Monday, July 25, 2011

Consequences of Residential Mobility

I would like to get back to an issue that was highlighted with the brawl that broke-out at R V Taylor, discussed in an earlier post. It was a fight that began at the Boys and Girls Club, when a kid from a different neighborhood entered R V Taylor turf. After this happened, we discussed in class how residential mobility can have devastating consequences for young people. This will soon become a reality for hundreds of young people living in Josephine Allen, when they shutdown the housing project. Families will be relocated to already overcrowded housing projects, like R V Taylor and Roger Williams. While constant residential mobility adds stress, anxiety, feelings of isolation, and school and social disconnect, increased vulnerability to violence is a harsh reality that many of these young people will also face.

Contrary to popular belief that "turf wars" are exclusively connected to gangs, it is a much more complicated issue in these neighborhoods. Most kids bond together with other kids in their neighborhood, regardless of gang affiliation. When they move, they loose the protection that comes from their friends and are more vulnerable to social exclusion, bullying and getting beaten-up by kids in their new neighborhoods. The MYS data also shows that high neighborhood mobility is associated with carrying weapons and negative attitudes toward their current neighborhood. So why do most planned mobility studies claim that residential mobility from low income families is a good thing?

First, most residential mobility studies are artificially created to move low income families into higher income neighborhoods. These studies demonstrate short-term benefits for children, as they are exposed to better schools and safer neighborhood environments. The problem is that this is not the reality for most low income families. They are not choosing to leave their homes for better neighborhoods, which is known as the "pull effect". In most cases, they are forced out of their homes because they can no longer afford the rent, or their homes are unsafe, or housing projects are being shutdown. This is described as the "push effect"; families are essentially being pushed or forced to move because of external factors, they are not choosing to leave. Residential mobility studies focus on the "pull factor", the idea that if circumstances are right (support mechanisms are in place), poor families would choose to live to higher income neighborhoods, and thus, have a better quality of life. However, these studies do not examine the "push factor". In reality, most families are forced to leave their homes and find homes in other poor neighborhoods.

Our professor conducted an adult survey of MYS participants' caregivers for several years. In this survey, about 40% of caregivers said that if their forced to move in the next week, they would look for places in West Mobile (middle to upper income neighborhoods). However, looking at their past moves, many of the respondents had moved to low income neighborhoods within a couple miles of their current homes. The majority of families would move into friends or relatives homes or get advice from friends about where to look for a new residents after being forced to move. Again, the "push" factor is the reality of residential mobility, very few families choose to move because they acquire the financial means and resources to live in higher income neighborhood. The fact that caregiver respondents desired to live in richer West Mobile neighborhoods also highlights a trend we see in the MYS data. It is the idea that people wish or desire better things in their future but they do not have intermediate steps in place to acquire these dreams. For instance, many of the caregivers lack the financial resources to afford homes in West Mobile because they are unemployed but they still desire this in their future.

Most policy makers are oblivious to harmful behavioral consequences of low income families constantly moving and they examine residential mobility as choice. They believe that if families are given the opportunity to move to better neighborhoods, they will, and their kids will benefit from this move. While this may be true for some low income families, what is the point of developing housing programs around this premise, when this is not the reality of how people move when they are living in low income neighborhoods? Where are the studies that inform policy about the "push" factor, rather then the "pull" factor?

Again, actually going into these neighborhoods and talking to folks about how and why they are constantly moving is a good place to start.

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