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Teachers College, Columbia University
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Families Leaving NYC Public Housing Less Stressed

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Jeanne Brooks-Gunn

Jeanne Brooks-Gunn

Tama Leventhall

Tama Leventhall

There is little change reported in family income, employment, or welfare status according to research published in September's American Journal of Public Health.

Families in New York City that move from housing projects into less impoverished communities suffer far less depression and anxiety than those who remain in low-income neighborhoods, according to the study.

But the study also found moving to a higher income community did not affect family income, parental employment, or welfare status, according to authors Tama Leventhal and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn of TC's National Center for Children and Families.

"Our study shows that families in the city who have had the opportunity to leave housing projects and move into higher-income neighborhoods are happier and more likely healthier," say Leventhal and Brooks-Gunn. "It indicates the potential for a greater degree of success for families that have moved out and moved on."

This experimental study is the first its kind to examine links between neighborhood residence and health and behavior in New York City. The study followed 550 families who participated as part of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Moving to Opportunity (MTO) housing relocation program. MTO is a demonstration program in five cities-Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York City-in which families with children are given the opportunity to move from housing projects into less impoverished neighborhoods.

Overall, the study found that New York City parents who moved to neighborhoods with lower levels of poverty reported significantly less mental distress than parents who remained in high-poverty areas. Boys who moved to neighborhoods with less poverty reported significantly fewer anxiety, depression, and dependency problems than those who remained in public housing projects. Researchers found no significant group differences for girls, however, and speculate that girls may have been somehow more sheltered from the effects of the neighborhood.

More than 90 percent of the parents interviewed for the study were women, half were African American and about 45 percent were Latina. The average age of the parents was 35, and most cited their primary reason for wishing to move from their current neighborhood as a way to escape drugs and gangs.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Russell Sage Foundation, the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development provided support for the study.

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