to Study Housing Effects on Children
Johns Hopkins housing policy researchers Sandra Newman and Joseph Harkness are the recipients of a two-year, $482,000 grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to study the effects of affordable housing on children's well-being. The study will draw on two large national databases to test the hypothesis that a lack of affordable housing may have serious adverse effects on children's development.
The current study builds on prior research by Newman and Harkness that looks at the impact of housing assistance on the life chances of children, including their educational performance, health, employment prospects, asset accumulation, and earnings. While housing is universally considered-along with food and clothing-one of the cornerstones of individual and family well-being, Newman says that there is surprisingly little empirical evidence about the role of affordable housing in children's development.
"One of the most striking aspects of this field is that we actually know very little about the most fundamental questions," said Newman, director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies. "We have developed very sophisticated techniques and analyses of specialized topics in the housing field, but, by and large, we cannot answer even the most basic questions about the effects of housing on its residents."
Moreover, the evidence that has been gathered sometimes flies in the face of conventional wisdom about housing policy. One recent study by Newman and Harkness, for example, found that adults who lived in public housing during their youth were more likely to be employed, had higher earnings, and were less likely to be on welfare than individuals from similar socioeconomic backgrounds who did not live in public housing.
The research grant awarded to Newman and Harkness is part of a $50 million, ten-year commitment by the MacArthur Foundation to preserve and improve affordable rental housing nationwide. The immediate goal of this initiative is to help nonprofit housing organizations purchase and maintain 100,000 units of existing affordable rental housing that might otherwise deteriorate or become too expensive for low- and moderate-income households.
According to foundation statistics, more than half of the nation's 35 million renter households live on annual incomes of $30,000 or less, which qualifies most of them for government-funded housing programs. However, because federal housing programs are not an entitlement and funding has remained limited, only about 5 million low-income renter households actually receive direct housing assistance. And, since 1997, the stock of affordable rental housing has dropped by 10 percent.
The larger objectives of the initiative, says a foundation spokesperson, are to demonstrate that preserving affordable rental housing offers cost-effective benefits for families, communities, and regional economies; encourage additional public and private investment to preserve affordable rental housing; and stimulate public policies that enable a new generation of owners to preserve at least one million units of affordable rental housing in the decade ahead.
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