Cross-sector possibilities at the crossroads of education and housing

blogimage_UrbanInstituteReportGovernment agencies in cities across the United States are increasingly turning to each other to develop new ways to address the interrelated issues that characterize living in poverty. There is a shared understanding between these agencies that social issues, particularly those that deeply affect low-income individuals and communities, are complex and can only be solved through simultaneous, comprehensive efforts that both address immediate economic hardships and allow families to invest in their long-term futures to break the persistent cycle of poverty.

It has been well-documented that housing instability has detrimental effects on children’s educational outcomes, and that high rates of student mobility makes it difficult for student-teacher relationships to flourish and for teachers to improve their classroom-level outcomes. The NYC Department of Homeless Services, the Human Resources Administration, and NYCStat report that 24,631 children were living in family shelters in September 2014. No shelter placement can be long-term and, for the school-aged children in this group, their family life is characterized by a revolving door of family shelters that keep them moving from neighborhood to neighborhood without regard to their school’s location.

The Urban Institute has recently highlighted a unique, ongoing initiative in Tacoma, WA, that hopes to address these issues. This initiative united the McCarver Elementary School and the Tacoma Housing Authority to create the McCarver Elementary School Special Housing Program. In the report, “Crossroads: The Intersection of Housing and Education Policy,” The Urban Institute discusses how this initiative is strengthening the relationship between public housing and education supporters through a place-based strategy in McCarver Elementary, which experienced a 75 percent student turnover rate the year before the initiative began.

Fifty income-eligible McCarver families were selected for this program based on their homeless or near-homeless status. They received HUD-funded rental vouchers for a period of five years and committed to pay $25 in rent during the first year and to incrementally pay 20 percent of their rent during each following year. To maintain their rental vouchers, parents had to make commitments to keep their children at McCarver Elementary for the duration of the program, join the PTA and attend all parent-teacher meetings, and complete additional education opportunities for themselves, such as obtaining a high school diploma or attending financial literacy courses. The pilot is currently in its fourth year and has shown some promising gains. In fact, the model is being replicated in the post-secondary setting as a pilot program housed in the Tacoma Community College.

Although no private sector partner is directly involved in this initiative, The Intersector Project sees initiatives like these as ideal breeding grounds for cross-sector collaborations. If the model proves to be successful in reducing student turnover, improving student outcomes, and helping families find long-term housing, we encourage practitioners from all sectors to take a close look at Tacoma and to consider making similar unique contributions in their city of choice to help low-income families gain the stability they need to achieve self-sufficiency.