Monday, January 16, 2012
On January 26, 1966, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. moved into a run-down section of Chicago’s West Side to bring attention to housing issues and segregation. On this day that commemorates all his efforts, it seems appropriate to consider a recently released report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which analyzes what is likely the most detailed, long-term look at neighborhood effects on residents. What follows here is a brief description of the report’s findings.
HUD’s Moving to Opportunity for Fair Housing study released its final report in November, 2011 (MTO). MTO was a large, long-term study authorized in 1992 to determine whether living in a less economically and socially distressed neighborhood could improve well-being and long-term life chances. It was the first random-assignment social science experiment designed to identify the causal effects of moving from a high-poverty to a low-poverty neighborhood. From 1994 to 1998, the program enrolled 4,604 low-income households in Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York, and was limited to households with children that were living in public or government-subsidized, project-based housing in high-poverty areas. Enrolled families were assigned randomly to one of three groups: the experimental group, which received Section 8 rental assistances that could only be used in census tracts with poverty rates below 10 percent, and mobility counseling to assist in leasing a new unit; the Section 8 only group received regular Section 8 vouchers they could use anywhere and no special mobility counseling; and the control group, which received no certificates or vouchers, but remained eligible for project-based housing. Forty-eight percent of the experimental group moved to a lower-poverty neighborhood; and sixty-three percent of the Section 8 only group moved to a non-project location.
Long-term findings regarding mobility found that the experimental and Section 8 groups were more likely than the control group to: live in lower-poverty neighborhoods; live in higher-quality homes; reside in slightly less racially segregated neighborhoods, though most remained in majority-minority neighborhoods; have more social ties with relatively more affluent people; and feel safer in their neighborhoods.
Long-term findings regarding physical health found that adults in the experimental and Section 8 group had: a lower prevalence of extreme obesity; a lower prevalence of diabetes; fewer self-reported physical limitation; and similar rates of hypertension and health-related risk.
Long-term findings regarding mental health found that, compared with the control group, adults in the experimental or Section 8 group had: lower levels of psychological distress; lower prevalence of depression or anxiety; and similar rates of most other mental health problems. Mental health of children ages 10-20, however, varied by gender. Female youth ages 10 – 20 in the experimental group, relative to the control group, had: a lower prevalence of any lifetime mood disorder; fewer serious emotional or behavioral difficulties; fewer panic attacks in the past year; less psychological distress; lower prevalence of oppositional defiant disorder; and similar rates of other mental health problems. When compared to the control group, male youth ages 10 – 20 in the experimental group: showed increased lifetime post-traumatic stress disorder; and prevalence of the disorder among male youth in the Section 8 group were 3 percentage points higher than in the control group.
With regard to economic self-sufficiency, compared with the control group, experimental and Section 8 group adults had: similar employment levels and earnings; similar incomes; less food insufficiency; and somewhat higher use of food stamps in the experimental group.
In Strength to Love, King wrote, “The good neighbor looks beyond the external accidents and discerns those inner qualities that make all men human and, therefore, brothers.” HUD’s study quantifies King’s moral assertion, making clear that good neighbors have significant, long-term effects on a number, though not all, key life factors. The study’s results may well influence future policy choices for affordable and fair housing, and provide insights for what a new neighborhood can, and cannot do, for individuals.
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