High Mobility Among Low-Income Families Creates Setbacks for Children

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New report finds connections between housing affordability and unplanned moves, which may contribute to development problems for children.

Researchers have long understood that residential stability plays an important role in healthy child development. Less well understood, however is the role of housing affordability in promoting or undermining this stability—an issue of particular relevance given the sharp rise in foreclosures in recent years. Research commissioned and analyzed in a new report by the Center for Housing Policy, the research affiliate of the National Housing Conference, sheds light on this important issue affecting child development.

The report, "Should I Stay or Should I Go? Exploring the Effects of Housing Instability and Mobility on Children," finds that low-income families move much more frequently than the general population. While reasons for moving vary, the data and interviews of low-income families show that moves resulting from unplanned or involuntary circumstances, such as an eviction or foreclosure, and moves that occur one after another as part of a pattern of frequent mobility tend to have negative impacts on child and family welfare, such as increased school absenteeism and a higher incidence of neighborhood problems. “The findings were especially troubling for children of what we call ‘hyper-mobile’ families, who move far more often than average. These kids lagged behind their peers with greater residential stability in their educational development,” explains Jeffrey Lubell, executive director of the Center. “Affordable housing may help low-income families with children avoid unplanned moves,” Lubell noted.

While the Center’s research report does not focus explicitly on the foreclosure crisis, its conclusions have important implications for the nation’s response to this challenge. Evidence presented in the report underlines the need for actions that help to promote residential stability, such as the adoption of policies that enable families to avoid foreclosure or eviction or that allow families experiencing foreclosure to stay in their homes until they are able to move in an orderly way. The report also underscores the importance of educating families about their residential choices to reduce the chances that moving will contribute to negative outcomes for their children.

Finally, the report suggests that affordable housing has an important role to play in fostering residential stability, helping families gain control over if and when to move—factors of critical importance to children.

See the full report at http://www.nhc.org/child_mobility.html

Key Findings

  •     An analysis of American Housing Survey data finds that 55% of children in poor families had moved within the past 24 months, compared with only 31% of children in non-poor families.
  •     Families that have a severe housing cost burden (spending more than 50% of income on housing) were much more likely to have moved in the past 24 months, compared with families living in affordable housing (54% vs. 32%, respectively).
  •     Nearly 20 percent of participants in one study cited in the report had moved more than six times in six years. Compared to other families, frequent movers tend to be younger, lack a high school diploma, and report poor mental health and a history of domestic violence.
  •     According to research completed to inform this report, families that undergo involuntary or unplanned moves tend to experience a variety of negative outcomes following the move, such as increased and excessive school absenteeism among children and higher levels of neighborhood problems, including vandalism, prostitution, muggings, drug use, and gangs. These families also tend to have a history of unaffordable housing, job loss, and poor health prior to moving.

Methodology

The brief is based on findings from four reports commissioned by the Center for Housing Policy:

  •     An analysis of mobility patterns from the Making Connections Survey, which tracked families at ten neighborhood sites across the U.S. over three waves between 2002 and 2010. This data set provides insight into the prevalence of families moving out of their neighborhoods, rather than just their housing units.
  •     An analysis of the ethnographic component of the Three-City Study, which examined the long-term impact of welfare reform policies on 256 families from low-income neighborhoods in Boston, Chicago, and San Antonio.
  •     An analysis of the Women’s Employment Study, which focused on barriers to work among mothers in an urban Michigan county who received cash welfare assistance at the start of the study.
  •     An analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2005 American Housing Survey, which collects and tracks detailed information on a representative sample of housing units across the country.

Except for the American Housing Survey, these data are not representative of the country as a whole, nor are the data sets comparable across surveys. Additional research is required to determine whether the findings apply to the American population at large.

In addition to summarizing the relevant data from the commissioned studies, the study includes first-person accounts from study participants to provide examples of trends and to offer a human perspective on the data.

Each of the reports contributing to this study also contains an extensive literature review, which interested readers are encouraged to reference for more information.

Funding

Funding for the report was provided by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The Foundation has made a five-year, $25-million commitment to investing in research to understand “how housing matters” in the lives of children, families and communities. For more information on the How Housing Matters to Families and Communities initiative, visit http://www.macfound.org.

About the Center for Housing Policy

The Center for Housing Policy is the research affiliate of the National Housing Conference (NHC) and specializes in developing solutions through research. In partnership with NHC and its members, the Center works to broaden understanding of the nation’s housing challenges and to examine the impact of policies and programs developed to address these needs.

About National Housing Conference

As the United Voice for Housing, the nonprofit National Housing Conference (NHC) has been dedicated to helping ensure safe, decent and affordable housing for all in America since 1931.

For the latest information on housing policy, please visit http://www.NHC.org

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