Affordable Housing is Critical to Children’s Development

Housing & Homelessness

The recession continues to have a significant effect for millions of children and families in the United States, and one strong indication of this is the large number of families who struggle to afford housing.

In 2011 46 percent of households with children reported that they struggle to afford housing, or their housing was physically inadequate or overcrowded.

The lack of affordable housing in the U.S. is not only an economic concern for families, but new research finds that it can also negatively affect a child’s development.

A recent study through Johns Hopkins University finds that when a family spends more than half its income on housing, children’s reading and math scores tend to suffer. Children in families who spent too little on housing also suffered, because often they tended to live in housing with poor conditions or in distressed neighborhoods.

One reason for this outcome is that families that spend a lot of their income on housing were unable to spend much on items and activities that helped their child’s development.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development defines housing as affordable when family spends about 30 percent or less of their income on rental or mortgage payments. The study finds that children families that spent around this percentage on housing had the best outcomes.

Most low-income households are renters, with 11.3 million renter households pay more than half of their incomes on housing. They don’t have much of a choice, because for every 100 extremely low income renter households there are just 31 affordable and available units.

Americans are aware of the lack of affordable housing, and they are concerned – in a recent national survey, a majority of Americans think their state and local governments should do more to ensure communities have enough affordable housing.

There are many other potential negative outcomes for children in families that struggle to afford shelter. Too many find themselves homeless – either living in an emergency shelter, in a motel, or doubled-up in another household.

In order to prevent homelessness and improve the development and well-being of children living in families who struggle to afford housing, First Focus is working to advocate for federal policies that would increase the amount of quality, affordable housing in the U.S. as well as increase the amount of income that families have to spent on housing and other resources.