Housing Choice, Transportation Equity, and Access to Opportunities in Refugee and Immigrant Communities

Diane Mitschke, University of Texas at Arlington



Mobility directly impacts access to opportunities for all protected classes; however, transportation planning and public transit agencies and housing authorities rarely coordinate affordable housing and the transportation system planning decisions. This lack of coordination often leads to mismatches between access to opportunities and affordable housing. Safe access to employment, quality schools, and health care represent a few of the many factors that may influence housing choice. For most households with budget constraints, all of these factors may not be achievable and the transportation system directly impacts access to these desirable features. While existing research documents the mismatch between affordable housing and access to opportunities, the role that mobility plays in residential selection and the possible transportation barriers in access to essential services remains under investigated. The study investigates two key research objectives. The first objective investigates the role that a household’s primary and secondary mobility (i.e. using auto, public transit, social network, walking, etc. to access activities) plays in the housing location choice of immigrants and refugees. The second objective examines the relationships between English language proficiency, age, employment status, household income, and length of stay in the U.S. to housing choice and transportation access. The study investigates the importance of community cohesion and other social structures in the decision-making process, thereby providing greater clarification of the burdens encountered by immigrants, refugees, and other protected classes when affordable housing and the transportation system planning remain uncoordinated and fail to address the needs of transportation disadvantaged households. Our qualitative study will be conducted in Dallas County, Texas, where almost one quarter of the 2.6 million population were born outside the United States. We will identify, with the assistance of community partners that serve immigrants and refugees, study participants who are planning to move and those who have recently moved from their initial residence following their arrival in Dallas County, to a residence they have considered and selected. We will collect qualitative data about the factors and values that drove transition decisions such as transit options, housing costs, proximity to health and mental health care, safe neighborhoods, access to quality education, employment proximity, community cohesion or distance, among others. Additionally, we will create an integrated access to opportunities index, or score using established indicators across these and other factors, and using GIS we will compare the index values for participants’ initial and current residences. We will then examine the relationship between the qualitative data that we collect around values that drove housing transitions and the actual index values for initial and current residences to identify the degree to which these align.  Understanding the factors that influence housing choice and how these factors relate to the accessibility and use of transportation for foreign born residents is an essential step in moving toward transportation equity. This study’s results will lead to the development of key policy recommendations that promote the coordination of transportation planning and housing choice, ultimately resulting in improved access to essential services for immigrants and refugees in Dallas County, Texas. The proposed study’s aims are in direct alignment with NITC’s theme to improve the mobility of people to build strong communities and may also have wider planning and service delivery implications for other environmental justice populations such as people living in poverty and people transitioning out of homelessness.

Project Details

Project Type:
Project Status:
End Date:
June 30,2023
UTC Grant Cycle:
NITC 16 Round 5
UTC Funding: