped me out,
period! (Jane).

All eight clients reported support for managing chronic
health issues such as pain, anxiety, depression, renal
failure, and diabetes. Coordinators were able to assist
clients to access dialysis appointments, prescription
medications, and primary care in cases where clients
had no family physician. In some situations, the coordi-
nator attended primary care visits to add context to the
situation. A nursing student volunteer discussed success
with helping a client navigate management of her chronic
pain:

“I had a patient who was in chronic pain and she
had no, she didn’t have a family doctor, she didn’t
have any management of her pain at all. She had
tried non-pharmacological things and it wasn’t
working, so she was sleeping until 2:00 pm every day
and then going to bed early cause … she couldn’t
function … Her main thing was figuring out that
pain … she was so socially isolated … because she
couldn’t handle it … We got her a family doctor.
We had VON [Victorian Order of Nurses] connect
with her to help with pain management and we also
signed her up with hospice … so that when she had
that pain managed then we can work around the
social isolation which was getting her involved with
the wellness program in the community.”

Through this evaluation, we learned from care coordina-
tors and volunteers that training programs should include
specific content and tools for responding to the needs of
individuals experiencing complex mental health con-
cerns. Sustainability opportunities include technology,
funding, and volunteers. Many clients do not have inter-
net, electronic devices, and/or are not tech savvy. Per-
manent funding for program coordination and volunteer

Page 7 of 10Pfaff et al. BMC Public Health (2021) 21:2253

training will be essential for long-term sustainability. As
stated by one coordinator: “I think the main resource that
we require more than anything is volunteers … I think that
is the key to it all. For myself, I am struggling to keep up
just because of the kind of manpower issue. And the main
reason for that … you don’t have a volunteer base big
enough in order to be able to have that time.”

Discussion
This study is important as it adds to the growing inter-
national evidence about the positive impacts of CCs
on individual and community health. The majority of
the evidence is published in the palliative and end-of-
life care literature [24]. This is the first study to evalu-
ate a CC approach within a targeted vulnerable care
sector. The results of this evaluation demonstrate that
health and social care sectors can be mobilized by a CC
approach to holistically address the big and little needs
of society’s most vulnerable and invisible persons. The
qualitative findings suggest that the ‘little things’ often
had the biggest impact on client well-being and on care
management. The ‘big and little things’ characterize the
VP intervention, and they were addressed through the
processes of taking time, advocacy and empowerment.
In this study, these processes appear to address vulner-
abilities, such as housing security, physical and mental
disabilities, and social isolation. They also meaningfully
address the holistic concerns that were most pressing and
important to program clients, with social isolation being
a significant concern. Recruiting and retaining volunteers
is the most key opportunity for improvement and sus-
tainability of the program.

The Canadian healthcare system and those of other
countries remain entrenched in approaches that are
largely siloed and not coordinated to meaningfully
address the things that are most valued by people and
that contribute to their quality of life [25, 26]. It is over-
time for policy experts and governments to prioritize
an integrated system of health and social care that takes
action on the ‘little things’ that often have a big impact
on health. Food, transportation, safety, and social con-
nectedness were described by participants as “little”. Yet,
they are basic human needs that are essential for health
and quality of life, and they are frequently not accessible
to those facing vulnerabilities [27].

In Canada, there are very few community-based pro-
grams that provide holistic, and continuous life-long sup-
port for people who experience homelessness, housing
insecurity and low income, and some of these programs
are often criticized for reinforcing obstacles to engage-
ment [28]. International community-based programs
face similar criticisms. Many have criteria that are based
on age or gender [29, 30], chronic and advanced disease

[31–33], and/or on addiction or mental health issues [31,
33–35]. Others focus on interactive educational work-
shops and are time-limited or transitional [35]. Program
benefits are often not maintained long-term [29, 32, 34]
with clients reverting back to their original behaviours or
circumstances after support is withdrawn. The VP pro-
gram addresses these gaps and challenges by purposefully
organizing communities to act on the big and little things
as an issue of public health through its key processes.

Enacting the key processes
Taking time, advocacy, and client empowerment are pro-
cesses that can be readily enacted at the community level,
but we argue that the processes must be systematically
integrated into the system to be effective and sustainable.
This systems-level change will require reconsideration of
funding and service delivery, not just a shuffling of deck
chairs [36] or one-off programs. CCs address these bar-
riers by adopting a public health approach that seeks to
truly understand what is most important to people where
they live and by engaging people and communities to
act on addressing the needs of people experiencing vari-
ous health and social care issues [15, 37]. Effective, resil-
ient, and sustainable health and social care systems can
be achieved when vulnerable persons are empowered as
active advisors and partners in re-shaping change [2].
The process theme of empowerment resonates with this
notion in that people with vulnerabilities were empow-
ered to act on their own goals, and support others in
their own community.

Advocacy is an important public health tool for
addressing the social determinants of health and an
important process for addressing care gaps and ineq-
uities within the system [38]. Unfortunately, advocacy
takes time, and time is a scarce resource for many health
care providers [39]. Current healthcare systems reward
efficiency and larger volumes of clients [40], potentially
discouraging providers from taking the needed time to
address a person’s holistic care needs. Mounting schol-
arly CC evidence is showing that caring interactions
among persons, families, neighbours, and healthcare pro-
viders enable participatory care [37, 41], improve overall
wellbeing and reduce mortality [37, 41, 42], and ease the
burden on the care system [41]. This study supports and
adds to this body of evidence.

In a CC model, volunteers are often untapped health
and social care capital who have time to give back to
their communities and can be mobilized in action [43].
The findings of this study again support the notion
that volunteers can be equipped with the skills needed
to advocate for and empower people who are experi-
encing vulnerabilities. At the time of this study, the VP
program had 50 trained volunteers, including students

Page 8 of 10Pfaff et al. BMC Public Health (2021) 21:2253

from nursing, social work, and gerontology. Twenty
additional volunteers were trained during the first 6
months of the COVID-19 pandemic to provide vir-
tual check-in visits with VP clients. Because negative
or inaccurate perceptions of homelessness, poverty
and other types of vulnerabilities can result in deficit
versus strength-based practices that further stigmatize
clients [44], formal training is essential. VP volunteers
are overseen by the VP care coordinators, and they
participate in mandatory and specific volunteer train-
ing in areas such as diversity, communication in com-
plex client scenarios, goal setting, the importance of
socially connectedness, and self-care.

With regard to both empowerment and advocacy,
this program provides a window through which nurs-
ing student volunteers viewed the realities of those
experiencing vulnerabilities, and an opportunity to
integrate service learning into CCs. Nursing students
reported similar benefits to those described by Knecht
and Fischer – shattering their own stereotypes, recip-
rocal learning through relational practice, and devel-
oping skills in community advocacy [45]. An added
benefit of student volunteers is that they are truly able
to take the time to comprehensively assess and address
the breadth and depth of client needs – time that is
not typically available in other clinical learning set-
tings [45].

Addressing social isolation
The need for improved social connectedness among VP
clients is an important secondary finding of this study.
Social isolation has been deemed a public health pan-
demic [46], a predictor of early mortality [40] and a
common experience of all clients in this study. Social
exclusion negatively affects the subjective wellbeing of
those who experience homelessness, and interventions
that engage people in building social connections will
improve their quality of life [37]. Overcoming social
isolation by expanding social networks is a key focus of
the VP program, and its approach is informed by good
evidence [40, 47, 48]. The VP program engages high
risk individuals as active participants rather than pas-
sive recipients and empowers their participation in the
planning and implementation of social engagement.
Support is flexible and adaptable to the needs and goals
of the participants, and it is rooted in both the com-
munity and the person’s own social network. An unin-
tended and serendipitous benefit of the focus group
was that participants identified creative opportuni-
ties for supporting the local homeless community and
agreed to share contact information as a way of staying
connected after the study concluded.

Embracing discomfort
As stated by Karen Armstrong, founder of the global
Charter for Compassion.

movement, “A compassionate city is an uncomfortable
city! A city that is uncomfortable when anyone is home-
less and hungry …” [49]. We add that a compassionate
community should also be uncomfortable when any citi-
zen is socially isolated or lonely. As the socioeconomic
inequalities in health and other indicators of vulnerability
continue to widen in Canada [50] and around the world
[2, 25], it is time for every community to be very uncom-
fortable – uncomfortable to the point that every citizen is
treated “as we would wish to be treated” [49] and empow-
ered to take the time to take action on inequities.

Limitations and future research
This WECCC VP program was evaluated through in-
depth interview evaluations of only 16 key stakehold-
ers. As this was an exploratory study, we did not seek
to interpret variations in the experiences of clients and
other stakeholders. Sampling was convenient, and only
one participant was experiencing homelessness at the
time of the interviews. Therefore, the findings are not
transferable to those experiencing homelessness. We
were unable to interview volunteers other than the nurs-
ing student volunteers. Future studies should assess and
compare more stakeholder voices (community volun-
teers, student learners, community partners, and home-
less clients) to discover other unknown benefits and
additional opportunities for improvements and program
scale. Because sustainability is a challenge in many com-
munity-based programs [28, 31, 33], longitudinal stud-
ies should appraise whether the impacts of the program
are sustained in the long-term. A larger study using an
implementation science framework would more rigor-
ously evaluate the objective strengths and improvements
of this program. Members of our research team (PMZ
and KP) are applying social network analysis procedures
to model WECCC as a care system. The goal is to expand
the quantity and quality of social interactions in this net-
work and others by identifying socially isolated members
and those with weak social links [51]. This identification
may enable communities to facilitate connections for
those experiencing vulnerability and predict future social
needs.

Conclusion
This study reports stakeholder experiences of a pilot CC
intervention for vulnerable persons, the program char-
acteristics, its processes, impacts, and opportunities
for improvement. Health and social care sectors can
be mobilized by a CC approach to holistically address

Page 9 of 10Pfaff et al. BMC Public Health (2021) 21:2253

the big and little needs of society’s most vulnerable per-
sons. These needs are physical, practical, and psycho-
social. Successful implementation processes of the VP
program involve taking time, empowering clients to set
their own goals based on personal preference and advo-
cating for appropriate resources that support holistic
health and wellbeing. Programs for persons who are
experiencing vulnerability should be client versus pro-
vider driven and provide relational support for com-
bating social isolation. Student volunteers may benefit
from learning about and responding to the needs of a
community’s most vulnerable members. Sustainability
opportunities include technology, funding, and volun-
teers. CCs are a workable solution for preventing and
reducing vulnerability.

Abbreviations
CC: Compassionate Communities; VP: Vulnerable persons; WECCC : Windsor-
Essex Compassion Care Community; CFIR: Consolidated Framework for
Implementation Research.

Supplementary Information
The online version contains supplementary material available at https:// doi.
org/ 10. 1186/ s12889- 021- 12256-9.

Additional file 1.

Acknowledgements
We give special thanks to the participants for their time in participating in the
interviews, especially the VP clients who so openly shared their experiences.

Authors’ contributions
All authors contributed to the study. KP, HK and JC designed the study. KP, HK
and JC collected the data. HK, and KP led the data analysis. HK, KP, JC and FV
conducted the analysis. KP, HK, JC, PMZ, FV, PR, MH and DS were involved in
writing the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Funding
This research received funding from the Erie-St. Clair Local Health Integration
Network. The funding body had no involvement in this research, including
data collection, analysis, interpretation and manuscript writing.

Availability of data and materials
The data material used in this study are available from the corresponding
author on reasonable request which will not conflict with the anonymity and
confidentiality of the data.

Declarations

Ethics approval and consent to participate
Ethics clearance was obtained from the University of Windsor (REB #16–047).
All participants in both the focus groups and individual interviews provided
informed consent individually. Written consent was gathered from each
focus group participant and verbal consent was audio-recorded for individual
telephone interviews. The consent was reviewed with all participants before
data collection and participants were given the opportunity to ask questions
of the researchers.

Consent for publication
Not applicable.

Competing interests
This research was sponsored by the Windsor-Essex Compassion Care Com-
munity. D. S is the Program Director but did not participate in any aspects of
data collection or analysis. All other authors have no competing interests to
declare. The findings may be used to inform the development of products and
services that can be used by other communities. All such products will be cre-
ated with the intent that they will be available within the public domain, and
for which no authors have a business and/or financial interest.

Author details
1 Faculty of Nursing, University of Windsor, Windsor, Canada. 2 Depart-
ment of Family Medicine, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada. 3 School
of Computer Science, University of Windsor, Windsor, Canada. 4 Windsor-Essex
Compassion Care Community, Windsor, Canada.

Received: 6 January 2021 Accepted: 12 October 2021

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1 3

O R I G I N A L R E S E A R C H

Refining the Monetary Poverty Indicators Under a Join
Income‑Consumption Statistical Approach: An Application
to Spain Based on Empirical Data

Antonio M. Salcedo1  · Gregorio Izquierdo Llanes2

Accepted: 13 July 2019 / Published online: 17 July 2019
© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Abstract
In the European Union poverty has been measured indirectly in a one-dimensional way
from a perspective based on disposable income. This classical approach has certain limita-
tions when representing such a complex phenomenon by means of a single variable, reach-
ing sometimes a modest association with regard to other direct poverty measurements such
as severe material deprivation rate. In this article we study the measurement of monetary
poverty from a two-dimensional point of view favouring a perspective of complementarity
rather than one of substitutability. The joint analysis of the monetary income and consump-
tion distribution makes it possible to identify different association patterns between these
two variables for individuals located on one side or the other of the respective poverty
thresholds. Expenditure on housing that is a determining factor in lower-income house-
holds and imputed rents that would be paid by the owner household of a dwelling, allow us
to calculate an at-risk-of poverty rate which refines the link with material poverty in both
temporal and spatial dimensions.

Keywords At-risk-of poverty · Material deprivation · Disposable income · Residual
income · Sensitivity · Spain

1 Introduction

In recent decades monetary poverty has been measured, specifically, by means of the
poverty risk rate based on disposable income (Atkinson et  al. 2017). This paradigm,
generally accepted in the European Union (EU), has been reconsidered since the recent
economic crisis, given that the indicators of severe material deprivation have shown
more variation than the classical indicator of at-risk-of poverty, which in turn has led to

* Antonio M. Salcedo
[email protected]

Gregorio Izquierdo Llanes
[email protected]

1 Universidad Complutense de Madrid (UCM), Madrid, Spain
2 Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (UNED), Madrid, Spain

502 A. M. Salcedo, G. Izquierdo Llanes

1 3

a lower degree of association between them. One way to solve this possible dysfunction
is to understand that the relationship between income and consumption has been modi-
fied by the existence of savings and/or by variations in debt service. This would lead
to the need to measure the risk of poverty not only from the perspective of monetary
income, but also from that of monetary consumption (Meyer and Sullivan 2017). Both
visions of poverty have been accepted as valid by the UNECE in its recent Manual for
the harmonized measurement of poverty (UNECE 2017).

In this sense, when applying the classical one-dimensional poverty measurement
model based on income, some researchers have noted the existence of a relative modest
association between the risk of poverty and material poverty (Notten and Guio 2018),
when the latter is measured in terms of the proportion of individuals in a situation of
severe material deprivation, taking into account both their degree of correlation (Notten
2016) and the intersection between the two subpopulations (Fusco et al. 2010).

Thus, if we focus specifically on the data for a selection of EU countries in 2016
included in Table  1, we see that the sensitivity of the risk of poverty with respect to
severe material deprivation stands at only 36.4% in the case of Finland; in other words,
approximately one in three of those in a situation of material poverty is at risk of mon-
etary poverty but the other two material poor are out of risk of monetary poverty. The
corresponding figure is similar in the case of Hungary (38.9%), while it increases for
Italy (44.2%) and the United Kingdom (46.7%). In France around one out of two of
those in a situation of material poverty is at risk of monetary poverty (a sensitivity of
51.1%), while the results indicate higher values in the cases of Spain (69.0%) and Ger-
many (70.3%), the latter being the highest value of all the EU countries.

An additional debate exists regarding whether the monetary poverty paradigm, given
that it is a one-dimensional measurement system, could be improved by incorporating
other dimensions (Alkire et  al. 2015) in order to better represent such a complex phe-
nomenon (Serafino and Tonkin 2017). A join statistical approach has been adopted at
European level through the so-called Vienna memorandum on Income, Consumption
and Wealth statistics, endorsed in 2016, which is consistent with the framework advo-
cated by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD 2013).
At micro level, the memorandum promotes additional development and coordination of

Table 1 Intersection and sensitivity of the at-risk-of-poverty and severe material deprivation rate, year
2016. Source: Prepared by the authors based on Eurostat database—intersections of Europe 2020 poverty
target indicators

Country At-risk-of-poverty
rate (%)
(a)

Severe material depriva-
tion rate (%)
(b)

Intersection of (a)
and (b) (%)
(c)

Sensitivity (%)
(c/b)

Finland 11.7 2.2 0.8 36.4
Hungary 14.4 16.2 6.3 38.9
UK 15.9 5.2 2.3 44.2
Italy 20.6 12.0 5.6 46.7
France 13.7 4.5 2.3 51.1
Spain 22.3 5.8 4.0 69.0
Germany 16.5 3.7 2.6 70.3

503Refining the Monetary Poverty Indicators Under a Join…

1 3

the main statistical data sources, especially EU-SILC, Household Budget Survey (HBS)
and Household Finance and Consumption Survey (HFCS).

Concerning the integration of those variables, it is also worth noting that net wealth
conditions the need for savings or the direct and indirect financing of consumption; this
could explain the discrepancies between the income and consumption of some individuals.
In any case, wealth, insofar as it is positive or negative, involves returns or debt service
which affect income and/or consumption. In particular some authors have considered hous-
ing expenditure as an explanatory factor of some situation of poverty risk (Yang 2018).
The so-called income-ratio is a mainstream in the financial economy to measure accessibil-
ity, based on linking the information of defaults to indicators constructed from the relative
ratio between housing expenditure and household income (Bramley 2012), whose main
weakness is that non-housing expenditures must represent a minimum proportion, which
is not very applicable to households with incomes far from the average (Haffner and Hey-
len 2011). But because of its potential applicability to the measurement of poverty, the
alternative accessibility paradigm called residual income is particularly interesting (Stone
2006), which is based on quantifying the absolute level of the difference between income
and housing expenses, relating this difference with what is estimated as a fair standard of
living. Like the economy of poverty, the residual income approach has the main difficulty
of quantifying this fair standard of living since it is different for each temporal and spatial
reality (Li 2015).

Based on all previous introductory considerations, we attempt an initial approach to a
two-dimensional model using the joint distribution of monetary income and consumption
which, applied to the case of Spain, will provide the basis for the construction of an indi-
rect estimator of monetary poverty which represents a refinement of the classical poverty
rate.

2 Data and Methods

The classical approach to the measurement of monetary poverty has considered as at-risk-
of-poverty those individuals whose disposable income in a year t is to be found on the left
of what is known as the poverty line (Ravallion and Lokshin 2006). Thus, the monetary
poverty risk rate is given by the proportion of individuals whose equivalent disposable
income is below the poverty threshold (Lelkes and Gasior 2018). A percentage (p) of the
median (Mdn) of the equivalent disposable income is normally used to define this poverty
threshold. This percentage is conventionally set at p = 60% in the case of the EU (Atkin-
son and Marlier 2010) even though the UNECE or the OECD recommend using values of
p = 50% for international comparisons (OECD 2016). Methods of selection of p depending
on their sensitivity and specificity with respect to material poverty have been analysed by
some authors in order to draw optimal poverty lines (Salcedo and Izquierdo Llanes 2018).

Thus, if we denote the equivalent disposable income of the individuals of a country as
Yd, the poverty line or threshold based on a percentage p of its median will be given by
yline,p, calculated as follows:

The above calculation can be used for any other monetary variable, either income (Y) or
consumption (C), by simply replacing the new income or consumption variable in Eq. (1).

(1)yline,p = p% ∗ Mdn
(

Yd
)

504 A. M. Salcedo, G. Izquierdo Llanes

1 3

Thus, for the purpose of this article, we will denote the poverty threshold of equivalent
monetary consumption for p = 60% as cline,60.

At this point, and before extending a one-dimensional model to a two-dimensional
model, let us consider the following proposition: “Let N be the total number of individuals
in a country or region under study. Then the at-risk-of-poverty rate with p = 60%, which we
denote in this article as Arop.RYd,60, is the value of the distribution function of the equiva-
lent disposable income (FYd) evaluated on the poverty threshold (yline,60)”. Given that Arop.
RYd,60 represents the proportion of individuals with an equivalent income below the poverty
line with p = 60%, then:

Figure 1 shows the cumulative distribution function and the poverty risk rate of Spain
calculated for the year 2017. This rate was 21.6% or, in other words, the risk of poverty rate
Arop.RYd,60 is located in percentile 21.6 of the distribution function of Yd. In case of using
p = 50% the monetary poverty rate is 15.7%.

Based on the aforementioned proposition, when considering a two-dimensional income-
consumption variable we can immediately define a two-dimensional poverty risk rate as
the value of the two-dimensional distribution function FY,C evaluated at the centroid deter-
mined by the respective one-dimensional poverty thresholds, as follows:

From a methodological point of view, in order to validate the results of this model exter-
nally, we will use the degree of association obtained by means of the different correlation
coefficients with the rate of population suffering severe material deprivation, a direct meas-
ure of poverty (Chzhen et al. 2016). In the EU, a person who cannot afford at least four of
the following nine items (Rajmil et  al. 2015) is considered to be in a situation of severe
material deprivation (Ayllón and Gábos 2017): to pay rent or utility bills; to keep home
adequately warm; to face unexpected expenses; to eat meat, fish or a protein equivalent
every second day; a week holiday away from home; a car; a washing machine; a colour TV;
a telephone. The results of this indicator have been analysed by various authors with a view
to suggesting possible improvements (Guio et  al. 2016). The parameters of sensitivity,

(2)

Arop.RYd,60 =
number of individuals with Yd ≤ yline,60

N
= P

(

Yd ≤ yline,60
)

= FYd
(

yline,60
)

(3)Arop.RYC,60 = FY,C
(

yline,60, cline,60
)

Fig. 1 Cumulative distribution
function (FYd), poverty line
(yline,60) and at-risk-of poverty
rates (Arop.RY,60 and Arop.RY,50)
in Spain, year 2017. Source:
Prepared by the authors based
on the Living Conditions Survey
microdata

505Refining the Monetary Poverty Indicators Under a Join…

1 3

specificity and accuracy, often used in the estimation of results using ROC curves (Fawcett
2006) are also applied to perform an internal analysis of poverty at the microdata level.
The study uses empirical information from two main sources: the Household Budget Sur-
vey (HBS) and the Living Conditions Survey (LCS) that is Eurostat’s equivalent of the EU-
SILC. All the anonymized microdata files can be downloaded free on the website http://
www.ine.es/en/prody ser/micro datos _en.htm.

3 An Application to Spain

3.1 The Joint Distribution of Monetary Income and Consumption

We begin with the study of the joint distribution of the monetary income and consumption of
Spanish households. Figure  2 shows the two-dimensional scatter diagram of these two vari-
ables at microdata level obtained from the HBS with 2017 as reference year. This figure shows
the representation of the 2D density lines. In the upper part and on the right, the marginal den-
sity functions of income and consumption are also shown. The two poverty lines of net income
(yline,60) and monetary consumption (cline,60) calculated with p = 60% have also been added.
The inclusion of the two poverty lines makes it possible to visualize the two-dimensional

Area I: At risk of income and consumption poverty (10.5%).
Area II: At risk of income poverty but out of risk of consumption poverty (10.8%).
Area III: At risk of consumption poverty but out of risk of income poverty (8.8%).
Area IV: Out of risk of income and consumption poverty (69.9%).

Fig. 2 2D-density scatter plot of equivalent net income and monetary expenditure, year 2017. Source: Pre-
pared by the authors based on HBS microdata (2017)

506 A. M. Salcedo, G. Izquierdo Llanes

1 3

centroid (yline,60,cline,60) as the intersection of the one-dimensional income and consumption
poverty thresholds, respectively. This, in turn, means the quadrant can be divided into four
clearly differentiated areas.

In area I, all individuals are below the two poverty thresholds (yline,60,cline,60). Given that
everyone in this zone experiences low levels of both income and consumption, a high degree
of correlation between the risk of poverty and the rate of the population in severe material
deprivation would be expected. In area II, individuals have a low level of income but their lev-
els of monetary expenditure are medium–high, since they are located above the poverty line
for consumption (cline,60). This situation could be related to the sale of household goods, the
reduction of previously accumulated savings, indebtedness, family assistance or might even
suggest the existence of informal or illegal shadow economy activities (Eurostat 2018). The
individuals in area III have a low level of monetary expenditure but their income levels are
medium–high since they are located above the income poverty line (yline,60). They could be
saving and/or facing debt service. It should be noted that low levels of monetary consump-
tion could be significantly affected by the different price levels (PPP) to be found in Spain’s
autonomous communities (Salcedo and Izquierdo Llanes 2017), which could condition the
measurement of the risk of poverty. Finally, the individuals in area IV have medium–high lev-
els of income and monetary spending; they are all located above the two poverty lines. This
situation indicates that these individuals are not at risk of poverty.

Given the existence of a high degree of association between household income and
expenditure, it would be expected, a priori, that the percentage of people at risk of income and
consumption poverty would be very high in relation to the total population in one or another
risk. However, we observe that only 1 in 3 of those at risk of income or consumption monetary
poverty (30.1%, total of areas I + II + III) is simultaneously at risk of income and consumption
poverty (10.5%, area I); this seems to suggest an anomalous situation in the one-dimensional
models of income or consumption poverty when these are considered separately.

Table 2 shows the correlation coefficients obtained between the proportion of people in a
situation of severe material deprivation and the monetary poverty risk rates in Spain based on
EU-SILC and HBS data. The period analysed spans the years 2008 to 2017, which is espe-
cially significant since it covers the whole period affected by the recent financial crisis. It can
be observed that the two-dimensional model offers a very high degree of association, sur-
passing even the good results obtained from the one-dimensional models, in particular the
standard used in the EU-SILC. Therefore, a two-dimension rate based on low income and low
consumption could be a better monetary poverty indicator than low income or low consump-
tion alone, which are the most prevalent approaches of relative poverty at present.

The results of this table and the joint distribution income-consumption suggest the possible
existence of an indicator, based on a linear combination of the variables of income and con-
sumption, which could offer a better approximation to the measurement of poverty than the
one-dimensional classical indicator based exclusively on disposable income, as it is applied
in the European Union among others. Following an analysis of the joint distribution of the
equivalent income and monetary consumption in Fig. 2 and the poverty measurement results
presented in Table 2, we proceed to a principal components analysis of the income and con-
sumption data for 2017, which provides us with the following standardized linear equations:

It can be seen that the first principal component (PC1) provides an eigenvector on
the diagonal of the first quadrant. In Table  3 we show the cumulative proportion of total

(4)
{

PC1 ∶ 0.707 ∗ Y + 0.707 ∗ C

PC2 ∶ 0.707 ∗ Y − 0.707 ∗ C

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variability explained by this component (76.93%), which can be considered as significant
and indicates that most of the two-dimensional variability is concentrated in this first com-
ponent, that is, along the straight line on which standardized income and consumption are
equal.

The second principal component (PC2), meanwhile, explains 23.06% of the remain-
ing variability with a subtraction, indicating a contrast between net income and monetary
expenditure; this could be interpreted as the different levels of monetary savings of house-
holds. According to this second principal component, in the case of simultaneously low
values of Y and C, the range of variation of savings (positive or negative) is also low; this
in turn implies the existence of a low capacity of indebtedness of households and could
result in situations of poverty and/or financial exclusion (Krumer-Nevo et al. 2017) affect-
ing the financial well-being of households (Lee and Sabri 2017).

It should be pointed out, following on from the previous reflection, that there is a wide
range of financial ratios for households calculated for different purposes (Harness et  al.
2008). The European Central Bank, for example, has considered various consumption-
to-income ratios in the scope of the Household Finance and Consumption Survey (ECB
2016). Besides, in the framework of the EU-SILC, a transformation of disposable income
is also frequently used by adding the imputed rents from the dwelling to the equivalent

Table 2 Direct and indirect poverty rates, period 2008–2017

Prepared by the authors based on the EU-SILC database (*) and HBS microdata (**)

Year Direct poverty
measurement
(%)

Indirect poverty measurement (%)

One dimension Two dimensions

Severe material
deprivation rate*

Arop.RYd,60* Arop.RC,60** Arop.RYC,60**

2017 5.1 21.6 19.3 10.5
2016 5.8 22.3 19.0 10.3
2015 6.4 22.1 19.6 10.6
2014 7.1 22.2 19.1 10.7
2013 6.2 20.4 18.1 9.8
2012 5.8 20.8 18.2 9.1
2011 4.5 20.6 18.2 9.1
2010 4.9 20.7 18.6 8.8
2009 4.5 20.4 17.9 8.7
2008 3.6 19.8 17.8 8.3
 Pearson corr. coef. 0.73 0.59 0.83
 Spearman corr. coef. 0.68 0.61 0.88
 Kendall corr. coef. 0.60 0.48 0.75

Table 3 Summary of principal
components analysis, year 2017.
Source: Prepared by the authors
based on HBS microdata

PC1 PC2

Standard deviation 1.2404 0.6792
Proportion of variance 0.7693 0.2306
Cumulative proportion 0.7693 1.0000

508 A. M. Salcedo, G. Izquierdo Llanes

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income (Törmälehto and Sauli 2013), in order to offer a complementary measure of mon-
etary poverty; although imputed rents are not, by definition, part of equivalent income, it
can be considered as an aggregate income in national accounting terms (Eurostat 2013).
In this context and for the purpose of this article we denote as Yid the variable disposable
income adding imputed rents and equivalised following the usual procedures.

Given that housing is usually purchased using a loan and, if income is not adjusted with
financial expenses this could have the perverse effect that someone who bought a home
with a loan of 100%, and whose imputed income was dedicated to servicing the loan,
would be considered to have a greater income than just before buying the home, that coin-
cides with the temporary moment when that person did not pay any mortgage although he
or she could be facing the payment of a rent (Attanasio et al. 2012). This possible dysfunc-
tion leads to the incorporation of the expenses related with housing, mainly debt service
and rent, into the indicators used to calculate the at-risk-of-poverty. In addition, in the case
at hand, the expression of the first principal component of the joint distribution of income
and monetary consumption induces us to search for linear combinations, in the form of
subtractions between income and consumption, in order to obtain the greatest variability
possible.

Taking into account all of the above, we analyse the HBS to identify the item of highest
monetary expenditure in the lowest income households, based on the international classi-
fication COICOP (Berardi et al. 2017) which breaks down household expenditure into the
following twelve groups: (1) Food and non-alcoholic beverages; (2) Alcoholic beverages,
tobacco and narcotics; (3) Clothing and footwear; (4) Housing, water, electricity, gas and
other fuels; (5) Furniture, household equipment and ordinary expenses for the maintenance
of the dwelling; (6) Health; (7) Transport; (8) Communication; (9) Leisure, performances
and culture; (10) Education; (11) Restaurants, cafés and hotels; (12) Miscellaneous goods
and services.

Of these twelve groups, spending on group 4 (housing) is clearly the largest of all
expenditure items in households with the lowest income. Table 4 shows the proportion of
expenditure on housing (including rent, interest payments on mortgages, water, electricity,
gas and other fuels) by income quintile in five European countries in 2015. We can see that
the percentage of monetary expenditure associated with this group is around 40% of total
expenditure for households in the first income quintile, while in the case of households in
the top quintile this percentage decreases by between − 9.5 and − 15.3 percentage points.

It is clear that, unlike other COICOP items such as alcoholic beverages and tobacco,
leisure and culture or eating out, this item of expenditure is obligatory for households and
its high proportion in the lower income quintile clearly conditions the capacity to pay for
other fundamental goods or services; this could be related to situations of severe material
deprivation in low-income households.

Table 4 Percentage of monetary
expenditure in housing, water,
electricity, gas by income
quintile (year 2015). Source:
Prepared by the authors based
on Eurostat database – Structure
of consumption expenditure by
income quintile and COICOP
consumption purpose

Country Income quintile Diff. (p.p.)

Q1 Q5

Bulgaria 39.7 28.6 − 11.1
Finland 39.1 27.0 − 12.1
Germany 43.3 28.0 − 15.3
Hungary 46.1 31.0 − 15.1
Spain 38.6 29.1 − 9.5

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For all these reasons and based on the above results, we define the equivalised income
characterized by expenditure on housing, which henceforth we will call Ydc, as the disposa-
ble income of the household once the total expenditure on housing has been deducted; this
latter figure is reflected in the EU-SILC at the microdata level and it has been recently used
by Eurostat to calculate other poverty rates that differ from the standard use of Eq.  (1).
This variable has also commonalities with the concept of residual income (Stone 2006).
Finally, the equivalised imputed income characterized by expenditure on housing (Yidc) is
also defined analogously to Ydc but adding imputed rents to the characterized income. In
the next section we investigate whether the characterized income offers an improvement
over the classical poverty risk estimator based solely on disposable income.

3.2 Refining the Classical Measurement of the Monetary Poverty

To check the quality of the estimation of the monetary poverty risk based on characterized
income, we will take the last available year (2017) as our reference year and, using the
classical estimator based on Yd and with p = 60% of the median, we will carry a compara-
tive study of the poverty rates based on the three income variables previously presented
in this paper, that is, Yid, Ydc and Yidc, and also with p = 60% of their respective medians
according to Eq. (1).

Firstly, we verify that the areas under the ROC curve (López-Ratón et al. 2014) obtained
with the variables Yd, Yid, Ydc and Yidc in 2017 are 0.82, 0.84, 0.83 and 0.84, respectively. It
can be shown that the area under the ROC curve (AUC), which takes values between 0.5
and 1.0, is equivalent to that of the Mann–Whitney test (Hand and Till 2001). We can see
that in this case Yid and Yidc offer the highest values of the AUC.

Our second test consists of an analysis -external and internal- of the temporal dimen-
sion. Table 5 shows the proportion of individuals in a situation of severe material depriva-
tion as well as the poverty risk rates obtained using the variables Yd, Yid, Ydc and Yidc for the
decade 2008–2017.

Table 5 Severe material deprivation and at-risk-of poverty rates (%) based on variables Yd, Yid, Ydc and Yidc.
Source: Prepared by the authors based on LCS microdata (2008–2017)

Year SMD rate Arop.RYd,60 Arop.RYid,60 Arop.RYdc,60 Arop.RYidc,60

2017 5.1 21.6 19.7 25.6 22.6
2016 5.8 22.3 19.8 25.8 22.6
2015 6.4 22.1 19.5 25.4 22.8
2014 7.1 22.2 19.9 26.1 23.5
2013 6.2 20.4 18.7 24.5 22.5
2012 5.8 20.8 19.0 24.9 22.3
2011 4.5 20.6 17.8 24.6 21.6
2010 4.9 20.7 17.6 24.3 21.6
2009 4.5 20.4 17.3 24.0 21.2
2008 3.6 19.8 17.1 23.6 20.7
 Pearson corr. coef. 0.73 0.82 0.78 0.94
 Spearman corr. coef. 0.68 0.80 0.74 0.91
 Kendall corr. coef. 0.60 0.66 0.61 0.81

510 A. M. Salcedo, G. Izquierdo Llanes

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It is observed that the monetary poverty rate derived from disposable income by add-
ing imputed rents (Yid) is lower than the classical one, between − 1.7 and − 3.1 per-
centage points. On the contrary, the disposable income characterized by expenditure in
housing (Ydc) increased the rates from + 3.3 to + 4.1 percentage points. The inclusion of
imputed rents in the characterized income (Yidc) offers more similar rates than the classi-
cal indicator, with differences ranging from + 0.3 to + 2.1 percentage points. The corre-
lation coefficients obtained are very high in all cases, although the variable Yidc offered
very high values (0.94, 0.91 and 0.81).

The situation is similar when an internal study—at micro level—of the sensitivity,
specificity and accuracy of the four variables over time is carried out. Table  6 shows
that, in all cases, the characterized income is more sensitive than that of Yd, reaching
a maximum of 76.2% in 2016; this is an indication that the intersection between the
risk of poverty rate and severe material deprivation is greater with this variable. As far
as specificity is concerned, the highest values are obtained when considering imputed
rents only (84.6% in 2008 and 2009), that is, this variable offers the largest intersection
between individuals that are not materially poor and out of risk of poverty, simultane-
ously. Finally, the accuracy of the variable Yid is again the highest of the four cases
considered, with a maximum of 83.8% in 2008. This table also shows that all sensitivity
results for Yidc are greater than those for the classical Yd with p = 60%, reaching + 10.8
percentage points in 2011, while the specificity and accuracy are rather similar, around
80% every year.

Finally, as a third test, we studied the spatial dimension, focusing on the results cal-
culated for the seventeen Spanish autonomous communities at the NUTS2 level with ref-
erence year 2017. In the internal analysis, Table 7 shows the severe material deprivation
and poverty risk rates obtained from the equivalent disposable income and the equiva-
lent characterized income for all regions. To simplify this analysis, only the sensitivity
(Se.) of the poverty risk rate with respect to severe material deprivation is used.

Table 6 Sensitivity, specificity and accuracy (%) with regard to the severe material deprivation. Source:
Prepared by the authors based on LCS microdata (2008–2017)

2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017

Sensitivity (Se.)
 Yd,60 57.8 58.8 58.9 53.9 57.9 56.0 63,1 62.0 69.6 63.8
 Yid,60 62.3 58.6 59.0 54.2 59.7 61.1 64.1 64.7 69.9 62.6
 Ydc,60 70.1 67.1 66.3 63.6 67.7 65.5 72.0 72.3 76.2 70.4
 Yidc,60 68.3 66.5 64.2 64.7 65.3 65.9 70.4 70.6 74.1 68.7

Specificity (Sp.)
 Yd,60 81.6 81.4 81.3 80.9 81.5 82.0 80.9 80.6 80.6 80.7
 Yid,60 84.6 84.6 84.5 83.9 83.5 84.1 83.5 83.6 83.3 82.6
 Ydc,60 78.1 78.0 77.8 77.3 77.8 78.2 77.4 77.8 77.3 76.8
 Yidc,60 81.1 80.9 80.6 80.5 80.4 80.4 80.0 80.4 80.5 79.9

Accuracy (Acc.)
 Yd,60 80.7 80.4 80.2 79.7 80.1 80.4 79.6 79.4 79.9 79.8
 Yid,60 83.8 83.4 83.3 82.6 82.2 82.7 82.1 82.4 82.5 81.6
 Ydc,60 77.8 77.5 77.3 76.7 77.2 77.4 77.0 77.5 77.2 76.5
 Yidc,60 80.7 80.2 79.8 79.8 79.5 79.5 79.4 79.8 80.2 79.3

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The classical variable Yd offers low sensitivity in regions ES23 (Rioja) and ES21 (País
Vasco) of only 23.2% and 35.7%. The inclusion of imputed rents Yid increases the sen-
sitivity in eight of the seventeen autonomous communities, is unchanged in three and
reduces in six. All sensitivity values improve significantly when the characterized equiva-
lent income is considered. It is also noteworthy that in the autonomous communities ES13
(Cantabria) and ES24 (Aragón) the new variable reaches a sensitivity of 100%; that is,
in these cases the maximum possible intersection is achieved. Besides, ES30 (Madrid)
and ES43 (Extremadura) are the regions with highest and lowest GDP per capita in Spain
respectively; they have a severe material deprivation rate rather similar (5.4% and 5.6%
respectively, + 0.2 percentage points only) but the situation is quite different when check-
ing the classical risk of monetary poverty (16.9% and 38.8%, that is, + 21.9 percentage
points). After adding imputed rents the poverty rate doesn’t change too much in Madrid
but in Extremadura the risk of poverty is reduced to 33.5%. If deducing housing costs,
Madrid increases the monetary poverty to 22.7% and Extremadura to 41.0%. The com-
bined effect of imputed rents and housing costs (Yidc) set the risk of poverty in 20.8% in
Madrid and 33.7% in Extremadura, reducing the difference to + 12.9 percentage points. In
this last case it is remarkable that the sensitivity is also increased to 71.4% in Madrid and
79.9% in Extremadura.

Regarding the analysis evaluated via different degrees of association, in Fig. 3 it can be
observed that the correlation between poverty risk rates and severe material deprivation by
regions is increased by using Yidc, with the coefficient of determination rising from 0.39

Table 7 At risk of poverty rates and sensitivity (%) with regard to the population on severe material dep-
rivation, year 2017 (highest sensitivity values in italics). Source: Prepared by the authors based on LCS
microdata

NUTS 2 SMD rate Yd,60 Yid,60 Ydc,60 Yidc,60

Arop.R Se. Arop.R Se. Arop.R Se. Arop.R Se.

Total 5.1 21.6 63.8 19.7 62.6 25.6 70.4 22.6 68.7
ES11 Galicia 2.4 18.7 80.9 16.6 77.5 20.3 80.9 17.8 78.7
ES12 Asturias 3.5 12.6 78.4 12.3 78.0 15.7 88.4 14.9 83.3
ES13 Cantabria 2.2 17.6 84.5 13.0 84.5 21.9 100.0 18.8 100.0
ES21 País Vasco 3.7 9.7 35.7 8.6 40.7 14.0 50.7 11.4 58.6
ES22 Navarra 0.3 8.3 68.3 8.4 68.3 11.6 88.3 11.4 88.3
ES23 Rioja 2.9 9.7 23.2 11.2 30.4 16.2 64.0 14.2 64.0
ES24 Aragon 0.5 13.3 88.6 10.2 88.6 16.0 100.0 12.4 88.6
ES30 Madrid 5.4 16.9 67.8 16.6 61.4 22.7 74.9 20.8 71.4
ES41 C. León 1.0 15.4 52.4 14.1 57.4 20.2 76.3 16.6 76.3
ES42 C. Mancha 4.4 28.1 50.6 26.9 38.8 31.6 57.5 31.1 48.8
ES43 Extremad. 5.6 38.8 64.5 33.5 70.8 41.0 75.0 33.7 79.9
ES51 Cataluña 5.0 15.0 60.0 13.3 54.3 20.2 66.9 18.5 66.0
ES52 C. Valenc. 7.4 25.6 64.3 24.2 65.0 29.1 67.2 25.4 66.9
ES53 I. Balears 6.9 21.3 61.2 23.8 64.0 28.6 64.6 26.8 64.0
ES61 Andalucia 5.2 31.0 71.1 27.5 77.1 33.8 80.1 28.4 74.5
ES62 Murcia 6.2 30.1 67.9 25.9 69.8 35.3 77.3 27.9 73.8
ES70 Canarias 13.6 30.5 58.0 25.9 52.7 32.2 59.0 32.1 62.0

512 A. M. Salcedo, G. Izquierdo Llanes

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to 0.53, which means a greater proportion of variability which can be explained using the
new variable. The Spearman and Kendall correlation coefficients, meanwhile, also improve
from 0.69 and 0.51 with the classical poverty rate to 0.76 and 0.54 respectively with the
estimator based on Yidc.

To conclude the analysis of the spatial dimension, Table  8 shows the poverty rates by
degree of urbanisation. Severe material deprivation rate is higher in very populated areas
(cities, 6.0%) than in medium populated or rural areas (4.9% and 3.7%, respectively). On
the contrary, the classical at-risk-of poverty rate is lower in cities (19.2%) than in towns
(22.1%) and rural areas (25.9%). The risk of poverty based on Yidc increases the poverty
rate in cities (+ 1.9) and towns and suburbs (+ 1.3) but decreases the poverty rate in rural
areas (− 1.0). The sensitivity is increased in all cases and, in this regard, it is worth noting
that in rural areas the monetary poverty rate based on Yidc (24.9%) is lower than the classi-
cal one (25.9%) but the sensitivity is increased + 7.0 percentage points (75.4%).

4 Conclusions

This study investigates the extension of the classical monetary poverty measurement to a
two-dimensional approach, trying to refine the current link with material deprivation that is
a direct poverty measurement. It broadens the classical one-dimensional disposable income
model and makes it applicable to other monetary variables, for example monetary con-
sumption, via the distribution function due to the fact that the poverty risk rate coincides
with the value of this distribution function evaluated on the poverty threshold. Building
from here, a two-dimensional poverty risk rate (income-consumption) based on the cen-
troid determined by the respective one-dimensional thresholds is defined. This rate is seen

Fig. 3 At-risk of poverty rates (x-axis) and severe material deprivation (y-axis) by region, year 2017.
Source: Prepared by the authors based on data presented in Table 7

Table 8 At risk of poverty rates
and sensitivity (%) by degree of
urbanisation, year 2017. Source:
Prepared by the authors based on
LCS anonymised microdata

Degree of urbanisation SMD rate Yd,60 Yidc,60

Arop.R Se. Arop.R Se.

1. Cities 6.0 19.2 63.3 21.1 68.0
2. Towns and suburbs 4.9 22.1 61.4 23.4 65.0
3. Rural areas 3.7 25.9 68.4 24.9 75.4
Total 5.1 21.6 63.8 22.6 68.7

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to show a stronger association in terms of correlations with material poverty than the two
one-dimensional variables it is based on.

In this context the join distribution of monetary income and consumption at micro data
level is explored, paying special attention to the left side of the distribution based on the
two poverty thresholds that determine the centroid (yline,60,cline,60). The analysis of the
two-dimensional poverty risk rate (income-consumption) makes it possible to determine
two typologies. On the one hand, of those individuals whose consumption is more clearly
linked to their income, both those who are located below both poverty thresholds (area I),
and those whose levels of income and expenditure are above the two poverty lines should
be considered (area IV). On the other hand, of those individuals with a less clear asso-
ciation between income and consumption that, additionally, allow us to consider another
two different situations: the first consists of individuals who have a low level of equivalent
income but whose levels of monetary expenditure are above the consumption poverty line
(that is, area II), which could conceal situations of consumption financed by means of pre-
viously accumulated wealth, debts, family assistance or even informal economy activities,
which would mean an infra declaration of income and that such individuals could not be
really in a situation of material deprivation; the second would consist of individuals with
a low level of monetary expenditure but whose income levels are medium–high since, in
this case, they are to be found above the income poverty line (that is, area III), who are
normally individuals facing debt service, usually a mortgage linked to home purchase. The
interpretation of the latter situation provides an additional reason for the incorporation,
with monetary variables, of the expenses and/or income related with net wealth as carried
out in this study.

At this point we explore whether a linear combination of monetary income and con-
sumption may offer a refinement of the classical approach to the monetary poverty. Since
expenditure on housing is determinant in households in the first income quintile, and with
the restriction of using empirical information based on official sources of statistics, the
solution applied is to consider in the EU-SILC area the equivalised income characterized
by expenditure on housing, with and without imputed rents.

The area under the curve obtained for Yd, Yid, Ydc and Yidc in 2017 are 0.82, 0.84, 0.83
and 0.84, respectively. These results are between 0.8 and 0.9 and can be considered as
excellent (Mandrekar 2010) particularly in the cases of Yid and Yidc since they offer a
slight improvement of the AUC compared to the classical Yd. Concerning the temporal
dimension, which covers the decade 2008-2017, the associations measured via the cor-
relation coefficients between severe material deprivation and the risk of poverty rates for
this period offer better coefficients being obtained with the characterized income adding
imputed rents, Yidc. The internal test at micro level, meanwhile, also throws up the result
that, once again, Yidc has a greater sensitivity than the classical Yd (+ 10.8 percentage points
in 2011) while the specificity and accuracy are always rather similar (around 80%). As far
as the spatial dimension is concerned, the internal test is carried out via the analysis of the
sensitivity of the indicator to severe material deprivation; when using the characterized
income adding imputed rents Yidc this value increases in most of the autonomous commu-
nities reaching the maximum intersection of 100% in some regions. On the other hand, the
external test is carried out with the results obtained in the seventeen Spanish autonomous
communities at the NUTS level and leads to the conclusion that the characterized income
Yidc also increases the coefficient of determination and correlation with material depriva-
tion. The results achieved are also more consistent when an analysis by degree of urbanisa-
tion is carried out, particularly in the cases of rural areas and cities. We can therefore con-
clude in this case that, from an empirical point of view, the poverty risk rate obtained using

514 A. M. Salcedo, G. Izquierdo Llanes

1 3

the equivalent characterized income adding imputed rents Yidc is an indicator that succeeds
in refining the good results of the classical poverty risk indicator, in both its temporal and
spatial dimensions.

Notwithstanding the good results achieved there are also some opportunities and limita-
tions to be considered. The case presented in this study focuses the analysis in a country
of the European Union and, at this stage, the conclusions should be limited to a context
of complementary rather than substitutability of the classical Yd, which is an international
standard. In addition, the applied approach is exclusively focused on monetary poverty var-
iables in order to better measure the effect of the refinement, but it could also be extended
by adapting the percentage p introduced in Eq.  (1) instead of considered it as a constant
parameter defined by convention, 60% in the European Union, or by introducing other mul-
tidimensional indicators to measure the poor, not only in developed countries (García-Pérez
et al. 2016) but also by the different regions (Jurado and Pérez-Mayo 2012) and, especially,
if regional purchase parities were applied to the equivalence scales. Influence of risk fac-
tors of income poverty and severe material deprivation (Verbunt and Guio 2019) is another
element that could be taken into consideration for widening the analysis. Finally, to be able
to conclude a joint monetary income and consumption analysis it would be very interesting
to have empirical data containing the two-dimensional patterns of households/individuals
together with a direct measure of poverty, particularly severe material deprivation.

This study allows us to continue a line of research that seeks to improve the measure-
ment of monetary poverty from a multidimensional perspective (Santos and Villatoro
2018), on this occasion by integrating the two visions of monetary poverty based on
income and consumption according to UNECE, and also laying the foundations of a poten-
tial conceptual convergence between residual income and characterized income indicators,
with the consequent improvement of them.

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