Housing policy and public education are two of the most crucial issues that city and state governments deal with. But what policymakers rarely talk about is the link between housing and education. More precisely, the inextricable impact that affordable housing has on the educational trajectory of Texas students.
Research has shown that stable, affordable housing can better a child’s opportunity for academic success. Affordable housing limits the number of disruptive moves a child experiences, reduces stress from overcrowding, and helps families avoid health-related housing hazards. Yet, policymakers in education and those in housing seldom, if ever, overlap.
For example, the City of Austin has separate housing and education committees, and San Antonio’s education oversight is buried within the Community Health and Equity Committee. In Dallas, the Workforce, Education and Equity Committee is completely dissociated from the Housing and Homelessness Solutions Committee. And in Houston, the Housing and Community Affairs Committee is separate from the Economic Development Subcommittee on Education. Examples such as these can be seen in cities throughout Texas and throughout the country.
This needs to change. The two must be linked to ensure a positive trajectory for our Texas children. To improve the outcomes of children in communities across our state and the country, cities need a designated committee made up of representatives from education — the school district, local education nonprofits and neighborhood associations; and housing — city council housing committees, the Board of Realtors and affordable housing advocacy organizations. This committee must meet regularly, like any other subcommittee of the local government, consciously considering the relationship between housing and education, and enacting policies that address and support both.
Research also shows that housing issues such as frequent moves can be detrimental to academic success. Both school and residential moves, for kids in elementary school through high school, lead to interference in instruction, increased absenteeism, and disruption of peer networks and personal relationships.
In 2004-2008, a third of children in public schools in Texas moved at least once between fourth and seventh grades. This change of address can negatively affect a student’s success in school for years. But if cities had committees combining housing and education, this information could be better used to inform policy decisions that promote stability and academic success for students.
Another important piece in the housing-education link is the negative impact overcrowding has on academic success. Studies find that children growing up in overcrowded spaces — that is, with more than two persons per bedroom — have lower reading and math scores, are less likely to graduate, and have greater internal and external behavior problems. Across the country, approximately 3% of middle-income households are crowded, and nearly 6% of households in the most expensive metropolitan areas are crowded. Lower-middle income households experience the greatest overcrowding, 9%, in the most expensive metro areas.
There is also health-related hazards. Substandard living conditions exacerbate health problems such as asthma that can lead to cognitive deficiencies, an inability to concentrate, and increased absenteeism. Approximately 2 million people in the United States live in homes with severe physical problems, and nearly 5 million live in homes with moderate problems. In 2017, almost 7,000 Texas children had elevated blood lead levels, and more than half a million children suffered from asthma — a potentially severe impediment to success in school.
If decision-makers both in education and in affordable housing took these facts to heart, they could come together in collaboration and enact more informed policies that serve to better the lives of the children in their cities.
Cities across the country continue to draw a significant line between those in the education space and those in the affordable housing space. Instead, cities need to better collaborate and create a formal group of representatives from education and housing — say, a Committee on Affordable Housing and Public Education — that is dedicated to the significant, indivisible relationship between housing and education. Ensuring this cross-system collaboration in both arenas can more actively and appropriately propel legislation that improves the lives of all children.
Annika Olson is the assistant director of policy research in the Institute of Urban Policy Research and Analysis at The University of Texas at Austin.
A version of this op-ed appeared in the Houston Chronicle, Austin American Statesman, and the Waco Tribune Herald.