Understanding the role of life events on residential mobility for low-income, subsidised households

Blog by Ruoniu Wang, Rebecca Walter, Abdulnaser Arafat and Jie Song

22 Jun 2018, 2:32 p.m.
Ruoniu Wang, Rebecca Walter, Abdulnaser Arafat and Jie Song


Major life events, such as marriage, childbirth, separation, and changes in employment, play a significant role in a family’s decision of whether and where to move. Our paper examines the relationship between life events and residential mobility for low-income families in the U.S. who participate in the mobility-based Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program.

The HCV program provides household-based subsidies for 2.2 million low-income families, making it the country’s largest mobility-based rental housing subsidy. By subsidizing tenants and helping them access residential units in the private market, the HCV program should be able to encourage tenant-desired moves while reducing detrimental housing changes. Our research uses a unique set of administrative data that includes over half a million household-year observations for the entire population participating in the HCV program from 2007 to 2013 in the state of Florida, United States.

Our research answers two important questions about the relationship between major life events – changes in marital status, having children, and employment changes – and location behavior for voucher families.

First, we find that all life events were strongly associated with the increased likelihood of moves. The impact of life events is much stronger than that of other indicators, such as sociodemographic factors, financial situations, housing unit characteristics, and programmatic characteristics. Life events often affect a family’s decision to move as much as housing market conditions.

Second, we find that life events are less closely correlated with changes in neighbourhood living conditions. For example, we found that certain life events such as having a child or changing employment do not necessarily result in improved neighbourhood outcomes. However, we did find some significant associations. For instance, becoming an empty nester, divorcee, or widow/widower does increase the likelihood of moving to more distressed neighbourhoods. In addition, the birth of a child has a dichotomous association with change in neighbourhood poverty: On one hand, childbirth increased the likelihood of moving from high- to low-poverty neighbuorhoods; on the other hand, it also increased the chances of moving from moderate- to high-poverty neighbuorhoods. Contrary to past findings, we found that job loss decreases the likelihood of moves for voucher families, while for those who did move, this life event was associated with increased chances of moving to lower poverty neighborhoods.

Our findings suggest that the HCV program protects its recipients from losing housing or being forced to move when they suffer job losses. More broadly, this study provides a more comprehensive picture of factors that drive residential mobility. Finally, as a contribution to the theory, this study supplements the life course theory through a policy lens in understanding residential mobility.


Read the paper on Urban Studies - Online First here


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