Internet Explorer 11 is not supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Affordable Housing Leads to Smarter Kids

A new study finds a link between how much families spend on housing and children's intellectual ability.

In the world of human services, everything is linked, and one of the main axles around which things connect and spin is stable, affordable housing. If ever there was any doubt about housing's importance, particularly where it relates to the healthy development of kids, a new study erases it.

Looking at how much families spend on housing and then comparing that to a child's intellectual achievement, researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that though how much a family spent "had no affect on a child's physical or social health, when it came to cognitive ability, it was a game changer."

In families that spent more than half their household income on housing, kids' reading and math abilities suffered, according to the study. At the same time, children in families that spent less than 20 percent of their income on housing also suffered cognitively. "It's worse when you pay too little and worse when you pay too much," says study author Sandra J. Newman, a Johns Hopkins professor of policy studies and director of the university's Center on Housing, Neighborhoods and Communities.

This appears in our free Human Services e-newsletter. Not already a subscriber? Click here.

Newman attributes this finding to the fact that families that spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing spend less on things like books, computers and educational outings. Meanwhile, families that don't invest enough in housing are likely living in rougher, probably more chaotic and challenging neighborhoods, which is not at all conducive to building basic brainpower. "The markedly poor performance of children in families with extremely low housing cost burdens undercuts the housing policy assumption that a lower housing burden is always best," says Newman. "Rather than finding a bargain in a good neighborhood, they're living in low-quality housing with spillover effects on their children's development."

In other words, the sweet spot is right in the 30 percent range, says Newman. "Those families were spending significantly more on educational enrichment." They invested an average of almost $100 or more on their children, which she admits isn't a lot of money but is apparently enough to make a difference.



The report -- which gauged kids' abilities not by standardized academic or IQ tests but by basic cognitive skill tests -- focused on families with incomes at or below 200 percent of the poverty level.

None of its findings, of course, ought to be surprising to anyone: In order to learn, kids need nutritional food, a stable home environment, a decent night's sleep and an adequate cash flow for school supplies. Given that, the study's assertion that what families spend on housing had "no effect on a child's physical or social health" seems misguided. Maybe not directly, but as stated at the beginning, everything in the human services world is connected to everything else.

A Senior Editor of Governing, Jonathan has been covering state and local public policy and administration for more than 30 years.
Special Projects
Sponsored Stories
Sponsored
In recent years, local governments have been forced to adapt to a wildly changing world, especially as it pertains to sending bills and collecting payments.
Sponsored
Workplace safety is in the spotlight as government leaders adapt to a prolonged pandemic.
Sponsored
While government employees, students and the general public had to wait in line for hours in the beginning of the pandemic, at-home test kits make it easy to diagnose for the novel coronavirus in less than 30 minutes.
Sponsored
Governments around the nation are working to design the best vaccine policies that keep both their employees and their residents safe. Although the latest data shows a variety of polarizing perspectives, there are clear emerging best practices that leading governments are following to put trust first: creating policies that are flexible and provide a range of options, and being in tune with the needs and sentiments of their employees so that they are able to be dynamic and accommodate the rapidly changing situation.
Sponsored
Service delivery and the individual experience within health and human services (HHS) is often very siloed and fragmented.
Sponsored
In this episode, Marianne Steger explains why health care for Pre-Medicare retirees and active employees just got easier.
Sponsored
Government organizations around the world are experiencing the consequences of plagiarism firsthand. A simple mistake can lead to loss of reputation, loss of trust and even lawsuits. It’s important to avoid plagiarism at all costs, and government organizations are held to a particularly high standard. Fortunately, technological solutions such as iThenticate allow government organizations to avoid instances of text plagiarism in an efficient manner.
Sponsored
Creating meaningful citizen experiences in a post-COVID world requires embracing digital initiatives like secure and ethical data sharing, artificial intelligence and more.
Sponsored
GHD identified four themes critical for municipalities to address to reach net-zero by 2050. Will you be ready?