By the end of the year, Atlanta is scheduled to become the first city to raze all its public housing, the culmination of a 15-year effort to move low-income city dwellers into healthier suburban communities. The former residents (the last of whom vacated in December) received what was, in theory, a ticket to a new life: a voucher good for two thirds of rent anywhere in the U.S. Following Atlanta, dozens of cities now use vouchers, and Las Vegas plans to demolish its projects as well.
But vouchers aren’t a cure-all. In Atlanta, nine in 10 recipients remained within the city limits, mostly in high-poverty, high-crime ZIP codes. And according to Moving to Opportunity, a five-year, five-city study published earlier this year, even those who move to the suburbs often stay socially entangled in their old worlds—making it harder to break away for a better life. The Department of Housing and Urban Development has taken note, launching a new effort to link vouchers with a broader push to alleviate the general effects of poverty.
Katz is the author of Our Lot: How Real Estate Came to Own Us.