As children head back to school this fall, millions of families are worried not only about homework and tests, but also about where they will live or how they will pay the rent. When families have trouble finding safe, stable, affordable housing, children’s school performance can be adversely affected. What do we know about the links between affordable and stable housing and educational outcomes?
Affordable and Stable Housing Can Reduce the Frequency of Disruptive Moves
Moving can help or hinder children’s education depending on the context. If a family moves from a high-poverty neighborhood to a low-poverty neighborhood, children can benefit from attending higher performing schools. However, when a family moves because of unstable housing situations, rising housing costs, or other difficulties, there can be adverse impacts on children’s educational outcomes.
Residential moves often led to interruptions in instruction, excessive absenteeism, chaotic household environments not conducive to studying, stress, and disruptions of peer networks. Research has shown that residential moves—especially moves that are frequent or during key education time periods—can have a significant negative impact on school performance.
Some Housing and Residential Mobility Policies May Help Families Move to Communities with Higher Quality Schools
While frequent moves can have a negative impact on educational achievement, moves to neighborhoods with access to better schools may have a positive impact on school performance. While research on the effectiveness of mobility programs is mixed when it comes to educational outcomes, well-designed programs with a strong counseling component have been shown to be successful. A study of students in Montgomery County, Maryland demonstrated that children in public housing that moved into inclusionary housing units had higher reading and math scores compared to children who did not move.
Strengthening housing mobility programs and implementing well-design housing programs that connect children with good schools are important to helping families and children.
Affordable and Stable Housing Options Can Reduce Overcrowding and Other Sources of Housing-Related Stress
Research has shown that there is an association between overcrowding and reduced academic performance for children. Living in crowded conditions can be stressful and can lead to behavior and attention problems among children. Overcrowding mayreduce parental responsiveness by creating social overload and withdrawal. Overcrowding may increase noise and chaos that interfere with children’s studies. Or the problem could simply be a lack of space to sit down and do homework.
Affordable Housing Can Reduce Homelessness Among Families with Children
Children who experience homelessness face numerous barriers to good educational outcomes, including difficulties accessing preschool and Head Start programs, adverse living conditions that impede cognitive development and study time, and difficulties obtaining personal records for enrollment in public schools. Homelessness can have different long-term effects on children depending on their age at the first episode of homelessness. Research suggests that homelessness is particularly detrimental in the long run for infants and toddlers than for older children.
The results from the research are clear—a lack of stable and affordable housing can be associated with poor school performance. A supportive and stable home environment is a critical complement to the efforts of teachers, principals and other educators who are committed to the academic success children across the country. Let us know if there are ways we can help your community think about how to support children’s education through effective housing policy.