Affordable Housing Linked to Children’s Intellectual Ability

Affordable Housing Linked to Children’s Intellectual Ability

Johns Hopkins University researchers recently issued a policy research brief exploring the effects of affordable housing on the cognitive development, physical health, and emotional well-being of children living in poverty. Though how much a family spent on housing had no effect on a child’s physical or social health, when it came to cognitive ability, it made a dramatic difference.

When a family spent more than half of their income on housing, their children’s reading and math ability tended to suffer. And children’s cognitive abilities also took a hit a hit when families spent less than 20 percent of their income on housing.

The researchers relied on data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics and its Child Development Supplements as well as data from the 2004–2009 Consumer Expenditure Surveys. They focused on families with incomes at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty guideline.

More than 88 percent of renters with the lowest incomes spent more than 30 percent of their income on rent, according to the 2009 American Community Survey. And the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s latest report on affordable housing states household incomes must be at least 105 percent of the area median for a family to find decent, affordable housing units.

Families that spent most of their money on housing spent less on things like books, computers, and educational outings needed for healthy child development, the researchers found. Families that didn’t invest enough in housing likely ended up in the sort of distressed neighborhoods and inadequate dwellings that can also take a toll on children.

When a family moved from spending more than half of its income on housing to the 30 percent ideal, they invested an average of $98 more on their children, the researchers found. Not a lot of money, but enough to make a difference. Even when families increased the amount spent on housing — from spending 10 percent of their income to 30 percent — they spent about $170 more on child enrichment.