Housing and Schools: How Educators Can Help Students

Quick! Do housing and land use policies come to mind when you think about what’s necessary for all students to learn to their fullest potential? If you’re like most people, probably not.

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But housing and land use policies, concludes a new report, have a “significant effect on schools” and can “affect enrollment trends, concentrations of poverty and school diversity, school funding, stability of enrollment vs. ‘churning’ of students, and [the] ability of students to complete their homework and focus during the school day.”

Segregated neighborhoods with large concentrations of poor children generally lead to segregated schools, state the report’s authors, placing greater demands on teachers and schools and diminished local property taxes to pay for these additional needs. Insecure housing and evictions increase children’s stress, affecting their ability to do homework and concentrate in school. Housing instability results in frequent family moves, which in turn lead to harmful churning in elementary school classrooms.

The report, “Housing and Schools: The Importance of Engagement for Educators and Education Advocates,” maintains that housing and community development are often ignored as a strategy to improve schools and neighborhoods.

Jointly produced by the Poverty and Race Research Action Council and the National Education Association, the report points to potential benefits for students when educators and education advocates work together with housing agencies and housing coalitions. Among them:

  • Reducing student turnover by keeping students in the same school attendance zone
  • Providing students with high housing insecurity and at risk of homelessness more stable housing
  • Addressing declining enrollment by bringing more housing for young children into the local school district, and
  • Increasing student diversity in high-income school districts while reducing segregation and poverty concentration in lower-income districts.

Referring to research on the positive academic, social and long-term effects of racially and economically diverse schools, the report cites an example from Richmond, VA, in which local school leaders partnered with local superintendents, school board members, and staff of the local housing authority, city housing department, and the state education department. The collaboration led to a series of recommendations, including the creation of a new governing agency responsible for bridging the school-housing worlds; targeted development resources to revitalize communities surrounding low-performing schools to attract middle-income families to the area; and development of a joint planning process between housing authorities and schools in redevelopment of older public housing communities.

The report concludes by focusing on specific points in state and local housing policy that educators and activists can use to improve outcomes and access for students.