Why are Neighborhood Characteristics Important?

Percent of Households Living Below Poverty

Areas of concentrated poverty are defined as census tracts where 40% or more of the population lives below the federal poverty line1. A main goal of housing choice vouchers is to deconcentrate poverty and allow low-income families to move into higher opportunity neighborhoods. Higher opportunity neighborhoods can provide more resources, such as higher quality schools, lower levels of crime, and access to better jobs2. Overlaying the percent of housing choice vouchers who live in a census tract with the percentage of households living below the poverty line in that census tract is a step toward understanding whether voucher holders move away from areas of concentrated poverty.

Median Household Income

Median household income is the income level earned by a household where half of the households in that census tract earn less, and half earn more. Median household income is a more accurate measure of an area’s income level than average household income, since the average household income is more affected by very high and very low values. The median household income of a census tract can be a measure of the resources available to households, as well as being closely tied to employment levels, educational attainment, and economic opportunities3.

Population Density

Population density is a measure used to compare settlement intensity across census tracts, calculated as the number of people per square mile of land area4. Population density is greater in more crowded areas. A moderate increase in population density can sometimes cause an increased investment into community resources, creating new amenities and improved infrastructure. However, high levels of population density can be a sign of increased crowding in schools, increased traffic, and increased crime rates. Higher population density can also be correlated with more high density housing, as neighborhoods with single-family homes generally have lower population densities than areas with many apartments5. Since homeownership is a marker of economic opportunity, this feature is important to track.

Mean Rent of a Two Bedroom Apartment

Residents who do not use their voucher toward payments for a house use it to subsidize their rent payments. The cost of rent is affected by a multitude of factors, but significant increases in rents can reflect the state of the housing market. In Durham, average rent has risen from $1,188 to $1,307 in two years (from July 2019 to June 2021)6. These changes also reflect a rise in the cost of living.


1Basic Facts on Concentrated Poverty


3Median Household Income

4Understanding Population Density

5Myths & Facts About Affordable & High Density Housing

6Rental Market Trends