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Staying for Opportunity: Residential Mobility, Neighborhood Effects, and Assisted Housing


In this dissertation, I analyze the mobility patterns of renters living in project-based assisted housing. Most research suggests that renters living in assisted housing are stuck in disadvantageous contexts and are unable to access homes in more affluent communities, where resources and opportunities tend to be concentrated. However, our paradigms of residential mobility are inadequate for explaining the mobility patterns of assisted renters for at least three reasons. First, they assume that residents choose places to live primarily by selecting among a set of neighborhoods rather than a set of housing options. Second, they assume that all time spent living in a high poverty context is detrimental, and equally detrimental, to one’s wellbeing and life chances. Third, they consider assisted housing to be a uniformly disadvantageous context where resources and opportunities are scarce. I explain when and why these assumptions are inaccurate and argue that assisted housing can increase residential stability by providing renters with housing that is affordable, safe, and accommodating of their needs. I further argue that residential stability is a resource renters use to improve their wellbeing and increase their access to opportunities. I show how residents living in assisted housing are able to access resources and opportunities from their neighbors and from an organizational resource broker that owns and manages assisted housing. To make my case, I draw on data from the American Housing Survey, the New York City Housing and Vacancy Survey, and the San Diego Assisted Housing Survey. In contrast with prevailing theories of residential mobility and neighborhood attainment, I find that residents may remain in assisted housing over long periods of time because doing so can improve their life chances to a greater extent than moving to a new home or neighborhood.

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