Thursday, April 30, 2015

How housing supports the well-being of children

Developing solutions through research 
by Lisa Sturtevant, Ph.D.

Housing, which includes the neighborhood we live in and the quality of the home environment we create, touches everyones life and has a big impact in particular on the lives of children. Many of our family milestones and celebrations are centered around home. Memories from our childhood often are set in the house or neighborhood in which we grew up. Parents strive to provide a safe and nurturing environment for their children. NHC's Center for Housing Policy has recently completed research that highlights the importance of safe, stable and affordable homes to the well-being of our nations children.

Millions of households, including many with children, continue to face staggering affordability challenges. The Centers Housing Landscape 2015 shows that 9.6 million low- and moderate-income working U.S. households spend more than half of their income on housing each month, which means for many families there is not always enough left over to provide adequately for a safe and stable home environment for their children.

A growing body of evidence has established a critical link between stable and affordable housing and a childs educational achievement. Last fall, the Center released a report summarizing the key research linking housing and education, finding that frequent moves, overcrowded housing, poor quality housing and unsafe neighborhoods all adversely impact childrens educational opportunities and outcomes. A case study prepared for the MacArthur Foundations How Housing Matters Conference highlights how housing authorities can partner with public schools to offer affordable housing and promote school quality and academic achievement. In our work on Internet connectivity, a new research brief describes the disparities in home internet access between low-income and higher-income families and the implications for children whose schoolwork is increasingly moving online.   

Housing is also a key social determinant of childrens mental and physical health. Our newest research review summarizes what the most current research says about how affordable housing leads to better health outcomes for children (and adults) by freeing up resources for nutritious food and health care, providing greater stability which reduces stress and provides a platform for the delivery of health care services. Well-maintained housing in amenity-rich neighborhoods also reduces childrens exposure to health hazards and creates opportunities for health-promoting activities. A case study of Paseo Verde in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania demonstrates how combining affordable housing with on-site health services can support childrens health. This spring, we are working with researchers at Childrens Health Watch to develop a brief describing their latest research on the impact of pre- and post-natal homelessness on childrens health. The research will be highlighted at NHCs policy symposium on June 12 as a way to make the connection between affordable housing policy and childrens health and well-being.

These relationships between housing and childrens well-being are on my mind as I get set to go on maternity leave. Our daughter arrived April 28 and I am grateful to have the chance to spend a little more than two months with her at home. I also know how fortunate we are that we have a safe, stable and affordable place to call home and to begin to create memories and to celebrate milestones. Look for Under One Roof articles from Senior Research Associates Janet Vivieros and Robert Hickey in June and July, and I will be back in August!   

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