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Investing in Children Through Affordable Housing

15 July 2014

Christina Rubenstein, Partnership for Strong Communities Deputy Policy Director

A new study shows that cognitive development for children suffers when families living at or below 200% of the poverty line spend significantly more or less than 30% of their income on housing.

In a separate study, the same researchers showed that households that pay around 30% of income for housing were able to spend more on enrichment activities for children compared to those who spend significantly more or less for housing. 

The research adds to a growing body of knowledge that shows that affordable housing is vitally important to children and that growing up in opportunity-rich areas can forever change a child’s future.

Unfortunately, too many children grow up wondering where their next meal will come from, or if they’ll be moving again, or if they’ll have a home to go to after school. Too many families are locked into neighborhoods with high concentrations of poverty and schools with inadequate resources. 

Previous studies have shown us that when low-income families get the chance to live in affordable housing in mixed-income communities, their children spend more time studying and have access to higher quality schools (Mount Laurel, NJ study),  and their academic performance improves (Montgomery County, MD study).

But we knew this already. Those of us with the means have always chosen to live in communities with quality schools and resources for our kids. Place, community, schools, housing – they all matter.

This latest research shows us that math and reading test scores were higher for children in low-income families that spent around 30% of their income on housing compared to those spending much more or much less. The researchers speculate that families spending significantly more than 30% of their income for housing have little left over to invest in items like books, computers or enrichment activities for their children. Likewise, their analysis finds that families paying significantly less than 30% of their income on housing are likely to be living in inadequate housing in low-opportunity neighborhoods.

It’s not hard to imagine that children living in households that struggle to pay the rent each month internalize stress and perform worse in school. It can be hard to concentrate on your schoolwork when you don’t have the security of home, or when your mom has to work the late shift and no one can explain the directions on your homework assignment. Or when your belly is grumbling and there’s no money for more food.

That’s why it’s so important to continue to invest in affordable housing options, particularly for low-income households who are paying more than 30% of their income for a place to call home.  For them and for us, affordable housing is an investment in the future.

To learn more:
Housing Affordability and Child Well-Being” by Sandra J. Newman and C. Scott Holupka 
Housing affordability and investments in children” by Sandra J. Newman and C. Scott Holupka
National Low Income Housing Coalition summary of the two Newman/Holupka studies
Also, check out the various research briefs available from the MacArthur Foundation’s How Housing Matters initiative


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