Last month, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released its 2022–26 strategic plan outlining the department’s priorities and objectives for the next four years. Several of the plan’s elements underscore what extensive research shows: housing and educational outcomes are connected.
Housing conditions influence children’s health and well-being, and housing policies have limited many families from accessing high-quality schools and building wealth. Evidence demonstrates that federal policies have contributed to the segregation and inequality we see across schools and neighborhoods in the United States today.
Because federal policies helped build the system of separate and unequal neighborhoods and schools that profoundly disadvantages children of color and children whose families have low incomes, the federal government has an obligation to correct this legacy of inequity and injustice. HUD can leverage its strategic plan to address education inequity by taking the following steps:
- Encourage local governments to include school quality metrics in their fair housing assessments. A key to meeting HUD’s “Advance Housing Justice” goal is to expand access to high-quality, affordable housing in neighborhoods with good schools.
The Fair Housing Act mandates that state and local governments receiving federal funding “affirmatively further fair housing.” This means tackling the patterns of housing segregation and neighborhood disinvestment that block access to opportunity for people of color and other protected classes. Montgomery County, Maryland’s inclusionary housing program, which provides one-third of inclusionary zoning units for purchase by the local housing authority, is one example of how local land-use regulations and public housing investments can create affordable housing in neighborhoods served by great schools.
HUD is currently revising its 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which requires communities to formally assess fair housing and provides data, tools, and guidance to help them do so. To encourage more local governments to develop housing plans that expand access to high-performing schools, HUD could provide expanded information about education equity, including local school demographics, school district boundaries, and school assignment zones, and require consultation and collaboration between local housing and education agencies in preparing fair housing assessments and prioritizing goals.
- Center quality schools in place-based housing and community development initiatives. HUD’s “Invest in the Success of Communities” goal prioritizes funding to revitalize historically disinvested communities through place-based initiatives that create job opportunities; enhance amenities like parks, schools, and grocery stores; and attract households with higher incomes.
Because research shows access to quality schools is a cornerstone of a successful community, HUD could center education in more of its place-based initiatives. It could consider requiring its Choice Neighborhoods grant applicants to demonstrate engagement from local school officials in the grant’s planning and implementation, housing relocation efforts that limit school disruptions, and interventions like magnet schools that promote school integration and provide students with better educational opportunities.
For example, in Seattle’s Choice Neighborhood (PDF), the local housing authority coordinated with the school system to redevelop public housing. They focused on minimizing schooling disruptions and transported relocated students to their original schools. The Seattle University Youth Initiative and city government also provided educational and other supports for families living in public housing projects slated for redevelopment.
- Support more affordable housing options in neighborhoods with high-quality schools. One way for HUD to keep rents and house prices within reach for families with children is to ensure that the “Increase the Supply of Housing” goal is achieved in communities with well-performing public schools. HUD could prioritize access to quality schools in the allocation formulas for new investments to boost housing supply, including the $35 billion Housing Supply Fund for state and local housing agencies in the president’s proposed fiscal year 2023 HUD budget.
For example, the King County Housing Authority in Washington State has acquired apartment buildings in high-opportunity neighborhoods, factoring in school-level characteristics (PDF) like standardized test scores, teacher qualifications, and graduation rates, preserving the stock of moderately priced housing in these communities.
- Ensure families with housing vouchers can access neighborhoods with good schools. Housing choice vouchers are another powerful support for HUD’s “Advance Housing Justice” goal and its “Improve Rental Assistance” goal.
Housing vouchers supplement what families with low incomes can afford to pay so they can rent homes or apartments of their choice in the private market. But ensuring voucher holders can exercise real choice requires that local housing authorities reduce private-market barriers to neighborhoods with high-performing schools.
The Housing Choice Voucher Community Choice Demonstration, which funds special vouchers and mobility-related services in nine public housing authorities across the country, has generated actionable examples of what works. In addition to publishing these examples, HUD could encourage their adoption by local housing authorities, offering financial and other incentives for mobility counseling, modified policies for landlord recruitment and cross jurisdictional moves, and the formation of networks of housing authorities seeking to improve education outcomes.
HUD has a great opportunity to execute on its strategic plan in a way that leverages the link between housing and education. Complementary efforts by the US Department of Education would also be needed to ensure children benefit from better-quality, more-stable housing in high-opportunity neighborhoods.
The Urban Institute has the evidence to show what it will take to create a society where everyone has a fair shot at achieving their vision of success.