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PRRAC Research Briefs October 20, 2011

October 20, 2011

Today's "Moving to Opportunity" results spur calls for reform

The first results from the final "Moving to Opportunity for Fair Housing Demonstration" (MTO) show significant reductions in obesity and diabetes for women who are given the opportunity to move from high poverty to low poverty neighborhoods. MTO was a HUD-funded five-city experimental study that spanned 10-15 years.

The new MTO study results, released this morning in an article in the New England Journal of Medicine, support the position of civil rights advocates, who have urged HUD for years to reform its largest low income housing program, the Section 8 voucher program.

Women who moved to low poverty neighborhoods were about 5% less likely to be obese and show signs of diabetes than were people in the control group. As one of the authors, Jens Ludwig, noted in an interview, "These are pretty big effects…comparable in size to the long-term effects on diabetes we see from targeted lifestyle interventions or from providing people with medication that can prevent the onset of diabetes."

"This study should be a wake-up call for HUD and other federal and state agencies - we need to do more to help low income families move to healthier neighborhoods," said Philip Tegeler, Executive Director of the DC-based Poverty & Race Research Action Council. "We also need to work to make poor neighborhoods healthier, but the primary lesson from this research is the need to expand choices for families."

"MTO needs to be more than an 'experiment' - it should be built into the federal Section 8 program so that families have the information they need, assistance in finding apartments in healthier neighborhoods, and rent levels that do not limit their choices to the poorest communities."

Section 8 is the largest federal housing program, serving more than 2 million families nationwide. In the past, critics have charged that the program's payment levels and other program features steer families into high poverty, less healthy neighborhoods. HUD is now working to improve the program, with proposed changes in voucher rent standards and "portability" rules that have sometimes made it hard for families to move across city and town lines. Programs like the successful Baltimore Housing Mobility Program have shown that it is possible to help families make voluntary moves to healthier, lower poverty communities on a larger scale.

Additional study results are expected soon on health outcomes for asthma and mental health.
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Link to the NEJM article

Selected media coverage (October 19-20, 2011)
Los Angeles Times , October 19, 2011: "Poor neighborhoods may contribute to poor health: A study of low-income residents in L.A. and four other U.S. cities finds that those who moved into better-off areas may become healthier than those who stayed behind," by Amina Khan.

Time , October 20, 2011: "Change Your Neighborhood, Improve Your Health", by Alice Park.

CNN , October 20, 2011: "Moving out of high-poverty areas may lower obesity, diabetes risk", by Amanda MacMillan.

USA Today , October 20, 2011: "Study: Better neighborhood lowers obesity, diabetes risk" by Nanci Hellmich.

Washington Post , October 20, 2011: "Experiment finds evidence that living in poor neighborhood can hurt your overall health" by Associated Press.

Chicago Sun-Times , October 20, 2011: "How poor neighborhood hurts health", by Mike Stobbe.

Reuters , October 20, 2011: "Move to better area tied to less diabetes", by Gene Emery.

US News & World Report , October 20, 2011: "Health Buzz: Low-Income Neighborhoods May Hurt Health:, by Angela Haupt.


Resources on housing mobility and health
Prescription for a New Neighborhood? Housing Vouchers as a Public Health Intervention (PRRAC Policy Brief, 2010)

David Williams, Michelle Sternthal & Rosalind Wright, Social Determinants: Taking the Social Context of Asthma Seriously, 123 Pediatrics (2009)

Acevedo-Garcia, Osypuk, McArdle & Williams, Toward A Policy-Relevant Analysis Of Geographic And Racial/Ethnic Disparities In Child Health, 27 Health Affairs 321 (2008)


Resources on housing mobility generally
New Homes, New Neighborhoods, New Schools : A Progress Report on the Baltimore Housing Mobility Program (PRRAC and the Baltimore Regional Housing Campaign, October 2009)

Connecting Families to Opportunity : a Resource Guide for Housing Choice Voucher Program Administrators (PRRAC, July 2009),

Keeping the Promise: Preserving and Enhancing Housing Mobility in the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program (PRRAC, 2005)

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