Affordable Housing Matters for Kids

August 17, 2016
An issue brief on the consequences of poverty

Can you imagine choosing between paying the rent and buying groceries or other essentials? For too many in our country this is a real problem. In order for housing to be affordable, most experts agree it should cost no more than a third of a family’s income. Yet over 20 million households are spending more than half of their income on the place they call home. For low income families, spending too much on the rent or mortgage means having to make big cuts in other parts of the budget—like food, healthcare, or education.

Those cuts can have serious consequences for kids, according to one recent study. When a household spends more than half its income on housing, children in the family end up having lower reading and math scores, researchers at Johns Hopkins University found. Their conclusions matched up neatly with conventional wisdom; the families they studied who spent about 30% of their income on housing also had the children with the best academic outcomes.

What causes this drop in test scores? Researchers explained that when families are too heavily burdened by the cost of their housing, they are forced to spend less on things like computers, books, and museum trips that help kids develop intellectually. Struggling at school puts kids at greater risk of eventually dropping out, which can lead to a host of other problems. But there is some good news. The study found that when these families were able to reduce their housing costs to about 30% of their income, they did indeed spend more on educational items for their children.

Interestingly, families that paid less than 20% of their income towards housing also had worse results when it came to kid’s test scores. Researchers theorized that this was because these families were living in low-quality housing in need of repairs, which has been shown to have a negative impact on kids’ development

Claretian Associates, this month’s spotlight program, works to help families who are spending too much on rent or living in dangerous conditions by developing and maintaining good quality affordable housing in South Chicago. Consider a donation to Claretian Associates in order to ensure that fewer families have to sacrifice their children’s wellbeing in order to pay the rent.

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