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Episode 7 features Andrew Sperling, Director of Legislative and Policy Advocacy at the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). NAMI is the nation’s leading voice on mental health. Mr. Sperling discusses NAMI’s commitment to housing affordability issues, why NAMI joined the campaign’s Steering Committee, the history of housing and mental illness, the current housing barriers facing those with a mental health condition, and the necessity of stable housing for recovery.
“Without access to decent, safe, affordable housing, all the aspirations we have for recovery and integration in the community just collapse,” explains Mr. Sperling. “For the population I represent, no social determinant of health drives more bad health outcomes than unstable housing.”
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Episode 8 explores the intersections between food security and affordable housing with Alison McIntosh of the Oregon Housing Alliance and Jeff Kleen and Anneliese Koehler with Oregon Food Bank. The Oregon Housing Alliance is one of seven state partners receiving financial support from the national campaign. Oregon Food Bank is a key partner of the Alliance. Alison, Jeff, and Anneliese discuss their multi-sector collaboration to influence better housing policies, including best practices, recent successes, and challenges.
“Very nearly we talk about housing just as much as we talk about hunger,” said Jeff Kleen, public policy associate with Oregon Food Bank. “The people we serve keep telling us it’s housing; it’s rent; it’s having a safe place to call home.”
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State Campaign Events in the Spotlight: Utah Housing Coalition
The Utah Housing Coalition (UHC) hosted its first congressional panel under the banner of Opportunity Starts at Home, focused on the deep intersections between housing, hunger, education, and healthcare in urban and rural Utah. The event engaged residents, local policy experts from several sectors, and bipartisan candidates for Congress.
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Housing Policy is School Policy: The Case of Montgomery County, MD
A study conducted in Montgomery County, Maryland demonstrates that economically inclusive housing policies can dramatically lift the academic performance of low-income students and narrow the achievement gap between them and their more affluent peers.
Montgomery County has one of the strongest and most praised school systems in the country. However, the study’s author, Dr. Heather Schwartz, lays out what is often not known about Montgomery County: that it has operated a large inclusionary housing program for several decades. Developers across the county set-aside a percentage of apartment units to be sold at below-market rates. A unique feature is that the housing authority can purchase some of these scattered units and operate them as federally subsidized housing.
Through a randomized lottery, low-income families were selected to live in these units. Dr. Schwartz compared the educational performance of children living in public housing in low-poverty neighborhoods (who were, by definition, zoned to lower-poverty schools with more affluent peers) to children living in public housing in higher-poverty neighborhoods (who were, by definition, zoned to higher-poverty schools with less affluent peers). She found that, over a period of five to seven years, public housing students attending lower-poverty schools significantly outperformed public housing students attending the higher-poverty schools. In fact, public housing students attending the lower-poverty schools narrowed the achievement gap with their wealthier peers by half in math and one-third in reading.
Moreover, the school district was infusing the higher-poverty schools with $2,000 more per pupil than the lower-poverty schools. Yet, public housing students still performed better in the lower-poverty schools, suggesting that inclusive affordable housing policies can have a more pronounced effect on students than adding school-based resources. This study corroborates decades of research showing that integrated schools are strong learning environments.
Not only did low-income students in the study benefit from economically integrative housing and schooling, but they also benefited from the increased residential stability that deeply affordable housing provides. As Dr. Schwartz wrote, “Their residential stability was a crucial aspect that allowed their children to reap the long run benefits of attending low-poverty schools.”
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Housing Near High-Performing Public Schools Costs 2.4 Times More
Across the 100 largest metro areas in the nation, housing near high-performing public schools cost an average of 2.4 times more than housing near low-performing public schools, according to a study from the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings. Neighborhoods with high-performing schools have home values that are on average $205,000 higher, and these neighborhoods have roughly 30% fewer renters. The study reveals that, though education is key to promoting better economic mobility, democratic engagement, and health, housing inequities frequently prohibit low-income students from enrolling in the strongest schools. The study looked at student populations and standardized test scores for 84,077 schools.
“As the nation grapples with the growing gap between rich and poor and an economy increasingly reliant on formal education, public policies should address housing market regulations that prohibit all but the very affluent from enrolling their children in high-scoring public schools in order to promote individual social mobility and broader economic security,” states the study’s author, Jonathan Rothwell. “Policy leaders have taken a number of steps over the past few decades to expand access to high-quality education for disadvantaged groups…None directly addresses one of the central issues that limit educational opportunity for low-income and minority children: their disproportionate concentration in low-performing schools.
The study, which was the first to link zoning data with test-score data, also found that “large metro areas with the least restrictive zoning have housing cost gaps that are 40 to 63 percentage points lower than metro areas with the most exclusionary zoning.” Reduced housing cost gaps would enable more low-income families to afford to live in neighborhoods with the strongest schools, which would in turn improve educational attainment for low income children.
The study provides further proof that housing policy is education policy, and that education advocates must be housing advocates. One of the great inequities of American education is that the quality of the schools children attend largely depends on the neighborhoods in which their parents can afford to live. A key strategy to improve student learning is to remove or weaken local policies that restrict affordable housing development in neighborhoods with the highest-performing schools.
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