Research Notes: Apartment Residents as Citizens and Neighbors
Date: June 25, 1999

Contact Name: Mark Obrinsky
Contact Phone: 202/974-2329
Contact E-mail: mobrinsky@nmhc.org

National Data Counter Perceptions
Apartment residents do not always get the credit they deserve as good neighbors and full participants in their local communities. Advocates of homeownership often allude to the greater community involvement that ownership is alleged to promote. But the reality is that the differences in involvement of apartment residents and house owners are typically small and often not statistically significant. This issue of Research Notes presents evidence that, compared to house owners, apartment residents are more socially engaged, equally involved in community groups, and similarly attached to their communities and religious institutions. Apartment residents are also comparably interested in national affairs and active in local politics.

Data used in this study are from the General Social Survey (GSS), a nationally representative household survey conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. More information about the data is provided in the technical notes at the end.

Interaction with Neighbors
The most immediate and personal form of community involvement is socializing with one. s neighbors, which is captured in the GSS question identified below. By this measure, apartment residents are twice as neighborly as are house owners.

"How often do you spend a social evening with
someone who lives in your neighborhood?"

 

"At least once a week "

Apartment residents

32.7% *

House owners

16.5%  

Total population

22.4%  

* Asterisks indicate apartment percentages that are significantly different from house owners. at the 95% confidence level.

Involvement in Community Groups
As for structured social activities, apartment residents are not significantly different from others in participation:

"Are you a member of a literary, art, discussion, or study group?"

 

"Yes"

Apartment residents

10.3%

House owners

10.8%

Total population

10.1%

 

"Are you a member of a sports group?"

 

"Yes"

Apartment residents

21.8%

House owners

21.8%

Total population

20.4%

Church Attendance
Religious institutions are important focal points for social and charitable activities. Nearly half of all apartment residents attend religious services at least once a month, and slightly over half of all house owners do so.

"How often do you attend religious services?"

 

"At least once a month"

Apartment residents

44.0% *

House owners

54.7%  

Total population

49.5% 

 Identification with Town and Neighborhood
The majority of apartment residents identify closely with their town or city of residence. The percentage of apartment residents expressing a close bond matches the national average.

"How close do you feel to your town or city?"

 

"Very close" or "Close"

Apartment residents

60.3%

House owners

64.1%

Total population

59.2%

In addition to their attachment to their town, nearly half of all apartment residents identify closely with their neighborhood.

"How close do you feel toward your neighborhood?"

 

"Very close" or "Close"

Apartment residents

45.5% *

House owners

65.2% 

Total population

56.3% 

Involvement in Politics
Apartment residents are also tuned into the political scene.

"How interested are you in politics and national affairs? Are you very interested, somewhat interested, only slightly interested, or not at all interested?"

 

"Very interested" or
"Somewhat interested"

Apartment residents

65.9%

House owners

70.4%

Total population

65.3%

One place where apartment residents could help themselves is at the local ballot box. Although nearly half of all apartment residents report that they usually participate in local elections, they are significantly outvoted by house owners.

"What about local elections? Do you always vote in those, do you sometimes miss one, or do you rarely vote, or do you never vote?"

 

"Always vote" or
"Sometimes miss one"

Apartment residents

47.1% *

House owners

77.9% 

Total population

67.7% 

Interpreting the Evidence
No one even blinks when a politician or other public figure says something like "We all know that homeownership is good for communities." But the implication is that apartment renting is bad for those communities. How is that? Where is the evidence?

Misperceptions about the participation of apartment residents in their communities contribute to land use decisions and tax policies that disadvantage both apartment residents and property owners. All too often, the debate takes on a tone of "we" homeowners versus "those" apartment renters. Previously reported research (in NMHC Research Notes of December 1998) documented that, compared to house owners, apartment residents face a higher property tax rate even though they make fewer claims on schools, roads, and other local infrastructure. The statistics here document that, in addition to their fiscal contributions, many apartment residents are far more involved in their local community than are their house owning neighbors.

Social scientists have studied the correlation between housing type and various social indicators. That research has looked at residents. age, housing location, and other variables that might influence the observed relationship. Some of those studies use the same data set as used here. As research continues, it is important not to lose sight of the straightforward descriptive evidence indicating that apartment residents are good neighbors and involved citizens.

Technical notes: These statistics are NMHC tabulations from the General Social Survey (GSS), a national household interview survey conducted since 1972 by the National Opinion Research Center. Statistics shown here are based on the seven fieldings of the survey between 1987 and1996 and reflect 930 to 8,958 sample respondents, depending on the question. Not all questions were asked in all years. More information about the GSS is available at www.norc.uchicago.edu . "Apartment residents" are defined as renters of units in structures with at least 5 apartments. "House owners" are owner-occupants of single-family detached houses. "Total population" includes households not shown separately, such as renters of houses.




A copy of the computer code used to generate these tabulations is available upon request by contacting Mark Obrinsky, NMHC's Vice President of Research and Chief Economist, at (202) 974-2329 or via e-mail at mobrinsky@nmhc.org.

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