Staying or Leaving

Lessons from Jobs-Plus About the Mobility of Public Housing Residents and Implications for Place-Based Initiatives


Resident mobility can potentially influence the success of place-based self-sufficiency initiatives. Yet, relatively little is known about these patterns, especially among residents of public housing. This dearth of information makes it difficult to implement and evaluate programs that seek to address the self-sufficiency barriers of residents of low-income communities. This paper begins to fill this knowledge gap by examining the intended and actual out-migration patterns of a cohort of residents of five public housing developments participating in the Jobs-Plus Community Revitalization Initiative for Public Housing Families (“Jobs-Plus”for short), a multisite initiative to raise residents’ employment outcomes.

The baseline survey and public housing authority administrative records data gathered for the Jobs-Plus evaluation offer a unique opportunity for an unusually detailed analysis of public housing mobility. Jobs-Plus targeted residents living in public housing developments characterized by concentrated joblessness and welfare receipt, and the findings from this paper should be viewed within this context. Drawing on a sample of 1,123 nondisabled, nonelderly household heads who completed a baseline survey before the implementation of Jobs-Plus, this paper attempts to draw insights about resident mobility in places frequently targeted by community initiatives by examining these key questions: Do public housing residents move a great deal? Do they want to move? And what factors differentiate the movers from the stayers?

Key Findings

  • A significant proportion of residents (29 percent) moved out of the Jobs-Plus developments within two years of completing the baseline interview in 1997. The tendency to move varied considerably across the five Jobs-Plus developments, ranging from a high of 44 percent in Day-ton’s De Soto Bass Courts to a low of 16 percent in Los Angeles’s William Mead Homes.
  • Expectations of moving out ran very high among Jobs-Plus residents. Counter to the expectations, fewer than half of those intending to move were able to make that transition during the two-year follow-up period for this paper.
  • On average, the typical “mover” had lived in a Jobs-Plus development for less than six years, and compared to residents who stayed, was less likely to report employment barriers, and was more likely to express dissatisfaction with the social and physical conditions in the development and the neighborhood at large. Movers were also more likely to report having experienced epi-sodes of crime and violence.
  • Economic self-sufficiency (that is, having access to savings and not receiving public assistance), concerns about keeping children engaged in constructive activities, and experiences of violence are key predictors of the probability of moving out.

The above findings have broad relevance for community initiatives, which have become an increasingly popular approach for addressing spatially concentrated poverty and unemployment. Given the mobility dynamics of residents of poor neighborhoods and public housing developments, program staff and evaluators will need to pay special attention to both the levels of mobility experienced in potential target areas and the types of residents moving out and understand the implications of such mobility for generating program-related positive spillovers for the community.