The connections between housing and education are no secret at this point.
Earlier this week, New York media outlets including the NYT noted that homeless children have higher absentee rates because they’re trying to travel to schools that aren’t close to the shelters to which they’ve been assigned.
A recent Washington Post article noted “the remarkable thing that happens to poor kids when you help their parents with rent. Researchers speculate that parents who don’t have to worry about paying private-sector rents “might have more time to spend on their children — helping them with their homework, keeping them out of trouble and guiding them to a more successful adulthood.”
Even years after the Great Recession, districts like Sacramento are seeing spikes in homeless children.
Matthew Desmond’s much-discussed book, Evicted, makes the connection all too clear. Desmond was recently named to Politico’s 50. As you may recall, I wrote about Desmond last month.
In a recent Housing Matters interview, Desmond described the impact of evictions this way: “People lose their communities. Kids lose their schools…They move into neighborhoods with higher crime rates. They also relocate to housing that has more housing problems.”
In The Atlantic, Desmond notes “We value fairness in this country. We value equal opportunity. Without a stable home, those ideals really fall apart. Without the ability to plant roots and invest in your community or your school… eviction becomes something of an inevitability to you.”
In a recent phone interview, Desmond emphasized the housing-school connections in his work. The relationship between housing and education is “huge for me,” said Desmond, and keeps coming up on his book tour.
“I remember I was in Phoenix a few months ago and a teacher stood up and told me that 40 percent of her students who start the year with her will not be there the last week of school. She said, ‘Before reading your book, I never knew why.’”
It's not that poor families want to move as much as they end up moving. These families would love to keep their children in the same school, but are often unable to do so. Poor families spending well north of 50 percent of their income on rent are vulnerable to eviction, which requires them to move suddenly even if it’s the middle of the school year.
This level of churn is far from desirable. “If we want more family and school stability, we need a lot fewer evictions,” said Desmond.
Making matters worse, evicted families generally move into worse neighborhoods and worse housing, which generally have lower-performing schools.
In between between evictions, children from poor families live in overcrowded conditions that have direct effects on their ability to do well in school. One of the families Desmond profiled in his book was far too crowded and noisy to allow children to do homework, he recalled.
Of course, high housing costs are also affecting teachers directly, making it difficult for them to afford housing in some places.
Desmond also reports that some middle and high school teachers are teaching the book as part of units on poverty and homelessness. “I’ve been thrilled to hear from high school students around the country that have read the book,” he said. “It’s been a pleasant surprise.”
And the impact on parents’ ability to support their children’s school success should not be underestimated, according to Desmond. “We have to come to terms with all the bandwidth that this crisis is sucking out of parents minds,” he said. “If I was a mom spending 80 percent of income on rent, facing inevitable eviction, I don’t think I’d have that extra brainpower to think about school lotteries or magnets schools.”