Being a Better Neighbor

Some people believe that good fences make good neighbors, but as a new study shows, it’s actually homeowners who make good neighbors.

Homeowners are more likely to be involved in neighborhood groups than renters, according to researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The study followed 2,215 middle- to low-income people for four years to determine whether there is a causal relationship between homeownership and civic engagement.

Since policy interventions often promote and reward homeownership, researchers sought to understand the social effects of homeownership.

“Within a year of buying the home, we saw a large spike in civic engagement,” says Kim Manturuk, one author of the report, which was published in Urban Affairs Review. This increase (measured by participation in neighborhood groups and informal socializing with neighbors) occurred for new homeowners who, before they purchased homes, were no more or less involved than their fellow renters.

Also, while renters who planned on moving locations were less involved than renters who stayed put, this was not the case for homeowners.

In fact, “homeowners who moved had a jump in civic engagement,” Manturuk says, “so they found it was a way to re-settle... and develop ties in the community.”

As for homeowners who went back to renting, their participation levels fell once they sold their homes.

Results were controlled for other relevant factors, like race, education and gender. Manturuk says the results can be applied to the lower income population at large, since their study group mirrors the demographics of the current population survey.

The researchers hope this new data will encourage policies aimed at foreclosure prevention, because “they can help more than just financially – they can be beneficial on the community level as well,” Manturuk says.