September 3, 2020

Housing Insecurity Caused by Covid-19 Doesn’t Have to Exacerbate Educational Inequities

Little girl virtual learning at a laptop

This blog post was originally published on Housing Matters, an initiative of the Urban Institute.

By: Megan Gallagher, Anne Griffith and Alexa Rosenberg

The coronavirus pandemic threatens housing stability, affordability, and quality, especially for families and children of color. Black and Latinx adults are reporting higher rates of income loss, food insufficiency, and missed rent or mortgage payments.

When families face housing challenges, their children’s education also suffers. Homelessness and housing instability are widely recognized as determinants of student success. Other factors—such as unaffordabilitycrowding, and poor maintenance—can also adversely affect student performance. Housing insecurity affects learning from early childhood through college.

Our new brief summarizes evidence on this relationship and explores how housing and education systems reinforce inequity. But examples from local initiatives also show it doesn’t have to be this way.

Three Ways Local Housing and Education Partnerships Work

Communities across the country are using strategies that tackle housing and education challenges jointly. Our research focused on 10 such initiatives that varied in scale, populations served, and types of partners involved. Three strategies emerged across the local initiatives:

  1. Streamline access to housing and education support. Housing and education systems are complex and vary by location, making it difficult for families to get needed resources. Bringing School Home in Boulder, Colorado, and Impact KCK in Kansas City, Kansas, both offer a single point of service for families to access housing assistance, social services, and education supports. The Early Childhood Initiative in Akron, Ohio, brings early childhood education services to public- and assisted-housing residents, providing home visitation and in-home learning programs to families with infants and toddlers.
  2. Reduce trade-offs between housing costs and high-quality education. Many families make difficult trade-offs when it comes to housing and education, often sacrificing one for the other. The College Housing Assistance Program in Tacoma, Washington, reduces housing costs near the community college campus so students can live closer to school while pursuing their postsecondary degrees. Several of the partnerships—including Minnesota’s Homework Starts with Home initiative—provide subsidies to stabilize homeless students and students with unstable housing.
  3. Help housing providers own their role in educational opportunity. Many housing providers fail to recognize their role in helping or hindering student success. Star-C educates private landlords on the relationship between stable housing and academic success and offers after-school programming in large apartment communities in Atlanta, Georgia. HousED helps housing providers in California identify high-quality services to offer in their communities outside of school hours. The Field Center encourages postsecondary institutions to support young people currently and previously in foster care, including through leveraging on-campus housing to improve their stability.

How Partnerships Are Responding to Covid-19

Local initiatives are now stepping in to address the widening and deepening challenges caused by the pandemic. In April, they were taking new steps to stabilize housing and promote learning:

  1. In Akron, the Early Childhood Initiative replaced in-person home visits with virtual home visits. Families without internet were provided with free WiFi hotspots. Families who did not agree to participate in virtual visits still received weekly phone calls or texts to ensure their basic needs were being met and to connect them with services.
  2. The Tacoma Housing Authority’s Education Project (PDF), which includes the College Housing Assistance Program, coordinated with local schools for district-sponsored food deliveries to housing authority communities, offered reduced rents to subsidized tenants who lost income because of the pandemic, and suspended time limits on housing assistance until December 1, 2020.
  3. In Pennsylvania, the Field Center collaborated on a pandemic resource guide for postsecondary students experiencing homelessness or who are currently or were previously in foster care. The resource guide educates students and their postsecondary institutions about housing, services, and supports during the pandemic.  

But efforts like these are not common enough, and they do not serve enough families. This toolkit, developed by Enterprise Community Partners in partnership with StriveTogether, provides concrete steps to launch new partnerships, scale up existing collaborations, and transform systems that produce or reinforce inequities.

Our research underscores the importance of housing security for education. The Covid-19 pandemic will deepen and expand housing insecurity and its damaging effects on education unless housing and education partners take action. The time is now.

Photo by Aleksandra Suzi/Shutterstock

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