Poor-quality Housing Is Tied to Children’s Emotional and Behavioral Problems

June 16, 2014

Imagine coming home to exposed wiring, peeling lead paint, rats, roaches, a leaking roof, or broken windows. Imagine it’s the middle of winter and your heater doesn’t work. Imagine you must choose between paying rent and buying food or medical care. And finally, imagine raising a family in these conditions.

Unfortunately, for many families in high-poverty communities, this is their housing reality. Beyond the obvious physical and health risks, living in poor-quality, dangerous housing has a significant impact on young people’s emotional state, behavior, and academic performance. The MacArthur Foundation’s How Housing Matters research initiative highlights how a healthy, stable home is crucial for children, teens, and adults.

Children and teens living in such housing conditions are more likely to experience symptoms of depression and anxiety, engage in negative behaviors—like stealing, lying, and general aggressiveness—and have lower reading and math scores on standardized tests compared to peers living in better-quality, more stable housing.

Families living in these conditions also tend to move frequently in a near-constant search for a more affordable, safer place to live. This residential instability makes it difficult for children and teens to maintain lasting friendships and consistency in academic work, leading to other behavioral and social challenges.

MacArthur researchers attribute many of these outcomes to the effect poor housing has on parenting. Living in unsafe, unhealthy conditions also increases parental stress, which can lead to parental depression, anxiety, and less stable family routines.

This month’s Spotlight Program, Claretian Associates, has transformed dilapidated buildings and vacant lots into new multi-family apartments, for-sale single-family houses, and green, open spaces in South Chicago since 1991. They have given thousands of children, teens, and adults the chance to thrive in affordable, safe, stable, and well-maintained homes.

Programs like this can work in partnership with other tCI programs like Holy Cross’ Parenting Program to make sure parents are equipped to deal with any issues their children might be dealing with whether it’s because of poor housing, community violence, or poverty.

Read more about housing from the MacArthur Foundation.

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