The Impact of Public Housing on Social Networks

A Natural Experiment

Published in: American Journal of Public Health, v. 104, no. 9, Sep. 2014, p. 1642-1649

by Craig Pollack, Harold D. Green, David P. Kennedy, Beth Ann Griffin, Alene Kennedy-Hendricks, Susan Burkhauser, Heather L. Schwartz

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OBJECTIVE: We assessed whether 2 types of public housing—scattered among market-rate housing developments or clustered in small public housing projects—were associated with the perceived health and health behaviors of residents' social networks. METHOD: Leveraging a natural experiment in Montgomery County, Maryland, in which residents were randomly assigned to different types of public housing, we surveyed 453 heads of household in 2011. We asked residents about their own health as well as the perceived health of their network members, including their neighbors. RESULTS: Residents in scattered-site public housing perceived that their neighbors were more likely to exercise than residents of clustered public housing (24.7% of network members vs 14.0%; P < .001). There were no significant differences in the proportion of network members who were perceived to have major health problems, depressed mood, poor diet, or obesity. Having more network members who smoked was associated with a significantly higher likelihood of smoking. CONCLUSIONS: Different types of public housing have a modest impact on the health composition of one's social network, suggesting the importance of housing policy for health.

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