Abstract: How the Affordable Housing Crisis Undermines Neighborhood Connectedness (Society for Social Work and Research 22nd Annual Conference - Achieving Equal Opportunity, Equity, and Justice)

391P How the Affordable Housing Crisis Undermines Neighborhood Connectedness

Friday, January 12, 2018
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Stacia West, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Nashville, TN
Kaycee Bills, LMSW, PhD Student and Graduate Research Assistant, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Knoxville, TN
Background/Purpose: Neighborhood connectedness is commonly rooted in a shared socioeconomic, racial or ethnic, religious, or professional experience. Past research indicates that a sense of community connection brings positive psychosocial impacts for families. That sense of belonging facilitates social connections that promote emotional and economic well-being. In fact, neighborhood connectedness may relate to decreased feelings of depression and isolation. As the affordable housing crisis proliferates across urban areas and once affordable neighborhoods are gentrifying, lower-income households increasingly spending more of their monthly income on housing. This competitive market may mean that residents have few options to move into or out of neighborhoods as they change. Residents may perceive less shared experience within their communities, and be less likely to form meaningful social ties that lead to neighborhood connectedness. Using rent burden as a household-level metric of the affordable housing crisis, we ask, “Is there a relationship between rent burden and knowing one’s neighbors?” We hypothesize that households reporting higher rent burden will report fewer connections to neighbors.

Methods: We used Wave 9 of the Fragile Families and Wellbeing Study, a nationally representative longitudinal survey of parents and their children in cities with populations 200,000+. The sample included renter households reporting the biological mother as the primary caregiver (n=1,294). Using logistic regression, we tested the relationship between how many neighbors that participants reportedly knew on their block (0=some, a lot, all; 1 = very few or none at all), and rent burden (0=less than 30% of income paid for housing; 1 = 30% to 49% of income paid for housing; 2 = 50% or more income paid for housing). Other covariates included: welfare receipt, social security receipt, number of children, hours worked per week, number of moves in the past 2 years, poverty category, whether the mother lived with a spouse or partner, and level of education.

Results: Compared to households paying 30% or less of their income for housing, those paying more than 50% of their income for housing were 61% more likely to report knowing very few or none of their neighbors (p = .015). Black mothers were 121% (p =.000) more likely to report knowing very few or none of their neighbors than White single mothers. Other significant relationships of knowing few to no neighbors included higher income, lower age, and more moves in the past 2 years.

Conclusions and Implications: As gentrification and the affordable housing crisis increasingly define urban life, we must carefully consider the outcomes for our neighbors who struggle to make ends meet. This research indicates a relationship between the experience of paying too much of monthly income for housing and a lack of connection to neighbors. Considered along with existing theoretical and empirical evidence related to neighborhood connectedness, these findings suggest families struggling to keep up with housing payments may not be making important community connections that are critical for both emotional and economic wellbeing.