Does Home Ownership Really Encourage Civic Engagement?

Researchers in the September issue of the Urban Affairs Review examined data collected from a group of low- and mid-income homeowners and renters over four years to determine if owning a home inspires more people to get involved with the community.

They found what most of us assumed is, in fact, true. As long as home ownership is sustained, civic engagement is fostered. It makes sense, right? We all want our neighborhoods and communities to be great places. A home is not only a financial, but an emotional investment, too. It’s a big investment and it makes sense to want to bolster it by supporting and participating in the community around our homes.

The study, of course, looked a little deeper at the data. It assumed civic engagement stems from three overarching factors: rates of mobility, financial self-interest and more general self-interests such as neighborhood amenities and social ties. Of those three, mobility — how often one moves or stays put — was deemed the strongest.

From the report:

This research also points to the importance of considering mobility when examining causes of civic engagement, particularly instrumental civic engagement. Our findings indicate that homeowners and renters are affected differently by residential mobility. For homeowners, moving may prompt them to become more involved in neighborhood groups as a way to establish ties with others and integrate in a new community. Renters who move, however, are less likely to turn to civic participation as a way to build new social network ties.

Meanwhile, new homeowners were no more or less inclined to join a neighborhood group than a renter in the time before they bought a house. After purchasing, however, their likelihood to participate increased fourfold. And homeowners who return to renting are “no more or less likely to be involved in neighborhood groups than people who have never been homeowners.” This isn’t the case if an owner simply moves to a different house, in which case participation rates remained relatively constant.

Policy-wise, the study concludes that measures aimed at increasing homeownership rates in low-income neighborhoods can help precipitate a robust civic life, which in turn may bring about a better overall quality of life.

You can read the full study here: http://uar.sagepub.com/content/48/5/731.abstract

Posted in Home Ownership.

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