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Cityscape: Volume 15 Number 2 | Article 11


Mixed Messages on Mixed Incomes

Volume 15 Number 2

Mark D. Shroder
Michelle P. Matuga

Mobility Decisions of Very Low-Income Households

Kimberly Skobba
University of Georgia

Edward G. Goetz
University of Minnesota

Policies that support mixed-income housing and neighborhoods are based on the assumption that most lower income families would both choose and benefit from moving to opportunity neighborhoods. Opponents of housing dispersal policies have challenged this assumption as unrealistic, oversimplistic, or incorrect. Both sides of this debate, however, share a fundamental assumption about the mobility of very low-income households that may be problematic. Each perspective assumes a degree of agency on the part of very low-income households in which housing outcomes are the result of considered choices among a set of alternatives. In this article, we examine the role of neighborhood environment in the mobility decisions of a group of very low-income families. We find that the assumption of choice among alternatives does not hold widely for the very low-income families in our study. Relationships, rather than neighborhoods, appear to be the driving factor in residential mobility and decisionmaking. As a result, neighborhood environment often plays a marginal role in the families' assessment of their own housing and in their mobility decisions. We discuss the implications of housing policies that, although seeking to improve the conditions for very low-income families, disrupt vital social support systems that help families meet basic needs.

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