Journal of Urban Health

, Volume 91, Issue 2, pp 223–241 | Cite as

The Aftermath of Public Housing Relocations: Relationships between Changes in Local Socioeconomic Conditions and Depressive Symptoms in a Cohort of Adult Relocaters

  • Hannah L. F. Cooper
  • Josalin Hunter-Jones
  • Mary E. Kelley
  • Conny Karnes
  • Danielle F. Haley
  • Zev Ross
  • Richard Rothenberg
  • Loida E. Bonney


USA is experiencing a paradigm shift in public housing policy: while policies used to place people who qualified for housing assistance into spatially concentrated housing complexes, they now seek to geographically disperse them, often to voucher-subsidized rental units in the private market. Programs that relocate residents from public housing complexes tend to move them to neighborhoods that are less impoverished and less violent. To date, studies have reached conflicting findings about the relationship between public housing relocations and depression among adult relocaters. The present longitudinal multilevel analysis tests the hypothesis that pre-/postrelocation improvements in local economic conditions, social disorder, and perceived community violence are associated with declines in depressive symptoms in a cohort of African-American adults; active substance misusers were oversampled. We tested this hypothesis in a cohort of 172 adults who were living in one of seven public housing complexes scheduled for relocation and demolition in Atlanta, GA; by design, 20 % were dependent on substances and 50 % misused substances but were not dependent. Baseline data captured prerelocation characteristics of participants; of the seven census tracts where they lived, three waves of postrelocation data were gathered approximately every 9 months thereafter. Surveys were administered at each wave to assess depressive symptoms measured using the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D), perceived community violence, and other individual-level covariates. Participants' home addresses were geocoded to census tracts at each wave, and administrative data sources were used to characterize tract-level economic disadvantage and social disorder. Hypotheses were tested using multilevel models. Between waves 1 and 2, participants experienced significant improvements in reported depressive symptoms and perceived community violence and in tract-level economic disadvantage and social disorder; these reductions were sustained across waves 2–4. A 1 standard deviation improvement in economic conditions was associated with a 1-unit reduction in CES-D scores; the magnitude of this relationship did not vary by baseline substance misuse or gender. Reduced perceived community violence also predicted lower CES-D scores. Our objective measure of social disorder was unrelated to depressive symptoms. We found that relocaters who experienced greater pre-/postrelocation improvements in economic conditions or in perceived community violence experienced fewer depressive symptoms. Combined with past research, these findings suggest that relocation initiatives should focus on the quality of the places to which relocaters move; future research should also identify pathways linking pre-/postrelocation changes in place characteristics to changes in mental health.


Public housing Public housing relocations Depression Multilevel models Neighborhood characteristics African-Americans 



This study was funded by three grants: a CFAR03 grant awarded by the Emory Center for AIDS Research (P30 AI050409); a NIDA grant entitled “Public Housing Relocations: Impact on Healthcare Access, Drug Use & Sexual Health” (R21DA027072); and a NIDA grant entitled “Public Housing Relocations: Impact on HIV and Drug Use” (R01DA029513). We would like to thank our NIDA Project Officer, Dr. Bethany Deeds, for her excellent help with this project; Atlanta Housing Authority for permitting us to recruit participants on site; and study participants for sharing their time and experiences with the study. We would also like to thank Drs. Erin Ruel and Deidre Oakley for their insights into serial displacement and relocaters' health.


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Copyright information

© The New York Academy of Medicine 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hannah L. F. Cooper
    • 1
  • Josalin Hunter-Jones
    • 1
  • Mary E. Kelley
    • 1
  • Conny Karnes
    • 1
  • Danielle F. Haley
    • 1
  • Zev Ross
    • 1
  • Richard Rothenberg
    • 1
  • Loida E. Bonney
    • 1
  1. 1.Rollins School of Public HealthAtlantaUSA

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