Residential Mobility and Narratives of Neighborhood Violence

Buthcer's Hill, Baltimore

Residential Mobility and Narratives of Neighborhood Violence

By Eva Rosen

Poor families experience high residential instability, yet, by and large, residents of low income, high-crime neighborhoods stay put much of the time. And when they do move, they are likely to move laterally to a similarly disadvantaged place. Why do people experience this “horizontal immobility,” moving to, churning between, or staying within disadvantaged environments? While recent scholarship highlights the perils of involuntary displacement and residential instability, not all moves experienced by low-income families are involuntary. Despite tremendous constraints on residential choice—including financial resources, discrimination, and low-quality housing stock—poor residents perceive themselves as making active decisions about when and where to move. In a recent article in the American Sociological Review, I consider the way in which violent neighborhood contexts shape how residents think about where to live.

In order to understand how high crime neighborhoods affect residential outcomes, I argue that we must look to the residents themselves. The concept of “narratives”—the stories people tell about safety in their neighborhoods—helps explain why families remain and move within disadvantaged areas. Previous research suggests that residential decisions are motivated by a perpetual desire to move “up” to the “best” homes and neighborhoods families can afford. In the ASR article, I show that while poor families in crime-ridden neighborhoods strongly value neighborhood amenities such as good schools and job opportunities, they face a set of challenges preventing them from accessing the kinds of neighborhoods that can offer these amenities. For these families, the residential striving narrative of moving “up” to a bigger house or a better neighborhood is less pertinent than the more immediate need to establish a sense of safety and belonging.

Read the full policy blog here.