Hope Harvey: Forever Homes and Temporary Stops: Housing Search Logics and Residential Selection

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photo / Daria Shevtsova from Pexels

Hope Harvey is a postdoctoral associate in the Department of Policy Analysis and Management at Cornell University. She completed her Ph.D. in sociology and social policy at Harvard University. She studies questions related to poverty, family and household complexity, and housing and residential decision-making. Her main line of research examines the experiences of families with children who live in doubled-up or shared households and the consequences of these arrangements.


Residential selection is central in determining children’s housing, neighborhood, and school contexts, and an extensive literature considers the social processes that shape residential searches and attainment. While this literature typically frames the residential search as a uniform process-oriented around finding residential options with desired characteristics, we examine whether individuals may differentially conceive of these searches in ways that sustain inequality in residential attainment.

Drawing on repeated, in-depth interviews with a stratified random sample of 156 households with young children in two metropolitan counties, we find that parents exhibit distinct residential search logics, informed by the constraints they face. Higher-income families usually engage in purposive searches oriented around their residential preferences. They search for "forever homes" that will meet their families' needs for years to come.

In contrast, low-income parents typically draw on a logic of deferral. While they hope to eventually search for a home with the unit, neighborhood, and school characteristics they desire, aspirations for homeownership lead them to conceive of their moves (which are often between rental units) as temporary stops, which justifies accepting homes that are inconsistent with their long-term preferences. In addition, because they are often pushed to move by negative circumstances, they focus on their immediate housing needs and, in the most extreme cases, adopt an "anywhere but here" approach. These logics constitute an unexamined mechanism through which economic resources shape residential searches and ultimate attainment.

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