Housing & Community Environment
Housing Stability Plays a Key Role in Individual Health and Well Being
Stable safe housing environments provides a place for parents and caregivers to encourage nurturing environments and is key for young children to thrive. Strategies for improving services for young children experiencing homelessness will vary because each of the different funding streams for early childhood education is governed by different laws and regulations. Two of the major federal programs serving young children, Head Start and the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF), are administered by ACF.
Families struggling to pay rent each month can have a negative effect on adult's and children's health. Researchers examined the housing status of more than 22,000 low-income renter families over a 5 ½-year period. Specifically, they asked caregivers questions about their family's housing stability: have they ever experienced homelessness, multiple moves or being behind on rent. The February 2018 Pediatrics study, "Unstable Housing and Caregiver and Child Health in Renter Families," found that one out of every three low-income renter households experienced at least one form of housing instability, with falling behind on rent being the most common issue. Results showed that 27 percent of low-income renters experienced falling behind on rent, 12 percent had a history of homelessness, and 8 percent experienced multiple moves.
Researchers noted however, that there is little overlap between these experiences, with 86 percent of the renters reporting only one adverse housing circumstance. Families who experience unstable housing situations have increased odds of poor caregiver and child health, and they also experience higher rates of child food insecurity as well. Researchers suggest including questions designed to identify housing instability in health screenings so families most at risk among low-income renter households can be offered interventions to help them establish more stable household environments.
Housing: Both stable housing and quality housing are important social determinants, particularly for children, for both health- and school-related outcomes. Affordable, stable housing in a safe, supportive neighborhood is an important part of family well-being (Swick & Williams, 2006). Families experiencing homelessness report a loss of parental control, and are more likely to experience domestic or community violence and an increase in fear and anxiety (Swick & Williams, 2010, 2006). Housing instability is associated with less family engagement in children’s early school-related activities and poor early school attendance. Children who experience homelessness during their infancy, toddler, or preschool years tend to have poorer early academic outcomes overall (Fantuzzo et al., 2013).
Housing Opportunities: States can choose to use the U.S. Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) money to purchase properties in low poverty neighborhoods and lease them to low income families at lower rent.1 Alternatively, states can use Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher funds and condition their use to rentals in low poverty neighborhoods, while at the same time coupling them with measures that prevent discriminating against Section 8 voucher holders.1 Assisted housing mobility through these programs enables families from high poverty neighborhoods to relocate to more stable, better resourced, and safer communities while saving on rent. These savings can be used for other necessities.
Neighborhoods: Neighborhood security contributes to family safety. Neighborhoods that are physically safe have resources that support family activities, promote health, and support community connections, such as parks, sidewalks or walking paths, libraries, and community centers (Kenney, 2012; Kingston, Huang, Calzada, Dawson-McClure, & Brotman, 2013). Neighborhood safety can foster important social opportunities for young children to:
• learn social customs,
• develop a sense of confidence in their communities,
• build interpersonal relationships
Unsafe neighborhoods tend to have inadequate physical infrastructure, more limited community resources, and offer fewer opportunities for family outings and play with peers.
1. United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. (2016). Community development block grant program (CDBG) and section 8 housing voucher program. Washington, DC. More information is available at www.hud.gov.