Rob Collinson is no stranger to housing assistance policy conversations. Before entering academia, he worked as an analyst for the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy Development at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). These days, as Wilson Family LEO Assistant Professor at the University of Notre Dame, he focuses on generating evidence that can help policymakers and social service providers more effectively improve outcomes for families facing housing challenges.
“At LEO, we believe this is the moment to see people experiencing poverty and to build evidence that is going to help us chart a new course for the country in the way we address poverty,” Rob says.
Empirical data helps cut through some of the signal noise that can overwhelm policy conversations happening far away from neighborhoods where families live entangled in the complexities of poverty. Quantitative evidence in Rob’s research helps connect the dots between housing displacement and other social policy concerns with sizable public costs.
For instance, Rob found that the upheaval of eviction impacts children's educational outcomes, decreasing the likelihood they will graduate on time, or worse, putting them at greater risk of dropping out. In another study, he found that adults displaced through eviction are more likely to land in the hospital, are at greater risk of homelessness and longer-term housing instability, have lower earnings for up to two years, and face reduced access to credit.
Rob and other LEO researchers and faculty affiliates are looking for evidence on how to design policies and programs that can effectively prevent evictions and head off the poverty-compounding challenges that accompany forced displacement. Interventions being studied include emergency cash and rental assistance, subsidized no-interest loans, and legal assistance.
Thanks to a National Science Foundation grant, LEO faculty affiliate Eric Chyn of Dartmouth College is working with Rob on a trio of studies to identify which housing interventions and neighborhood policies will best move the needle on living standards for low-income families. They also seek to better understand the long-term economic and social benefits of these interventions.
Rob is also beginning to explore the impact of the federal government’s emergency housing assistance responses to the pandemic. Last year, he worked on the Hamilton Project at The Brookings Institution to propose a set of reforms that would help financially vulnerable renters and homeowners stay in their homes during economic downturns.
He has begun to pull pandemic-related housing assistance data from across the country. Because the need was so much greater than the available cash or rental assistance available early on, communities were forced to randomize who received help. By crunching data from various emergency assistance program designs in multiple communities, he hopes to better understand what works and what doesn’t in order to make these programs more effective in the future.
From past projects, Rob knows policy design can make a big difference. Before he came to LEO, Rob studied how changes in the Housing Choice Voucher Program design can affect rent and neighborhood quality. Those findings led HUD to pilot more locally responsive program designs in several other communities.
To learn more about LEO’s housing intervention research, go online to leo.nd.edu/partners-projects/housing-projects.