How Housing Matters for Education, Health and Economic Opportunity
Rachelle Levitt, Director of PD&R's Research Utilization Division.
Access to quality housing that is both secure and affordable can greatly affect a family’s life opportunities and outcomes in the areas of education, physical and mental health, and economic security, according to evidence produced since 2008. The MacArthur Foundation has funded more than 42 in-depth, cross-disciplinary projects, which are expected to be fully completed by 2017, through its 5-year, $25 million initiative, How Housing Matters to Families and Communities. The initiative, which explores the idea that housing can be not only shelter but also a central policy lever to address cross-cutting societal issues that families and communities nationwide face, began as a purely research-based initiative. Since 2011, however, the initiative has also branched out into important convenings, the How Housing Matters conference, where practitioners, policymakers, and advocates collaborate and share new research findings and best practice case studies.
In 2011 and 2014, the MacArthur Foundation, in partnership with HUD and the National Building Museum, held panels on education, health, economic opportunity, and aging as they pertain to housing and issued a call to action for collaboration across the private, public, and nonprofit sectors. During the 2014 conference keynote conversation between MacArthur Foundation president Julia Stasch and HUD Secretary Julián Castro, Secretary Castro cited cross-sector partnerships and intergovernmental collaboration as necessary for promoting housing as a pathway to opportunity in the areas of health, education, and aging. One 2014 panel, “Housing Policy, School Policy,” offered an exemplary example of a partnership between McCarver Elementary School in Tacoma, Washington, and the Tacoma Housing Authority. Michael Mirra, executive director of the Tacoma Housing Authority, noted that the education program, set in a low-income school district with a high population of students experiencing homelessness as well as a large economic achievement gap, was “an experiment in how to spend a housing dollar to get two other outcomes: help the children we house succeed in school, and help the schools that serve our community succeed.” The housing authority’s goal to double-up housing dollars with education has been accomplished primarily through rental assistance, coupled with Case Management services that focus on financial self-sufficiency and children’s educational support for low-income, working families that keep their children enrolled in McCarver Elementary School. Two years after the program’s implementation, McCarver Elementary’s 179 percent student turnover rate decreased by 75 percent — a concrete example of how intergovernmental collaboration can have a significant impact on life opportunities not only for individual households but also for entire communities.
HUD’s Office of Policy Research and Development, the National Housing Conference, the Urban Institute, and the Terwilliger Center for Housing at the Urban Land Institute will host the How Housing Matters 2016 conference in Washington, DC, in December. This year’s conference, funded again by the MacArthur Foundation and managed by the National Housing Conference, will focus on topics similar to those in past years, including education, health, and economic security, but with an even greater focus on cross-disciplinary network building. This focus is especially pertinent as the MacArthur Foundation projects in the How Housing Matters to Families and Communities initiative near completion in 2017 and as our country transitions to a new presidential administration. Those who are interested in participating in the free How Housing Matters 2016 conference can visit www.nhc.org/how-housing-matters-2016 to register and view the full agenda, complete with panel topics and speakers.
A subsequent 2018 How Housing Matters conference will also be undoubtedly timely and insightful to present final research findings on housing as a basis for opportunity and in order to continue to support the movement for evidence-based policy and practice. It is with this that the housing and community development fields hope to enable American families and communities to move forward towards a future that is not determined by the zip code they live in.