Poor Housing Quality Predicts Children’s Well-being

A new study published in the Journal of Developmental Psychology looks at the relationship between housing characteristics and the well-being of low income children. The results reveal that housing quality was the most consistent and strongest predictor of a child’s well-being. Specifically, children living in poorer quality homes exhibited greater emotional and behavioral problems than those who lived in higher quality housing, and their problems increased as housing problems worsened over time. Five housing characteristics were analyzed in this study: physical quality, residential stability, ownership, affordability, and receiving a housing subsidy. The authors used a sample of over 2,400 low income children and adolescents (two to 21 years old) living in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty in Boston, Chicago, and San Antonio. Household heads were interviewed three times over a six-year period. The results show that children living in homes with issues such as leaking roofs, broken windows, rodents, non-functioning heaters or stoves, peeling paint, exposed wiring, or unsafe or unclean environments were more likely than children living in higher quality homes to have emotional and behavioral problems. Poor housing quality also led older children to receive lower reading and math scores on standardized achievement tests. The other housing characteristic that was important to a child’s well-being was residential stability. Compared with peers who resided in a more stable environment, children whose family had higher average levels of moves exhibited more anxiety, depression, and rule breaking behaviors. The association between poor quality and unstable housing and problems among children is primarily due to the depression and anxiety these issues caused for the parents. The majority of the households in the sample paid more than 30% of their income on housing costs, but the authors found that housing affordability does not have a significant association with children’s functioning. The authors discussed the possibility that higher housing costs allow families to live in higher quality housing in better neighborhoods. However, these benefits may be somewhat offset by the inability for these families to meet other economic needs due to their diminished resources. Finally, living in owned homes or receiving a government subsidy were also not associated with better outcomes for children. This research reveals the importance of creating healthy homes for children and families. In a policy brief about this study, the authors emphasize the need for better coordination between local public health departments and federal and state agencies to strengthen and enforce housing codes. They also discuss the importance of current programs and policies that provide housing assistance, such as subsidies for heating or electricity and the protection of tenants during foreclosure proceedings. The policy brief on Relations between Housing Characteristics and the Well-Being of Low-Income Children and Adolescents can be found on MacArthur Foundation’s webpage at: http://bit.ly/1auSd4x For the full study, readers can contact Professor Rebekah Levine Coley at [email protected].