Comparing Small Area Fair Market Rents With Other Rental Measures Across Diverse Housing Markets

Published in Cityscape, 2019

Small Area Fair Market Rents (SAFMRs) are calculated at the 40th percentile of the U.S. postal ZIP Code instead of the metropolitan area in an effort to capture localized rents to expand choice for voucher holders to access housing in higher-opportunity neighborhoods. Existing studies on the potential and actual outcomes of SAFMRs demonstrate that findings vary for different types of housing markets. Furthermore, the decisions public housing authorities (PHAs) make in the implementation process affect PHAs’ program budget and the rent burden and locational outcomes for voucher households. This study aims to address how these implementation factors are affected by local rental market conditions for three PHAs—Housing Authority of the City of Fort Lauderdale, San Antonio Housing Authority, and Seattle Housing Authority—in diverse housing markets. By comparing different sources of market rent estimates with SAFMRs in each location, we contribute new information about how this rule is likely to produce different residential outcomes in terms of increased access to low-poverty neighborhoods and adjustments to payment standards in low-rent neighborhoods. The findings reveal differences across rent measures in terms of estimated levels and relative differences across ZIP Codes. These findings suggest that housing authorities may face challenges in meeting the objectives of the SAFMR final rule without some form of local adjustments.