By: Josh Davis, Vice President of External Affairs, StriveTogether

StriveTogether recently joined an array of multi-sector organizations in calling for increased investments in the National Housing Trust Fund.  We are a national movement with a clear purpose: helping every child succeed in school and in life, regardless of race, zip code or circumstance.  We track and use educational indicators as predictors for pathways to economic mobility, so it might surprise people to see that we’re advocating for a specific federal housing policy.  But for us, the connection is clear:  To dramatically improve outcomes and reduce racial and socioeconomic disparities for children in communities across the country, we must align with systems in other sectors.  It is not a “nice-to-have” — rather, it is a “need-to-have.”  Without question, multiple factors outside of traditional education systems deeply impact student success.

StriveTogether began in 2006 as a local education collaborative in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. Today, StriveTogether coaches, connects and funds partners in nearly 70 communities across the country.  Communities using our approach have seen measurable gains in kindergarten readiness, academic achievement and postsecondary success. The StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network reaches 13.7 million students across 29 states and Washington, D.C.

In 2018, we launched a bold five-year plan to put every single one of the 13.7 million children in the Cradle to Career Network on the path to middle class by middle age. We especially want to improve outcomes for the 8.6 million children of color in our communities.  Our plan calls for stronger alignment across multiple systems — from education and non-education sectors including housing — to improve the lives of children and families.  Within this work, policy changes are essential.  Without better policies at the federal, state, and local levels, we cannot fully tackle the complexities and scale of challenges that millions of low-income children and families face across the country.

Among these challenges, the lack of safe, decent, affordable housing is one of the most severe.  It is no secret that housing policy is school policy, and that stable housing is linked with stronger student outcomes (e.g., improved achievement, fewer behavioral issues, increased graduation, etc.).  But America’s housing crisis has reached historic heights.  A safe, decent, affordable home is a foundation of opportunity, but it’s out of reach for far too many, especially those with the lowest incomes.  In fact, more than 10 million households with extremely low incomes are either homeless or pay unaffordable rental costs. This forces them to make impossible choices between paying the rent or paying for heat, food, out-of-school enrichments, medications, transportation, and other necessities.

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, there are only 22 counties out of over 3,000 counties nationwide where a full-time worker earning minimum wage can afford a decent one-bedroom rental home.  Nationally, there is a shortage of 7.2 million affordable and available homes for the lowest-income renters.  Since 1960, renters’ incomes have increased by 5% while rents have skyrocketed by 61%.  The number of households with “worst-case housing needs” — that is, households with very low incomes that either pay more than half their income for rent or live in severely substandard housing, and receive no aid — has risen by 66% since 2001.

This is not simply a housing crisis that housing advocates should worry about.  Its consequences spill over into many other areas, and therefore we all have a stake in solving the problem.  When families live in struggling neighborhoods in unstable homes they cannot afford, not only do kids struggle more in school, health outcomes are markedly worse, civil rights inequities deepen, hunger deepens, and chances for upward mobility decline.

That is why StriveTogether has joined the Roundtable of Opportunity Starts at Home, an unprecedented national campaign that is bringing together various sectors, including education, healthcare, anti-hunger, civil rights, anti-poverty, faith-based, and more, to raise awareness about the importance of affordable housing and to push for more robust and equitable federal housing policies.  After all, our elected officials shouldn’t be hearing from housing advocates alone; rather, they should be hearing from all of us whose fields are impacted.

A key federal policy solution we support is to expand the National Housing Trust Fund (HTF), which is a dedicated funding stream to efficiently build, rehabilitate, preserve, and operate rental housing for extremely low-income people.  Increasing the overall supply of affordable units is a critical part of any successful strategy to solve the affordable housing crisis.  The first new federal housing resource in a generation, the HTF is targeted at those most in need.  The HTF operates at no cost to the federal government because it is funded through fees on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  Over the first three years of HTF funding, $659.8 million has been allocated to states.  Because the HTF is administered as a block grant, each state has the flexibility to decide how to best use HTF resources to address its most pressing housing needs.  Although these initial rounds of funding are an important first step, far more resources are necessary.  That’s why we recently signed the campaign’s letter to expand the HTF to at least $3.5 billion annually, and we encourage other organizations to sign as well.

It is time to look beyond our respective silos of work.  The reality is that education advocates ARE housing advocates, and we must work with cross-sector partners to improve results for kids.  We urge those in the education sector to explore partnerships with housing-focused organizations, to think about how particular housing policies can improve student achievement, and to collaborate on aligning the many systems that shape opportunity for children and families.