To Improve Lives and Expand Opportunities, Recognize the Power of Housing

How Housing Matters

Housing is at the epicenter of all opportunities and outcomes. It is the first rung on the ladder to economic opportunity, and a person’s access to opportunity is linked with that of their community. From health, to economic mobility, to educational opportunity, to racial equity, and beyond, housing shapes families and communities.

Better housing equals better health

Even before we are born, housing status begins to affect our health. Living near the pollution of a congested highway toll plaza is associated with lower birth weight and more premature births than living farther from idling vehicles. As young children, living in or near substandard housing contributes to developmental delays by age 2 and poor health by age 6. Meanwhile, poor-quality housing can exacerbate children’s depressive or aggressive behavior, and further research found that children whose households receive housing assistance have lower levels of lead in their blood than nonassisted children in low-income families. Into adulthood, unhealthy housing drives anxiety, displacement from gentrifying areas is associated with increased hospitalizations, and residential exposure to air pollution has been linked to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases and premature death.

Housing opportunities lead to educational opportunities

Safe, stable, and affordable housing sets children up for academic success—reducing absences and improving task persistence. But housing also establishes which schools a child may attend. In a district with neighborhood school assignment, housing policies opened the door to lower-poverty schools for children in public housing and narrowed the achievement gaps in math and language. But most families with rental assistance remain locked out of neighborhoods with higher-performing schools. School reputation drives up housing costs nearby, and, without policy support for economic inclusion, housing costs limit neighborhood access. One study found that in California’s Fremont Unified School District, an increase in the quality of elementary, middle, and high schools increased the price of an average house by 20 percent—a markup equivalent to the price of a private education. Other research found that homebuyers paid more for a home during the housing bubble when school quality motivated the purchase. Urban planners, policymakers, local governments, and school districts must recognize the effects of schools on residential segregation to ensure educational equity—and the potential for housing policies to disrupt that connection.

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