Bristol Redevelopment & Housing Authority

Bristol Redevelopment & Housing Authority

Housing Policy Debate: “Why Low-Income Households Become Unstably Housed………”

An article by Seungbeom Kang in Housing Policy Debate, “Why Low-Income Households Become Unstably Housed: Evidence From the Panel Study of Income Dynamics,” identified income and job insecurity, lack of car ownership, and the presence of children in a household as household-level factors correlated with housing instability. These factors, when combined with an increasing housing cost burden, leave households more vulnerable to housing instability.

Housing instability is broadly defined as housing circumstances in which households do not have sufficient control over their residential environment and can include experiences of involuntary residential moves, exposure to precarious housing conditions, severe housing cost burdens, and living in overcrowded or doubled-up housing. Housing instability can negatively impact educational and job performance, physical and mental health, social relationships, and subjective well-being.

For the study, housing instability was operationally defined one of two ways: 1) residential churning in which households move as a response to housing-related problems, gain little by moving due to a lack of stable housing options, and have housing-related problems after moving, or 2) nonprogressive residential mobility in which a household moves for one of three reasons: becoming homeless, responding to outside events (demolition, eviction, health problems, divorce, or other involuntary events), or seeking lower rents or space.

Using a nationally representative sample of 2,363 individuals from low-income households in the Panel Study of Income Dynamics to estimate the effect of household-level predictors on housing instability over time, Mr. Kang found that a growing housing cost burden significantly increased the likelihood of housing instability, especially among women. Moreover, households with increasing cost burdens were more likely to experience housing instability when they also experienced an absence of an income source or lacked secure employment. Living with additional adult family members appeared to help households avoid housing instability only in the short term, while living with additional adult nonfamily members appeared to increase the risk of housing instability if the arrangement persisted over a longer period of time. Households with children were more likely to experience housing instability. Finally, households were less likely to experience housing instability if they owned a car.

While housing cost burdens were a significant factor in increasing the likelihood of housing instability, the absence of secure employment, lack of car ownership, and presence of children put households at an even higher risk of housing instability. Identifying these risk factors is essential in order to develop specific interventions for preventing housing instability.


“Why Low-Income Households Become Unstably Housed: Evidence From the Panel Study of Income Dynamics” is available at:


Seungbeom Kang is a PhD candidate in the City and Regional Planning program at The Ohio State University. His research interests include housing instability, affordable housing policies, residential mobility, and urban poverty. He has a master’s degree from Yonsei University in Korea.