top of page

How does housing affect children's education?

]The location and condition of a child’s house plays a significant role in their physical, cognitive and emotional development and well-being, which impacts their education through improved attendance, better cognitive and behavioral health, and improved academic achievement. Making direct connections  between housing and its impact on children’s education is challenging. However, studies have drawn a pathway between owning a decent, affordable and stable home and experiencing positive educational outcomes.

girl with rainbow drawing+_0.5x.jpg

Improving children’s educational outcomes through improved affordable housing for households with low incomes

Parental income is now one of the strongest factors in how children perform in school and whether they complete a college education. Children from families with low incomes are more likely to have worse educational outcomes than their wealthier peers. This income achievement gap, characterized by the difference in children’s tested reading and math skills between the lowest and highest earners, has remained persistent since the 1950s, with some studies showing a growing gap. Children from the 90th percentile of family income earners consistently perform an equivalent of four grade levels higher than children from the 10th percentile. When considering the role of educational attainment in generational economic mobility, children from families with at least two generations of low incomes are about 36 percentage points less likely to attend college than children from families with higher incomes, ultimately stunting their ability to make higher salaries as adults. Further, children from families in the highest quartile of household incomes are more than twice as likely to enroll and graduate from college than children from households with lower incomes. 

Low-income families also tend to live in homes that are in relatively substandard condition, plagued by open cracks and holes, water leakage, and rodents or pests. In addition, many renters with low incomes also reported living in “worst-case needs” housing, meaning they were severely rent-burdened, lived in critically inadequate shelter, or both. Children from families with low incomes who live in substandard housing are more susceptible to adverse respiratory outcomes, lead poisoning, overcrowding and environmental stressors. These negative health outcomes impact children’s physical, behavioral and cognitive development, contributing to increased school absences and poor academic performance. Therefore, households with low incomes require affordable and healthy housing in socioeconomically diverse neighborhoods to help improve children’s educational outcomes.

Removing hazards and providing homes that meet families’ needs leads to better physical and mental health and development for children.

  • Children growing up in poor-quality or inadequate housing — as measured by structural quality, clutter and cleanliness, hazards, indoor climate, and crowding — experience higher symptoms of depression, anxiety and aggression from elementary school through young adulthood when compared with children in higher quality housing or housing that fits their needs.

  • Poor physical quality of housing — e.g., roof leaks, rodents, broken HVAC — is associated with adverse effects on adolescent math and reading skills. 

Impacts of poor-quality housing on respiratory conditions and academic outcomes

  • Respiratory illnesses, such as asthma, lead to childhood disability and chronic disease and harm children’s school attendance and academic performance. For example, an estimated 39% of asthma diagnoses for children younger than 6 could have been prevented by addressing and eliminating the environmental sources, such as dander, mildew, and poorly working stoves and heating systems associated with substandard housing.

  • Providing homes built to reduce energy costs, such as LEED-certified homes, can also lessen exposure to allergens and pollutants that increase the physical and educational effects of asthma for children. Children who have moved into a home with fewer respiratory irritants miss fewer school days than when they lived in older homes.

  • Insulating existing homes can increase bedroom temperatures in the winter and reduce the relative humidity in the summer months, even with decreased energy consumption. The ability to control indoor temperatures can improve  physical health and reduce the number of days children stay home sick from school.

Impacts of underhousing/crowded housing on home environments and academic outcomes

  • Living in a crowded home because of underhousing can lead to a lack of privacy, loud study environments, sleep disturbances, and behavior problems, which can impact children’s educational achievement and attainment. Families with low incomes are more likely to double-up or share a household with other adults, such as grandparents, extended family or friends, to save on housing costs compared with families with higher incomes.​

  • Adolescents living in overcrowded housing are less likely to graduate from high school by age 19 and are more likely to have fewer years of educational attainment by age 25 than their peers living in noncrowded housing.

Impacts of poor quality housing on children's blood lead levels and academic outcomes

  • There is no known safe level of lead exposure, particularly for children. In 2011-16, 2.2% of children living in poverty had high blood lead levels, compared with 0.6% of children above the poverty line.

  • Childhood exposure to lead from substandard housing negatively impacts their IQ and academic achievement and increases behavioral issues. For young children with elevated blood lead levels, research has demonstrated that a one-unit decrease in average blood lead levels improved their math and reading scores by one-tenth and one-third of the average annual student gains, respectively. 

  • Reducing elevated blood lead levels in children reduced the academic achievement gap between high- and low-income communities by one percentage point.

Providing access to stable and affordable housing reduces disruptions from involuntary and frequent residential mobility and provides children with consistent learning experiences

  • Households with low incomes move at more than twice the rate of families with higher incomes, primarily because of housing cost burden, structural and environmental housing problems, neighborhood violence, or foreclosures and evictions. Families with low incomes who moved into homeownership, however, were 37% less likely to experience subsequent residential mobility than similar families who moved to private-market or subsidized rental housing.

  • Homeowners are less likely to move given the high transaction costs of reselling and are more likely than renters to have the funds to provide for a richer educational environment. Stable home environments raise young children’s math and reading test scores, making affordable homeownership a conduit for greater residential stability.

  • The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted socioeconomic inequities for families with low incomes, particularly children’s residential stability and access to online schooling. While research on the impacts of the pandemic on students’ learning loss is ongoing, preliminary results found that students from families with low incomes suffered higher levels of stress related to unstable housing, limited access to technology for virtual classes, and lower levels of instructional engagement than students from families with higher incomes.

  • Adverse effects of residential instability on educational outcomes span all stages of childhood. Very young children from households with low incomes experience cognitive and behavioral impacts from residential instability, including decreases in their preschool math and reading abilities. Young children who moved three or more times between birth and preschool faced the greatest negative impacts.

  • Children from households with low incomes who move more than once in the early elementary years experience negative reading and math achievement that have long-lasting effects. Children from households with limited income who read below grade level by third grade are six times more likely to drop out of school than their more proficient peers. For every residential move a student in a low-income household experienced between kindergarten and second grade, there was a drop in test scores compared with residentially stable students from families with low incomes.

  • For adolescents, frequent and involuntary residential mobility is associated with negative behaviors, including social problems, delinquency, substance abuse and teen pregnancy, which research has shown to be correlated with poor academic achievement.

Locating homes in low-poverty or socioeconomically diverse and safe neighborhoods with access to high-quality schools can improve children’s educational outcomes.

  • School quality is related to the geography of opportunity as defined by the relationship between schools and communities. Socioeconomic status, student distribution, neighborhood influences, access to resources, and economic segregation all play critical parts in a school’s quality.

  • Children living in income-segregated neighborhoods predominantly populated by people living in poverty are more likely to attend schools with disparate access to funding and resources than their wealthier peers. Studies have found that students who attend schools with peers from families with higher incomes are up to 68% more likely to enroll in a four-year college than students who attend schools segregated by lower incomes.

  • Studies have demonstrated that families who receive subsidized housing but can choose which neighborhood to live in have children who attend schools with higher attendance rates,  graduation rates, and reading and math proficiency rates, along with lower dropout and violence rates.


How does homeownership contribute to civic and social engagement?


What are the benefits to homeownership?


How does housing affect energy efficiency?


How does homeownership contribute to wealth building?


Who has access to homeownership?


How do racial inequities limit homeownership opportunities?

Housing and the racial academic gap

Structural and historical racial and ethnic disparities in income, health and housing contribute to the persistent academic achievement and opportunity gap between Black and Hispanic/Latino children and their white peers. For example, in 2015, 44% of white eighth-grade students performed at or above proficiency compared with 16% of Black and 21% of Hispanic/Latino children. In 2017, 42.1% of white young adults had completed a post-secondary degree, compared with 22.8% and 18.5% of Black and Hispanic/Latino students, respectively. As illustrated above, socioeconomic status plays a dominant role in negatively impacting students’ educational outcomes. As race and ethnicity are often predictive of income, Black and Hispanic/Latino families are more likely to experience
socioeconomic disadvantages, such as lack of wealth, inability to own homes, and lower educational attainment. They are also more likely to live in cost-burdened and inadequate housing and in high-poverty and racially segregated neighborhoods, stemming from historical discriminatory housing practices (e.g., redlining, mortgage denials, etc.).

Key White.png

Habitat advocates at all levels of government for programs and policies that support new construction and rehabilitation of affordable homes, increase access to affordable mortgages, optimize land use regulations for affordable homes, promote investment and homeowner and renter stability in revitalizing neighborhoods, and increase affordability in healthy, well-resourced communities with better-quality schools. These policies help homeowners and renters reduce their housing cost burdens and free up financial resources to invest in their financial stability, health and education.

Key White.png

Habitat’s repair programs offer longtime homeowners the opportunity to affordably address acute housing maintenance problems and improve the quality of their homes. This work ranges from exterior maintenance issues to more structural problems requiring significant repairs, such as roofing repairs to address mold or bacteria growth, or HVAC system repairs that result in improved air quality and reduced respiratory syndromes. Improving air quality can help control children’s symptoms and flare-ups from chronic respiratory illnesses, such as asthma, allowing them to miss fewer instructional days.

Key White.png

The stability provided by Habitat homes allows homeowners to minimize disruptions to their children’s education, which can help counteract the negative impact of lower-quality schools and limited community resources.

Key White.png

With strategically targeted land acquisition strategies, Habitat can provide homeowners with the chance to move out of high-poverty neighborhoods and into areas with better educational opportunities. The affordable nature of Habitat homes allows homeowners to reside in areas they might not otherwise be able to afford to live in, granting them the ability to send their children to higher-quality schools.

Key White.png

Habitat is committed to providing stable, affordable and adequate homes for families. Habitat strives to ensure mortgage payments consume no more than 30% of a homeowner’s income and meets this goal by offering financial packages composed of low- or zero-interest loans and forgivable loans. Habitat works with families to help sustain homeownership by providing flexible mortgage restructuring options and other financial support to homeowners when they lose income. Affordable homeownership mitigates residential and financial instability that can impact children’s educational outcomes.

How Habitat for Humanity responds

The Why Home Matters evidence series is a multi-part exploration of existing research on the impact of homeownership created by Habitat for Humanity International. Each evidence brief in the series investigates and presents evidence on outcomes related to affordable housing and homeownership while also highlighting specific ways that Habitat’s work contributes to improving outcomes for families and communities.  

bottom of page