This month's resources include fascinating research that helps us understand how health and crime are related to housing, and that weigh the costs of busing homeless kids to school. The health articles, which are peer-reviewed in medical journals, suggest that housing insecurity is not good for the health of young children, and that higher income neighborhoods may offer health advantages for poor women. Two more reports fail to find evidence that affordable housing causes crime. Finally, a study weighs the costs of busing homeless kids to school versus providing housing, with results that surprised us. (But Minneapolis is doing something right, this study finds.)
Medical journal research explores housing-health relationship
A new study, "US Housing Insecurity and the Health of Very Young Children," in the American Journal of Public Health, found housing insecurity to be associated with poor health, lower weight, and developmental risk among young children. Frequent moves and crowding, both measures of housing insecurity, were found to have a negative impact on children's health. The effect of frequent moves was found to be even more serious, perhaps reflecting a breakdown of support from friends and family during a crisis. The study also shows a strong linkage between housing insecurity and insufficient or poor-quality food. The authors recommend addressing housing insecurity as a policy priority in promoting the health of young children.
In another study, low-income women with children who were given vouchers to move from high-poverty to lower-poverty neighborhoods were found to experience significant reductions in obesity and diabetes. The New England Journal of Medicine study, "Neighborhoods, Obesity and Diabetes -- A Randomized Social Experiment", found that rates of both morbid obesity and diabetes among public housing residents who were assigned rent vouchers for higher income areas were about one fifth lower than residents who did not---ten to fifteen years later. These results provide new evidence of the influence of living environment on health outcomes, though the specific aspects of the social or physical environment responsible for health disparities could not be determined from this study.
Two studies look (in vain) for link between affordable housing and higher crime
The first study, conducted by New York University's Furman Center researchers, found no association between rising numbers of voucher holders in a neighborhood and crime levels a year later. However, there was a trend of voucher holders moving to neighborhoods with crime, indicating an area for more research. To read more, see Memphis Murder Mystery Revisited: Do Housing Voucher Households Cause Crime?
In in Movin' Out: Crime Displacement and HUD's HOPE VI Initiative, researchers evaluated crime patterns during the redevelopment of HOPE VI projects The study found little evidence that public housing redevelopment simply moves criminal activity from one neighborhood to another; in fact, it suggested a reduction of crime because of the redevelopment. Due to the short time frame of the research, the Urban Institute recommends further study.
Beds Not Buses: Housing vs. Transportation for Homeless Students
A new report from the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty finds that providing affordable housing to homeless families may be less expensive overall than transporting homeless students to the schools they were attending before becoming homeless. The study, based in Washington state, estimates that the costs of transporting two children from one homeless family to school can be upwards of $18,000 to $27,550 per year. By contrast, a housing voucher would cost less than $12,000 a year in Seattle. Under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 1987, school districts must transport homeless children who move outside of school district boundaries in an attempt to minimize disruption in schooling for the children affected.
The report also recommends partnerships between school districts and public housing agencies to provide homeless students with long term stability. Among the national examples of successful collaboration is the It's All About the Kids Collaborative Program in Minneapolis. The Kids Collaborative brings together the Minneapolis Public Schools, the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority, the City of Minneapolis Community Planning and Economic Development, state and local government, and non-profits to help homeless families regain housing stability. Says the report: "Although the Kids Collaborative program serves a small, but growing, group of 60 individuals, it is saving money for the Minneapolis Public Schools by reducing McKinney-Vento transportation costs."