Date of Award

Summer 7-16-2021

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Public Administration


Schwartz, Amy E.

Subject Categories

Public Affairs, Public Policy and Public Administration | Social and Behavioral Sciences


This dissertation consists of three essays that examine the impact of housing policies and the surrounding neighborhoods on socioeconomically disadvantaged populations living in public housing. In the first chapter, titled "The Spillover Effects of Source of Income Anti-Discrimination Laws on Public Housing," I examine whether and to what extent source of income (SOI) anti-discrimination laws affect the sociodemographic composition of households living in public housing. SOI laws make it illegal for landlords to discriminate against the source of rent payment, including housing choice vouchers. Landlord discrimination is a major barrier to voucher utilization, disproportionately affecting extremely low-income families and racial minorities among all voucher holders. Thus, improvements in voucher utilization through SOI laws may affect the pool of applicants and recipients of public housing that operate within the same local public housing authority service areas. I use nationwide public housing authority level data and examine the changes in the composition of households living in public housing before and after SOI laws. I use a difference-in-difference approach, exploiting the variation in the precise timing that state and local jurisdictions enact SOI laws. I find that SOI laws significantly reduce the share of extremely poor households and minority residents in public housing, along with a decline in new entries to public housing. The results suggest potentially positive spillover effects of SOI laws, alleviating "concentration of poverty" in public housing as a consequence of a policy attempt to improve accessibilities to an alternative housing program. The second chapter is titled "Are Public Housing Good for Kids After All?" and revisits the popular belief that public housing residency harms rather than helps children's development and academic achievement. Critics charge that public housing projects concentrate poverty and create neighborhoods with limited opportunities, including low-quality schools. However, whether the net effect is positive or negative is theoretically ambiguous and likely to depend on the characteristics of the neighborhood and schools compared to origin neighborhoods. In this paper, I draw on detailed individual-level longitudinal data on students moving into New York City public housing and examine their standardized test scores over time. Exploiting plausibly random variation in the precise timing of entry into public housing, I estimate credibly causal effects of public housing using both difference-in-differences and event study designs. Further, I explore the role of schools by estimating the effects on school mobility and the quality of the school attended. I find credibly causal evidence of positive effects of moving into public housing, with larger effects over time. Stalled academic performance in the first year of entry reflects, in part, potentially disruptive effects of residential and school moves. I find neighborhood matters: impacts are larger for students moving out of low-income neighborhoods or into higher-income neighborhoods, and these students move to schools with higher average test scores and lower shares of economically disadvantaged peers. The final chapter, titled "Does Proximity to Fast Food Cause Childhood Obesity? Evidence from Public Housing," examines the causal link between local food environments and childhood obesity. Using individual-level longitudinal data on students living in New York City public housing linked to restaurant location data, I exploit the naturally occurring within-development variation in distance to fast food restaurants to estimate the impact of proximity on obesity. Since the assignment of households to specific buildings is based upon availability at the time of assignment to public housing, the distance between student residence and retail food outlets is plausibly random. The study results suggest that childhood obesity increases with proximity to fast food, with larger effects for younger children who attend neighborhood schools.


Open Access