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Moving to better neighbourhoods can increase well-being (USA)

October 4, 2012

An American study based on the “Moving to Opportunity” demonstration project, found that relocating to a better socio-economic neighbourhood increased the physical and mental well-being of low-income persons, even if their economic status was unchanged.

The report details the findings of the “Moving to Opportunity” large-scale housing mobility project conducted by the U.S.A. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The data was taken from 4,604 low income persons who took part in the project from 1994 to 1998. A long-term survey was conducted with these individuals, 10 to 15 years after the study. The study involved two treatment groups: one group was given a low poverty voucher (LPV) that permitted them to move into private rental markets in census areas that had a poverty rate below 10 per cent. The other treatment group was given a traditional housing voucher (THV) with no relocation criteria attached. The control group did not receive a housing voucher.

The study found that the main reason participants relocated (48 per cent of the LPV and 63 per cent of the THV) was to get away from gangs and drugs. At the outset of the study, researchers were anticipating an increase in economic self-sufficiency, and an increase in both physical health and mental health for those who moved to higher income neighbourhoods.

Instead, the findings revealed that one year after the neighbourhood relocation, the expected long-term effects on economic self-sufficiency did not materialize and researchers could not recommend relocation as an effective poverty reduction strategy. However, researchers did find that there was a significant positive change in both physical and mental health, which they valuated as equivalent to a $13,000 increase in income.

See the abstract, “Neighborhood Effects on the Long-Term Well-Being of Low-Income Adults,” available on the Science website of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

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