April 6, 2011

Researchers have long understood that residential stability plays an important role in healthy child development.  Less well understood, however is the role of housing affordability in promoting or undermining this stability—an issue of particular relevance given the sharp rise in foreclosures in recent years.  Research commissioned and analyzed in a new report by the Center for Housing Policy, the research affiliate of the National Housing Conference, sheds light on this important issue affecting child development.

The report, Should I Stay or Should I Go? Exploring the Effects of Housing Instability and Mobility on Children, finds that low-income families move much more frequently than the general population.  While reasons for moving vary, the data and  interviews of low-income families show that moves resulting from unplanned or involuntary circumstances, such as an eviction or foreclosure, and moves that occur one after another as part of a pattern of frequent mobility tend to have negative impacts on child and family welfare, such as increased school absenteeism and a higher incidence of neighborhood problems. “The findings were especially troubling for children of what we call ‘hyper-mobile’ families, who move far more often than average.  These kids lagged behind their peers with greater residential stability in their educational development,” explains Jeffrey Lubell, executive director of the Center.  “Affordable housing may help low-income families with children avoid unplanned moves,” Lubell noted.

While the Center’s research report does not focus explicitly on the foreclosure crisis, its conclusions have important implications for the nation’s response to this challenge.  Evidence presented in the report underlines the need for actions that help to promote residential stability, such as the adoption of policies that enable families to avoid foreclosure or eviction or that allow families experiencing foreclosure to stay in their homes until they are able to move in an orderly way.  The report also underscores the importance of educating families about their residential choices to reduce the chances that moving will contribute to negative outcomes for their children. 

Finally, the report suggests that affordable housing has an important role to play in fostering residential stability, helping families gain control over if and when to move—factors of critical importance to children.


For detailed data about the impact of mobility and residential stability on children, please review:


Should I Stay or Should I Go? Report Cover

View the Media Release:  High Mobility Among Low-Income Families Creates Setbacks for Children 



Funding for the report was provided by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The Foundation has made a five-year, $25 million commitment to investing in research to understand “how housing matters” in the lives of children, families and communities. For more information on the How Housing Matters to Families and Communities initiative, click here.

We wish to thank the researchers who prepared the underlying reports—Sherri Lawson Clark, Scott Holupka, Nandinee K. Kutty, Sandra Newman, and Robin Phinney — for their contributions to the research literature as well as for their thoughtful comments on earlier drafts of this paper. We also appreciate the insight provided during the course of this project by Linda Burton of Duke University, Kristin Moore of Child Trends, and Carol Stack of UC Berkeley. A special thank you is given to Barbara Lipman, a former research director at the Center for Housing Policy, for her early work on this research project.



Additional Relevant Resources From the Center for Housing Policy:

Visit HousingPolicy.org – an easy-to-use online guide to state and local housing solutions developed and maintained by the Center for Housing Policy.

Why Housing Matters: Housing’s Connections to Health and Education

Center for Housing Policy’s “Housing Solutions” Handbook (PDF)