moving boxes

Charting Residential Stability and Race

I hate moving. It takes physical, mental, and emotional energy. It’s expensive to pay for security deposits, non-refundable pet deposits, first month’s rent and last month’s rent, and professional movers. From 2004 to 2012, I probably lived at 12 different addresses in Minnesota, California, and Scotland. I’m not sure if that qualified me as a transient, but it sure made it hard to fill out background check forms to get jobs. I’m happy to have stayed in an apartment for almost four years now, but sometimes the benefits of moving outweigh the costs. Also, moving is much easier for me (a married, childless middle-class white man who speaks English fluently and is expecting a master’s degree in a couple months) than it is for others.

I’m thinking of kids, specifically. A couple of child health specialists reviewed the academic literature and found that children who moved more than average experienced bad outcomes: “higher levels of behavioural and emotional problems; increased teenage pregnancy rates; accelerated initiation of illicit drug use; adolescent depression; reduced continuity of healthcare.” Thinking about the costs of moving (to both adults and children) made me wonder: Do people in the Twin Cities move more or less than people in other cities? Are there racial disparities in residential stability?


I took the 2014 five-year estimates from the American Community Survey (geographical mobility in the past year, by race) for the 20 largest metropolitan areas in the U.S., then visualized the data with Tableau. In this case, residential mobility means the percent of the population that had moved to a different home in the last twelve months. Residential stability means the percent of the population that lived in the same home they had been living in twelve months ago.

Maps, graphs, and results


Residential mobility varies a lot by region. People in northeastern and midwestern cities (which are usually older) don’t move very often. People in southern and western cities (which are usually newer) move more often. Minneapolis is sometimes called the first western city, and St. Paul the last eastern city, so they’re predictably in the middle of the pack.


Residential mobility varies a lot by race, too. Out of the 20 largest cities, in 18 cities the white population was least likely to have moved recently. Whites were edged out by the Hispanic/Latino population in Los Angeles and the Asian population in San Francisco.circles
The gaps in residential mobility by race varied from city to city. In Washington, DC, a black person is 13% more likely to have moved in the last year than a white person. In Baltimore, Phoenix, and Chicago, the figure is about 50%. The Twin Cities had the largest disparity at 103%; in other words, a black person in Minneapolis-St. Paul is twice as likely to have moved in the last year than a white person. barboard
This is upsetting, but it’s not surprising. White Minnesotans are likely to own their homes, but black Minnesotans (Somali-Americans especially) are likely to rent their homes. People of color who did manage to buy a home were much more likely to be trapped in a predatory subprime loan, all financial details held constant. I’d say this all points to three things. First, we should relieve upward pressures on rent that force people to move. We can allow more people to live in attractive neighborhoods, and reduce displacement there, by encouraging dense development on vacant lots. Second, as we plan major public investments that are likely to increase property values and rents, we should proactively insure against displacement by building and buying affordable housing (maybe through community land trusts) while the property’s relatively cheap. Third, we should try to see “transience” neither as a person’s moral failing nor as a threat to property values, but instead as the failure of a system to provide stable, decent, and affordable housing.
Scott Shaffer

About Scott Shaffer

Scott Shaffer works for a nonprofit community development corporation in Minneapolis. He has a master's degree in urban and regional planning from the University of Minnesota. He and his wife live in the Powderhorn Park neighborhood with their daughter and two Siamese cats.