The Housing Affordability Crisis
Families experience housing instability along
a continuum of need.
Across the country, the housing affordability crisis continues to impact the lives of children, youth, and families, particularly those who are vulnerable and disadvantaged.
The lack of affordable rental housing has led to severe rent burden, extreme overcrowding, forced residential displacement, poor housing quality, and increases in family instability and homelessness.
Research has provided a strong evidence base of the detrimental impacts of housing instability on the physical, emotional, educational, and cognitive development of children and youth, prenatal to adulthood.
The research has not been broadly disseminated, however, particularly to the mainstream and community-based services systems in daily contact with their various target populations in communities.
At the same time, national advocacy efforts are focused on expanding the affordable rental housing stock (including through rent subsidies) rather than on the poor conditions in which low-income families often live when they cannot afford to pay for basic needs.
There exists a disconnect between evidence-based research on housing instability and the development of new policies and practices within diverse services systems and at federal, state, and local levels in response.
Lower-Income Families are More Deeply Impacted
Although housing affordability affects the middle class, lower-income households with the least amount of resources and social networks are more deeply impacted. In order to stay housed, low-income families compete for substandard rental units that landlords have no motivation to maintain. Resources and services that might help are either non-existent or have eligibility requirements no longer realistic in today’s housing context.
Families are often referred to already overburdened homeless services and public housing systems which require them to be meet strict eligibility requirements that include imminent homelessness or to be already be in a homeless state.
The Reticence to Ask Housing-Related Questions
Increasingly, social services staff and case managers, teachers and school counselors, doctors and health practitioners encounter indicators of housing instability among their target populations. Direct services staff are often overwhelmed with requests for assistance related to paying rent on time or help with an eviction.
The current structure of family-focused services too often impedes timely access to assistance for such families, resulting in missed opportunities to address housing problems before they escalate.
Community nonprofit organizations and local governments struggle to fill the gaps in services, patching the holes in the social service safety net in quick response to problems as they emerge. This heartfelt and complex movement has yielded a patchwork of services throughout the country, overloaded and fragmented. Often a family has already lost their housing before seeking help.
Waiting to provide prevention resources until families are eligible for homeless services attenuates the effectiveness of these services. Additionally, efforts to identify families at risk of homelessness in order to provide early intervention have failed because they generally rely upon risk indicators that could easily be applied to large segments of the low-income population at-large – the vast majority of whom would most likely never become homeless. (unpublished manuscript: Tull, Cohen, & Fowler, 2015.)
Current Housing Assessments Insufficient for Today’s Housing Crisis
Although many child and family assessments include questions about housing, including both housing conditions and the stability of the housing, these questions often fail to reveal the true state of a household’s living situation. Although an assessment may ask about the condition of the housing, other indicators of housing instability are often excluded.
Enrollment forms for public schools include residency categories that include questions to identify students eligible for participation in the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Program; the criteria are based on the US Department of Education’s definition of homelessness. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s definition is much narrower and excludes large numbers of homeless student households from access to homeless prevention and rapid rehousing services. Community colleges and universities are also scrambling to address increasing housing instability among lower-income students.
Head Start and subsidized child care programs have integrated comprehensive child and family assessments into policy and practice, but have generally failed to elevate housing assessments and interventions to the level required for the current housing climate.
Healthcare, mental health care, and Medicaid contractors have become perhaps the most proactive of mainstream and community-based services systems in seeking ways to integrate housing interventions into social services protocols and practices.
Referrals for homeless services should be “the referral of last resort.”
Developing New Strategies & Scaling Up Existing Strategies
The development of a new housing-focused framework that is both scalable and adaptable can help to catalyze a systems change approach with stable housing as the vital platform for child and family health and well-being. This will, in turn, bring together the public/private partnerships and cross-sector collaborations that are vital to help mediate the detrimental impacts of housing instability on vulnerable and disadvantaged children, youth, and families.
For more information about the housing affordability crisis, read here.
You can also check housing affordability in your own community.
Short list of national organizations addressing these issues
Center for the Study of Social Policy
Opportunity Starts at Home
Alliance for Strong Families & Communities
National Association of Social Workers
Why Housing Matters
National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty
National Association for the Education of Homeless Children & Youth
BUILD Health Challenge
PLEASE NOTE: This website is a work in progress. We welcome additional links to national advocacy organizations and coalitions whose efforts are targeted to cross-sector and collaborative systems change.