Do Residents of Affordable Housing Form a Community?

Do Residents of Affordable Housing Form a Community?
Elyzabeth Gaumer, Ahuva Jacobowitz, Jeanne Brooks-Gunn
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One of the perceived benefits of mixed-income living is that residents will interact with people from different backgrounds and cultural expectations, creating a diverse and supportive social fabric and community. Before evaluating the feasibility of social networks across income groups, one important question is: Do affordable housing residents -- people within the same general income bracket -- serve as a social support for each other? Do they talk about important personal issues? Visit each other's homes? Ask neighbors for a favor, information, or advice?

To understand whether affordable housing residents form a supportive community of neighbors, researchers in New York City surveyed 120 residents of a new 241-unit affordable housing development comprised of two midrise buildings in a mixed-income neighborhood. The development is near a large park and has a laundry room, but does not have additional design elements that facilitate resident engagement.

Residents reported that:

  • Moving to the new development improved their sense of safety and housing quality.
  • They had a diverse network of friends, families, and neighbors.
  • They did not rely on social ties to neighbors within their building. Other people in their networks were more important.

Analysis of the residents’ interactions showed that:

  • Residents reported an average of 5.9 unique people in their social network.
  • 40% of residents' social network resided in their building. These in-building contacts were almost always non-relatives.
  • Children are a connector. Residents were significantly more likely to receive or provide any form of support if both parties have children.
  • Emotionally supportive relationships were significantly more likely among residents of the same gender, race, or ethnicity.