Musical Chairs: When The Chairs Are Homes, No Fun When The Music Stops

13 pre-schoolers and 4 Marines play musical chairs (presumably there are 16 chairs in play just now).
Nursery school students play musical chairs with a handful of soldiers from the US Marine Corps as teachers look on. Who has the advantage here?

How close is your bum to a seat when the music stops? Musical chairs is all about a lack of choice — shared by all the contestants in the game. Should you hover close to this chair? Point your derrière at that one? Delay your musical march and get shoved along by the next contestant. Chance is the only means of survival in this parlour game.

If lack of choice is a great equalizer in the musical chairs, it’s pretty much the opposite in the life game of musical shelters. The luxury of choice in how, where and why you choose shelter depends entirely upon having resources: time to consider your options, and money to make your choices possible.

For the poorest with the fewest resources, continued survival for you or your family usually depends on grabbing whatever is available. Choosing the best schools in neighbourhoods with the most social and educational resources? When you have minimum time to find a new place to call home and face the very real possibility of homelessness, you focus on the most urgent issues. Schooling decisions have to take a back seat.

For those with the lowest incomes, forced by one calamity or another to uproot and move home, musical shelter is a game with temporary reprieves.

Stefanie DeLuca and Christine Jang‐Trettien have studied the experience of 1,200 people over 17 years in five US communities, exploring the decisions that people make when they move. People with limited incomes are less likely than their wealthy peers to move by choice. Faced with compressed timelines, decisions focus on a narrower set of priorities that can be achieved with very limited resources.

The article also reports results from pilot projects where supports are provided for people with housing choice vouchers. The supports help them find and move to their next home. With the supports, parents are integrating schooling considerations when searching and finding their next home and in subsequent housing searches.

There’s a nice summary of DeLuca and Jang-Trettien’s article “Not Just a Lateral Move” in Mirage: Poor Families Must Move Often, But Rarely Escape Concentrated Poverty

Their full article is in City and Community, which is a “by subscription” journal. Here’s the link: “Not Just a Lateral Move”: Residential Decisions and the Reproduction of Urban Inequality

People who want more information about this interesting research approach and its findings are invited to contact Stefanie DeLuca at sdeluca@jhu.edu