*Working Paper Housing Initiative

Who relocates, where do they move, and why?

The lack of socioeconomic mobility among marginalized populations leads to the concentration of poverty, a long-standing issue in American cities. Empirical studies on neighborhood effects have found that poverty concentration adversely affects the socioeconomic mobility of residents—associated with their economic well-being, employment, education, health, and safety—in lower-income neighborhoods. Through a variety of neighborhood revitalization projects, federal, state, and local governments have put enormous efforts into cutting the vicious cycle of poverty while increasing the socioeconomic mobility of lower-income households. One of these projects, the Choice Neighborhood Initiative, is a recent Federal effort to revitalize distressed public housing sites in American cities. Each project requires its residents to relocate into surrounding neighborhoods during the revitalization process, offering Housing Choice Vouchers (formerly Section 8 Vouchers) to seek subsidized housing in surrounding neighborhoods. While the effects of relocation have been widely studied, less is known about the relocation decisions made by families. This is especially true for programs that rely on housing vouchers, which allow the beneficiaries to decide their relocation destination. We fill this gap by focusing on the relocation process in a Choice Neighborhood Initiative site in Memphis. In particular, this study explores where people relocate and why. We found that even with housing vouchers, one-thirds of the CNI residents moved to mixed-income neighborhoods, and almost one-fourth of the residents chose to stay in their original neighborhood. Secondly, we explored whether the demographic and socioeconomic characteristics of the residents predict their relocation decision. Contrary to our initial expectation, employment status was not significantly associated with the relocation choice. Instead, the educational attainment of household heads and the existence of dependents were significantly associated with the relocation decision. Perhaps most interesting, we find that while perceptions of neighborhood safety are associated with moves to similar-income neighborhoods, perceptions of home safety are associated with moves to higher-income neighborhoods. The present results are significant in at least two respects. First, these findings may help practitioners, such as case managers in the Choice Neighborhood Initiative, to understand various attributes of the project beneficiaries among residents who different relocation decisions. For better implementation of the projects, practitioners may need to adopt different approaches and strategies when providing services to certain groups of residents. For example, given the importance of dependents in relocation decisions, case managers may need to consider ways to help their clients relocate to neighborhoods with high-quality schools. Second, the findings have important implications for those who develop inferential models for evaluating the impact of relocation on the original residents’ lives. The heterogeneity of residents in various relocation decision groups calls for more sophisticated empirical model designs to resolve the endogenous relationship between targeted families’ characteristics and their relocation choices.


Chun, Yung; Jabbari, Jason; Nandan, Pranav; Foell, Andrew; and Grinstein-Weiss, Michal, “Who relocates, where do they move, and why?” (2020). Social Policy Institute Research. 39. https://openscholarship.wustl.edu/spi_research/39