What we know


 Our understanding of the impact of housing instability on families has been greatly enhanced in recent years.

Due to more robust research designs in the past decade, we know that the physical quality of housing, residential instability, housing type (e.g., homeownership versus renting) and affordability of housing impact the well-being of families and children’s development, physical health, and mental and behavioral health, and many of these effects impact their ability to perform in school. In some cases the effect of housing may be direct, as in the environmental hazards of substandard housing on children’s health and development. In other cases the effects may be indirect, such as in the effect of poor housing on mothers’ psychological well-being, which in turn impacts children’s mental and behavioral health.


Deep poverty and housing instability are especially harmful during the earliest years of childhood; alarmingly, it has been estimated that almost half of children in shelters are under the age of five. Children, particularly young children, may never recover from the effects of living is such stressful and unstable environments. Hundreds of thousands of other children are housed but are living in substandard or unstable housing situations. Because younger children tend to be home more than older children, a disrupted home environment may have the strongest effects on this age group, however we still do not know enough about the long-term impacts. We do know, however,  that housing instability has both a short- and long-term impact on school-age children’s and adolescent’s academic performance, which some believe may be in part due to the constant interruptions in school and in peer group environments. However, these negative effects are preventable.