Cooper Housing Institute

The Cooper Housing Institute advocates for solutions to the U.S. housing crisis

A $400,000 grant from the Cooper Housing Institute will help RAND study and find ways to improve the Section 8 housing voucher program and the lives of people in need.

May 28, 2024

Millions of low-income Americans are waiting for a “golden ticket” that could finally get them into safe and stable housing. Many have been waiting for years. And even when they get it, there’s no guarantee they’ll be able to use it.

The ticket is a Housing Choice Voucher, better known as Section 8. More than 5 million people depend on the program to help them afford rent. Four times that many could be eligible—if vouchers weren’t as hard to find as a golden ticket.

An institute that advocates for solutions to the nation’s housing crisis has given RAND a $400,000 grant to study the voucher program and look for ways to improve it. The Cooper Housing Institute hopes to make the program more efficient and effective, a first step toward expanding it to more families in need.

“We think we can have a huge impact if we are able to effect change with the results of this study,” said Will Cooper, Jr., the institute’s cofounder and president. “We believe we can.”

With an annual budget of around $27 billion, the voucher program is the nation’s single biggest effort to get people into decent housing. The average household in the program makes just under $18,000 a year. The vouchers will cover up to 70 percent of their housing costs—if they can find a landlord who will rent to them. A recent study found that fewer than half succeed within 90 days.

The federal government pays for the program, but more than 2,400 local, state, and regional housing authorities actually run it. Some do a better job of moving people off the waiting list and into housing than others. That’s what RAND’s study will look at.

“Our main question is, What are some housing authorities doing right when it comes to the voucher program?” said Devon Cooper, secretary and director of the Cooper Housing Institute. “What are the best practices? And then, how can other housing authorities take what we learn and use it to get better?”

The institute grew out of work the Cooper family has been doing for more than 50 years. It owns WNC & Associates, Inc., a company that invests in and develops affordable rental housing.

It established the nonprofit Cooper Housing Institute in 2018. The institute’s purpose, family members said at the time, was to support research and programs that could address the nation’s lack of affordable housing and chronic homelessness. It has funded a feature-length documentary on innovative solutions to homelessness, and a college program to advocate for students in financial or housing crises. The $400,000 grant to RAND is its largest to date.

Will Cooper, Jr., said he had been impressed with previous research from the RAND Center on Housing and Homelessness. “I thought this would be a good opportunity to support research that will lead to better public policies,” he said.

RAND will partner with the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at the University of California, Berkeley. The study will have two parts.

First, researchers will look at how local housing market characteristics and other factors determine where people are most successful in using housing vouchers. Then they will interview local housing officials and experts about what could make the voucher program more effective.

“This is the first nationwide study in 20 years, that we’re aware of, to look at what determines the efficient use of vouchers in the Housing Choice program,” said Jason Ward, codirector of the RAND Center on Housing and Homelessness. “In that time, housing markets around the U.S. have reached unprecedented levels of unaffordability. That creates tremendous challenges for the program.”

RAND’s report is expected to be released in Spring 2025.

“The voucher program is one of the most flexible tools we have to solve the housing crisis,” Will Cooper, Jr., said—“if we can minimize the inefficiencies in the program, the lost allocations that don’t get used. We’re hoping we can get there with the recommendations from this study.”