Risk, Resilience And Relocation: A Life Course Exploration Of Resettlement Experiences Of Public Housing Residents
Johnston, Jan H.
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Spatial deconcentration of poverty has been the organizing framework of federally subsidized housing policy for well over a decade. During that time low-income families living in traditional public housing across the country have been involuntarily relocated. Household relocation into lower poverty middle class, while the underlying mobility goal, has proven difficult for many families. We continue to look for evidence for how and whether these families are able to adapt as they are scattered across urban settings. The research focus was to operationalize the resident's adaptive behavior pertaining to deconcentration of poverty by trait difference, familial/cultural cues and perceived institutional opportunity/constraint. Mobility behavior was studied across three phases: coping reaction to dispersal; meeting familial/cultural needs in relocation; and perceived opportunity prospects of institutional alliance culminating as prospects of resettlement. Theorized as adaptive indicators of resilience, mother's coping style facilitated relocation decisions that met familial need/want using perceived opportunity set, thus improving the family's likelihood of reaching resettlement, preferably in lower poverty settings. Using a life course perspective of risk and resilience, 12 mothers - categorized by lifestage as young, middle and older - were interviewed four years after household dispersal to examine prior adaptive behavior in order to explore current functioning and future prospects. Mechanisms used included a pre-move agency score of psychosocial wellbeing; assessed familial/cultural resources by age/lifestage of mother to gauge appropriate relocation needs; and poverty status of current neighborhood. Analysis of qualitative data revealed while pre-move agency scores were indicative of effective coping with dispersal, these scores were largely unreliable across other phases of experience. Differences in mother's age/lifestage and family relocation needs were identified. Self-reported levels of maternal satisfaction influenced ability to successfully meet those needs. In turn, met familial need influenced prospects of resettlement. Perceived prospects of resettlement, indicative of agency, met familial need and poverty status of neighborhood were mixed across age groups. For families living in lower poverty mixed-income public housing, only the older women termed themselves resettled. Families living in higher poverty households - all who had left housing assistance after relocation - were more likely to report resettlement.