Researchers at Johns Hopkins University explored the impacts of affordable housing on child enrichment and cognitive development. They found that when families spent more than half of their incomes on housing (severely housing cost-burdened), their children’s reading and math ability tended to suffer. Families with severe housing cost burdens have less disposable income to spend on things like computers, books, and educational experiences that foster child development. Families who spent 30% of their incomes on rent spent $75 more per year on child enrichment than those who spent 50% of their incomes on rent.
The research also found, paradoxically, that significantly lower housing costs burdens were not necessarily better for cognitive development. In fact, children’s cognitive abilities also tended to suffer when families spent less than 20% of their incomes on housing. The researchers suggest these findings could indicate such families were living in substandard homes in distressed neighborhoods, which is known to have negative impacts on health and cognitive development.
“Families spending about 30 percent of their income on housing had children with the best cognitive outcomes,” said Sandra J. Newman, professor of policy studies at Johns Hopkins University. “It’s worse when you pay too little and worse when you pay too much.”
The study furthers our understanding that affordable housing has a strong connection to childhood development, and it also provides empirical support for the long-standing rule that “affordable” housing is 30% of household income.
A media release about the research is here, and the research brief is here. To read additional research about the connections between housing affordability and childhood development, please see the Opportunity Starts at Home multi-sector affordable homes campaign’s Sector Pages.
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