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A&S Economist Shaping the Future of Public Housing

Published December 7, 2016 in News

By: Caroline Newman | University Communications

Even before graduating from his Ph.D. program in August, Eric Chyn earned widespread acclaim for research that, according to its coverage in The New York Times, “could fundamentally reshape national housing policy.”

Chyn, who will start in January as an assistant professor in the University of Virginia’s Department of Economics, wanted to learn more about how living in public housing impacts a child’s income and employment over his or her lifetime.

“Broadly, my interest is in studying government programs and the way we spend money in society to make people better off, especially those who are disadvantaged,” Chyn said. “Housing assistance is a very sizeable and notable expenditure in the grand scheme of what the government does.”

Existing studies showed that children whose parents opted into a lottery system moving them from public to private housing tended to fare better as adults, especially if they moved while very young. However, Chyn found a gap in that approach: only 25 percent of eligible families applied for the lottery. He conjectured that parents who applied were already particularly motivated to protect their children from negative environments, and therefore might not be the best sample to study. What, he wondered, happened to the other 75 percent of children?

Chyn conducted his own study using data from the period when Chicago began demolishing high-rise public housing in the 1990s. As a result of these demolitions, some families moved into private housing and others remained in the complex. Key to this approach was the fact that these demolitions affected a general sample of households. Neither families whose units were demolished nor those left behind had a choice to move.

Ultimately, Chyn found that the change in neighborhood had a significant impact on their children’s success.

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