Academic journal article Cityscape

Residential Mobility and Neighborhood Change: Real Neighborhoods under the Microscope

Academic journal article Cityscape

Residential Mobility and Neighborhood Change: Real Neighborhoods under the Microscope

Article excerpt


Residential mobility is a process that changes lives and neighborhoods. Efforts to build strong communities are unavoidably caught up with this dynamic but have insufficient understanding of its complexities. To shed light on the underlying forces of residential mobility, this study uses a unique panel survey from the Casey Foundation's Making Connections initiative targeting poor neighborhoods in 10 cities.

The study classified households in the 10 cities as movers, newcomers, or stayers, and it evaluated the push and pull factors related to their mobility decisions. Cluster analysis revealed discernible types based on life cycle, household economic factors, and neighborhood attachment. The study also investigated the effect of residential mobility on neighborhood composition, finding that neighborhood change was primarily due to differences between movers and newcomers rather than changes for stayers. Combining information on the mix of household types with the components of neighborhood change, the study suggests these neighborhoods functioned in quite different ways that are relevant to family well-being and community development.

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Americans change residences frequently and mobility rates are higher among low-income households, renters, and younger families. Households sometimes move to improve their housing situations or their neighborhood surroundings. Low-income households, however, may make frequent moves because of economic or social distress. Residential mobility not only affects individual households, but it may also affect neighborhoods as a whole. Place-based initiatives that attempt to improve outcomes for individuals and strengthen neighborhoods face challenges in such dynamic and fluid environments. Despite the importance of neighborhood change and mobility, however, limited research has disaggregated how neighborhoods change for those households that remain in the neighborhood and from the mix of those households that leave and join.

To shed new light on these processes, this article draws on a unique panel survey conducted as part of the Making Connections initiative, a decade-long effort of the Annie E. Casey Foundation that focused on target neighborhoods in 10 cities: Denver, Des Moines, Hartford, Indianapolis, Louisville, Milwaukee, Oakland, Providence, San Antonio, and White Center (outside Seattle). The target neighborhoods offer a unique and valuable window on the dynamics of low-income, mostly minority neighborhoods nationwide.

This article consists of three components. The first component explores the characteristics and changing circumstances of movers, newcomers, and stayers, identifying distinctly different groups of households that reflect different reasons for moving or staying in place. The second component focuses on how residential mobility contributed to changes over time in the socioeconomic composition of the Making Connections neighborhoods, essentially dividing neighborhood change into changes contributed by households that stayed in the neighborhood versus changes caused by differences between those who joined and those who left. The final component draws on these patterns to suggest five stylized models of neighborhood performance, each of which has implications for the well-being of low-income families and for community-change efforts.


The recognition that place matters (Ellen and Turner, 1997) has led to several generations of community-change initiatives that attempt to address conditions thought to negatively affect families and children in poor neighborhoods. Often led by philanthropy and engaging both public and private partners, these initiatives embody a range of strategies intended to benefit residents directly through improved services and indirectly through strengthening social connectedness or access to resources (Kubisch et al, 2010). Both the service-reform and community-building aspects of community-change initiatives assume some degree of residential stability in their target areas. …

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