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Are housing benefit an effective way to redistribute income? Evidence from a natural experiment in France

  • Fack, Gabrielle

In this paper, I show that in-kind benefit such as a housing benefit program may have a significant impact on the price of the subsidized good. I use a French housing benefit reform to evaluate the impact of the subsidy on the level of rents. The results indicate that one additional euro of housing benefit leads to an increase of 78 cents in the rent paid by new benefit claimants, leaving only 22 cents available to reduce their net rent and increase their consumption. This large impact of housing benefit on rents appears to be the result of a very low housing supply elasticity. I show that the housing benefit reform induced additional demand, not only from low income households but also from students who used the benefit to become independent. Unfortunately, this increase in demand was unmatched by increasing housing supply in the short and middle term. The only possible effect of the reform is a small increase in housing quality. These results raise questions about the use of such in-kind transfers when the supply of the subsidized good is almost inelastic. It is therefore very important to estimate the incidence of the subsidy when assessing the efficiency of such welfare programs.

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Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Labour Economics.

Volume (Year): 13 (2006)
Issue (Month): 6 (December)
Pages: 747-771

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Handle: RePEc:eee:labeco:v:13:y:2006:i:6:p:747-771
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  1. Currie, Janet & Yelowitz, Aaron, 2000. "Are public housing projects good for kids?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 75(1), pages 99-124, January.
  2. Goux, Dominique & Maurin, Eric, 2003. "The Effects of Overcrowded Housing on Children's Performance at School," CEPR Discussion Papers 3818, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  3. Steve Gibbons & Alan Manning, 2003. "The Incidence of UK Housing Benefit: Evidence from the 1990s Reforms," CEP Discussion Papers dp0597, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
  4. repec:oup:qjecon:v:113:y:1998:i:1:p:121-148 is not listed on IDEAS
  5. Edgar O. Olsen, 2001. "Housing Programs for Low-Income Households," NBER Working Papers 8208, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. repec:oup:qjecon:v:119:y:2004:i:1:p:249-275 is not listed on IDEAS
  7. Slesnick, Daniel T, 1996. "Consumption and Poverty: How Effective Are In-Kind Transfers?," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 106(439), pages 1527-45, November.
  8. Blackorby, Charles & Donaldson, David, 1988. "Cash versus Kind, Self-selection, and Efficient Transfers," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 78(4), pages 691-700, September.
  9. Anne Laferrère & David le Blanc, 2002. "Comment les aides au logement affectent-elles les loyers ?," Économie et Statistique, Programme National Persée, vol. 351(1), pages 3-30.
  10. Moffitt, Robert, 1989. "Estimating the Value of an In-Kind Transfer: The Case of Food Stamps," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 57(2), pages 385-409, March.
  11. Susin, Scott, 2002. "Rent vouchers and the price of low-income housing," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 83(1), pages 109-152, January.
  12. repec:oup:qjecon:v:99:y:1984:i:4:p:729-52 is not listed on IDEAS
  13. Stephen Gibbons & Alan Manning, 2003. "The incidence of UK housing benefit: evidence from the 1990s reforms," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 20011, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
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