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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. J. Currie & A. Yelowitz, . "Are Public Housing Projects Good For Kids?," Institute for Research on Poverty Discussion Papers 1152-97, University of Wisconsin Institute for Research on Poverty.
  2. Gibbons, Stephen & Manning, Alan, 2006. "The incidence of UK housing benefit: Evidence from the 1990s reforms," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 90(4-5), pages 799-822, May.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Susin, Scott, 2002. "Rent vouchers and the price of low-income housing," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 83(1), pages 109-152, January.
  6. Marianne Bertrand & Esther Duflo & Sendhil Mullainathan, 2004. "How Much Should We Trust Differences-In-Differences Estimates?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 119(1), pages 249-275.
  7. James M. Poterba, 1984. "Tax Subsidies to Owner-Occupied Housing: An Asset-Market Approach," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 99(4), pages 729-752.
  8. Edgar O. Olsen, 2001. "Housing Programs for Low-Income Households," NBER Working Papers 8208, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Dominique Goux & Eric Maurin, 2005. "The Effect of Overcrowded Housing on Childrens Performance at School," Post-Print halshs-00754080, HAL.
  10. Austan Goolsbee, 1998. "Investment Tax Incentives, Prices, and the Supply of Capital Goods," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 113(1), pages 121-148.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
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