Abstract: Length of Neighborhood Tenure and the Neighborhood Context: Exploring Resident Participation in Making Connections Neighborhoods (Society for Social Work and Research 20th Annual Conference - Grand Challenges for Social Work: Setting a Research Agenda for the Future)

Length of Neighborhood Tenure and the Neighborhood Context: Exploring Resident Participation in Making Connections Neighborhoods

Thursday, January 14, 2016: 4:45 PM
Meeting Room Level-Meeting Room 9 (Renaissance Washington, DC Downtown Hotel)
* noted as presenting author
Megan E. Gilster, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA
Background and Purpose: Community initiatives, like Making Connections, often seek to increase participation in community organizations and governance as an intervention strategy to improve neighborhoods. However, building participation is an elusive goal. Understanding how the neighborhood social context contributes to resident participation can help develop and improve interventions so that they engage more residents and ultimately improve neighborhoods. One aspect of the neighborhood social context that informs some community interventions is collective efficacy. Collective efficacy, the extent to which neighbors share values and exert control, may support resident participation.

Not all residents have the same neighborhood experience. The length of time individuals or families live in a neighborhood may matter. Those newer to a neighborhood are less likely to participate. This research examines whether a neighborhood’s collective efficacy affects newer residents less than it does longer term residents.

Methods: This study used data from Making Connections, a neighborhood-based initiative and coordinated longitudinal survey in low- to moderate-income neighborhoods in 10 cities. Target neighborhoods were disadvantaged yet had organizational strengths. This study used data from all three waves of data collection (N=1887). The first wave was a random sample of addresses within target neighborhoods. At waves 2 and 3, researchers interviewed households at those same addresses and wave 1 households with children who moved. Few respondents were non-Hispanic white (15%) and most were female (77%).

Neighborhood participation was a count variable of participation in three activities in the neighborhood: volunteering, serving as an organization officer, and getting together to fix a problem. Between 39 and 42% of respondents participated in these activities at each survey wave. Length of tenure indicated 2 or more years living in the neighborhood. Between 14 and 18% of households had moved to the neighborhood within the last 2 years. Collective efficacy was an established, 10-item scale (Sampson et al., 1997).

Poisson regression with survey weights was used to predict participation. Interaction terms tested whether the effect of collective efficacy varied by length of tenure. Among respondents with two waves of survey responses, previous level of participation was controlled for. Additional controls included respondent gender, employment, education, children, and age at time of survey.

Results: At each wave of data collection, collective efficacy was positively associated with neighborhood participation (Coef=.15, p<05; Coef=.27, p<.001; Coef=.23, p<.01). Longer tenure was associated with more participation at wave 1 (Coef=.56, p<.01) and wave 3 (Coef=.53, p<.001). No significant interactions were found between length of tenure and collective efficacy at any wave.

Conclusions and Implications: Both longer neighborhood tenure and higher collective efficacy were associated with more neighborhood participation. Nevertheless, collective efficacy has the same effects for new neighborhood residents as longer-term residents. Practitioners can facilitate participation among a neighborhood’s residents by supporting stable housing and building neighborhood collective efficacy. As support for collective efficacy grows, researchers should conduct intervention research to improve the evidence base for community-level practice.