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Understanding the Housing and Education Sectors

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Both the housing and education sectors can offer an important foundation for future success for individuals and families. Although the two sectors operate very differently to provide supports and services, they often share common goals. Stakeholders in both sectors have identified a lack of understanding of each sector’s fundamental characteristics as a key barrier to collaboration. To address this barrier, a Housing 101 and an Education 101 are included in the appendices and summarized below as a reference on each sector’s constituencies, motivations and limitations.

Public vs. Private Goods

Public education is free and compulsory for most minors across the United States. While school quality varies significantly, often due to differing state standards and disparities in local tax revenue and budget priorities, all children are guaranteed education through the public school system. In contrast, housing is treated as a market- based commodity without guarantee, leaving hundreds of thousands of households to experience homelessness each year.

Because housing is not treated as a right, housing access and quality are heavily influenced by policy and local market conditions. As a result, the gap between what some households can afford and the housing available is significant. Unsurprisingly, this can result in families being forced into homelessness or inadequate housing conditions. Although some publicly funded housing assistance is available, these programs serve only 23 percent of families who are income qualified, leaving more than 17 million renters with low incomes to navigate the private housing market without needed housing support.15


15 Peggy Bailey. “Housing and Health Partners Can Work Together to Close the Housing Affordability Gap.” January 2020.

Funding and Regulation

Funding and regulation for the public education system are established mainly at the state level, leaving the federal government and school districts with a discrete set of funding and decision- making responsibilities. The housing sector, by comparison, is greatly decentralized. Affordable housing may be funded, owned or operated by governmental entities, private companies, investors, nonprofits or some combination (e.g., public-private joint ventures), all with distinct regulations, oversight and funding mechanisms.

Geography and Outcomes

Both the housing and education sectors are affected by, and contribute to, inequities across and between neighborhoods and districts. Vast differences in quality and access typically are linked directly to the wealth and racial demographics of a given area — evidence of systems that can perpetuate disparities rather than offer mobility from poverty. This variation means that outcomes for children and families may be disparate from one school or neighborhood to the next, even within the same city or region.

Overview of the Housing and Education Sectors

The following table provides an overview of key aspects of the housing and education sectors. Additional information is included in the Housing 101 and Education 101 sections of the Appendix.

How is this sector defined?

Affordable housing refers to housing that costs no more than 30 percent of a household’s income. Affordable housing may be funded by local, state or federal programs, or it may be unsubsidized but available at an affordable price from private landlords in the housing market.

Affordable housing is provided by a combination of stakeholders, including nonprofit and mission-driven actors that may target affordability for lower-income households, as well as public-sector actors who often focus on filling gaps left by private market activity.

Public housing, one of the most well-known housing programs, is just one of many types of affordable housing programs offered to low- income households.

Public education is offered to children free of charge by the government and is considered compulsory across the United States. Schools providing taxpayer-funded education include public, magnet, charter and virtual schools.

Public education typically is offered to students in prekindergarten through 12th grade, although the starting age for public education varies across localities.

Although education begins formally with elementary school, learning actually begins with parents and caregivers and continues with child care, nursery school or preschool. A range of private and publicly funded programs offer services for families with children who are under the age of 5 or who have not entered prekindergarten or kindergarten.

Whom does this sector serve?

Affordable housing providers often focus on households with the greatest need and lowest incomes. Although millions of very low-income households spend more than one-third of their income on housing, just under one-quarter of very low-income renter households that are eligible for federal rental assistance actually receive it.

Public education is available to all children across the country. In 2016, more than 50 million students attended nearly 100,000 public elementary and secondary schools across the United States. Although public education is available nationwide, school quality varies greatly by geography.

How is this work funded?

A number of federal, state and local programs support the creation or operation of affordable housing, including public housing, housing choice vouchers, project-based rental assistance and the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit.

Often referred to as subsidized housing, these programs vary significantly — some operate publicly owned units, others provide financial assistance directly to qualifying tenants or building owners, while others provide tax credits and other financing to support the construction or rehabilitation of affordable units.

Education funding depends on how the federal, state and local funding streams of schools interact with other policies and the demographics of the state and district.

States typically expect local jurisdictions to generate revenues for public schools through property or income taxes. Many smaller or historically impoverished localities have limited tax bases to generate school revenue. As a result, this funding structure can create significant funding disparities for public education within and across regions, often exacerbating existing inequities.

How does access to housing relate to education, and vice versa?

Where you live often dictates where you go to school. Decades of discriminatory government policies have led to racially segregated neighborhoods and cities, greatly limiting the ability of people of color to access high- quality public education. By contrast, higher performing, well-resourced schools typically are located in higher cost neighborhoods with concentrations of white residents.

While school enrollment policies vary by school district, many are based entirely on a student’s place of residence. As school funding often is driven in part by the local tax base, a school’s geography typically is a strong determinant of its access to resources. As such, school funding policies can further perpetuate existing disparities that stem from racial and economic segregation by neighborhood.

What is the impact of this sector on families?

Affordable housing can have a significant impact on residents’ physical and mental well- being, financial and household stability, and employment opportunities. Housing assistance has been proven to reduce homelessness, housing instability and overcrowding, thus leading to other positive outcomes.

Children in families that lack stable, affordable housing have been shown to perform less well in school and have limited access to enrichment activities for out-of-school time, leaving them at a disadvantage that ultimately affects their ability to achieve economic mobility from poverty.

Education funding and access to quality education are directly related to positive outcomes for children, beginning with early childhood education through high school and post-secondary preparation. For example, for younger learners, early childhood education is associated with kindergarten readiness and later school success. For secondary students, those who complete high school are more likely to work full- time year-round and earn more than students who do not complete high school.

Overall, children in families without access to quality education have been shown to have fewer employment and wage-earning opportunities later in life, greatly limiting their economic mobility from poverty.

The housing and education sectors can come together in many ways. At Enterprise, we’ve been working to bring housing and early education closer together - learn more in the short example below. To see more examples of housing and education partnerships in action, take a look at the case studies in each stage of the toolkit, starting with Stage 1: Early Childhood Initiative (ECI).

Leveraging Housing and Early Learning to Create Opportunity

Enterprise Community Partners works closely with nonprofit partners and affordable housing developers across the country, seeking ways to solve affordable housing challenges and address a range of community needs, including strengthening access to education. In 2017, Enterprise launched the Home & Hope initiative in the Pacific Northwest to address the region’s critical shortages of affordable housing and early learning centers. The Home & Hope initiative convened partners across sectors to outline the need for co-locating early learning centers and affordable housing and facilitated partnerships to create a pipeline of development projects that meet these needs. The initiative worked with public-sector partners to identify public and tax-exempt sites that could be designated for these development projects. This initiative also led to the creation of state and county grant programs to ensure funding for the new early learning centers, building in sustainability for the partnership over time.
To learn more about the Home & Hope initiative, please view the following report on the Enterprise website: Home & Hope: Creating Early Learning and Affordable Housing Together.