Academic journal article Cityscape

Guest Editor's Introduction

Academic journal article Cityscape

Guest Editor's Introduction

Article excerpt

Residential mobility - residents' movement from one housing unit to another - could be either a positive or a negative phenomenon for families and neighborhoods. At the family level, residential mobility can reflect positive changes in individual or household circumstances. Moving up and out in search of better homes, better schools, and more advantageous neighborhoods has long been a rite of passage for the American middle class. However, residential mobility can also indicate household instability and insecurity, particularly in cases in which low-income families churn through a series of short-term, short-distance relocations (Crowley, 2003). For those families who lack sufficient financial resources and are disconnected from the informal support networks that can play a crucial role in weathering emergencies, frequent moves magnify the difficulty of dealing with day-to-day challenges such as childcare and transportation.

Similarly, at the neighborhood level, mobility has different consequences - or no consequences - depending on the characteristics and balance of in-mover and out-mover households. In some cases, such as the classic gentrification scenario, the replacement of low-income residents with better resourced households may lead to increases in neighborhood safety, better amenities, and improvements in public services (Lerman and McKernan, 2007). Conversely, an exodus of economically advantaged households and their replacement with lower income households may precipitate the overall neighborhood decline associated with greater concentrations of poverty (Galster, 2012; Jargowsky, 1997; Turner and Kay, 2006). In some cases, neighborhood quality remains in a social and economic "steady state," despite high rates of housing unit turnover, because residents of similar social and economic circumstances replace those who exit (Andersson and Brama, 2004).

Residential Mobility, Poverty, and Public Policy

Residential mobility becomes a critical issue for public policy when it is associated with poverty and disadvantage. Analysis by income quintile of Current Population Survey mobility data from 1998 to 2011 demonstrates a sustained, consistent relationship between low income and high mobility (see exhibit 1). Every step down the income scale corresponds to a rise in mobility rates. In 2011, mobility rates stood at 17.5 percent for the lowest income quintile compared with a national rate of 11.5 percent (Theodos, 2012). Thus, although the current economic downturn has led to an overall decline in residential mobility to the lowest levels since 1948 (Frey, 2011), mobility remains significantly greater among low-income populations. This pattern reflects an overall decline in opportunities for voluntary relocation to better jobs and homes (Frey, 2009), partially offset by residential churning and evictions because of job losses and landlord foreclosures among households that lack savings and assets (Cohen and Wardrip, 2011; Cunningham and McDonald, 2012; Pettit and Comey, 2012).

Low-income residential mobility raises a host of challenges for policy responses to poverty and disadvantage at the family and neighborhood levels. Student mobility, much of which is related to residential churning, stymies efforts to improve educational outcomes for low-income populations. Lack of continuity in instruction, higher absence rates, and lack of accountability for student progress are all closely connected to student transience (Cohen and Wardrip, 2011).

Residential mobility also poses a challenge to place-based initiatives and community-change efforts designed to improve household and individual outcomes by saturating disadvantaged neighborhoods with services and opportunities. Increasingly, policymakers and program operators are recognizing the difficulties of serving a target population that does not stay put long enough to benefit fully from place-based interventions (Kubisch et al., 2010). Some practitioners directly address this challenge by making affordable housing a key dimension of place-based interventions, but the evidence shows that, even among recipients of significant assistance, housing turnover continues to be an issue (Lubell, Shroder, and Steffen, 2003; Thompson, 2007). …

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