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Housing Subsidies and Child Development

This project examines the effect of housing subsidies, namely public housing and Section 8 programs, on young children’s development. The goal of this research is to provide evidence that would inform policymakers to increase the effectiveness of housing assistance associated with positive development of low-income young children.

An NCCP report shows that nearly 80 percent of low-income households with children spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent; thus, housing assistance is an important program that reduces rent burden among low-income families. However, the impact of housing subsidies on young children has not been well-examined and previous research on older children and youth have presented mixed findings.

Three existing theories explain why housing assistance might affect young children. First is the stability theory, which posits that due to a lower eviction rate, families with housing assistance will have more residential stability than those without. Further, this stability will in turn lead to reduced parental stress and improved parenting behaviors. Thus, housing subsidies could help to reduce family stress and improve parenting behaviors and result in better child outcomes. A second theory is that housing assistance is a form of income enhancement, and research shows that income supplement programs can have a positive effect on child mental health. On the other hand, the poverty trap theory, states that public and Section 8 housing tend to be located in impoverished settings, and living in such detrimental environments is associated with suboptimal outcomes for families and children.

This study will therefore investigate how housing subsidies affect cognitive and socio-emotional development of young children aged 0-8 using the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 (NLSY79) Child data, and propensity score matching. This study has substantial public health significance due to its focus on social determinants of health and implications for effective policymaking geared towards the wellbeing of low-income families with children.

This project is funded by Calderone Research Prize for Junior Faculty, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health (2010).