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Study: Better Neighborhoods Lead to Better Health for Children

Researchers Examining Effects of “Moving to Opportunity” Program Also Find Improved Mental Health in Adults  

BETHESDA, MD — Better quality neighborhoods can have positive effects on the overall health of children, finds a new study of a government program designed to move families from public housing in very poor areas to private-market rental housing in areas with much lower poverty rates.  

Abt Associates researchers examined results from the Moving to Opportunity Fair Housing Demonstration Program (MTO) to test the long-term effects of people who moved from poor neighborhoods to neighborhoods with lower poverty rates. The MTO demonstration enrolled about 4,600 low-income households with children living in public housing within high-poverty neighborhoods in Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York. Applicants to the program for housing assistance were randomly assigned to one of three groups—an experimental group that could use their voucher only if they moved to a low-poverty neighborhood; a Section 8 group that received standard housing voucher assistance; and a control group that received no vouchers but continued receiving housing project-based assistance.  

The researchers found that those who spent more than half of their time in lower poverty neighborhoods —where the poverty rate was less than 20 percent — experienced higher levels of general health among children, lower levels of psychological distress and depressive symptoms among adults and higher levels of neighborhood and housing quality. Children who moved to the low-poverty neighborhoods were significantly more likely than those who were randomized to a control group and did not have the same access to assistance to be in very good or excellent health, as reported by a parent.  

“This research offers strong evidence that where one lives can make a difference in their health,” said Laura Peck, a principal scientist at Abt Associates and one of the study’s co-authors. “Understanding how neighborhood conditions affect health and other outcomes can inform policymakers and shape future housing policies.”  

The study, by authors Shawn Moulton, Laura R. Peck and Keri-Nicole Dillman, was presented at the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management Fall Research Conference, held Nov. 8-10 in Baltimore.  

About Abt Associates

Abt Associates is a mission-driven, global leader in research and program implementation in the fields of health, social and environmental policy, and international development. Known for its rigorous approach to solving complex challenges, Abt Associates was ranked as one of the top 20 global research firms in 2012 and also named one of the top 40 international development innovators. The company has multiple offices in the U.S. and program offices in nearly 40 countries. 


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