Given that housing prices and rents in California far exceed what is affordable to the average working family, a disproportionate number of California families experience housing instability. Housing instability hits children particularly hard, and can significantly affect their ability to engage at school or even their ability to attend school regularly.
We know that when children have a stable living environment they have reduced stress, better opportunities to learn and grow, and higher levels of literacy and academic achievement. Right now there is some incredible and groundbreaking work being done in affordable housing communities to deliver a range of vital supports to residents, including tutoring and learning enrichment programs for the children who call these communities home.
The after-school and summer learning programs administered in these communities give children and youth critical help they might not receive anywhere else, and dramatically increase their potential for bridging the achievement gap and succeeding in school.
After-school and summer programs, also known as expanded learning programs, provide a safe learning environment for students once they’ve left the classroom. The accumulating research continues to prove that expanded learning opportunities are essential to student success. Increasing the availability and quality of expanded learning opportunities within affordable housing communities helps provide low-income students with the solutions we know work to increase academic achievement, develop positive attitudes towards learning, and master the skills they need to succeed in life.
It is critical that these programs have quality content and educators, but it is just as critical that they are accessible to those who need them the most. The challenges many low-income students and their families face living in housing communities – lack of access to reliable transportation, safety concerns and a shortage of affordable childcare options (often resulting in older siblings staying close to home to care for younger siblings), can prevent many students from attending after-school or summer programs held at schools or community centers outside of their housing community. Because of their close proximity to homes, housing-based programs not only bring learning to these families’ doorsteps, they also lead to enhanced family engagement and higher participation rates. Program staff have the advantage of being close to the families of their students, often with first-hand knowledge of the particular challenges these families can face, allowing them to respond quickly and accurately.
But while we need more affordable housing communities to create and improve these programs for their youngest residents, we also need more affordable housing communities, period. As it stands now, there is a considerable shortage of affordable housing in California with more than 2 million children living in poverty. SB 391, supported by Housing California, the California Housing Consortium (CHC) and youth advocacy groups such as the Partnership for Children & Youth, can provide a permanent funding source to develop, purchase and preserve safe and affordable homes for low and moderate-income households. Every child needs and deserves a safe place to call home. These on-site expanded learning programs cannot exist without the sites themselves.
We know these programs are key to linking community development efforts and schools. As legislators, educators and advocacy groups come out in support of the extraordinary impact after-school and summer learning programs have on the lives of our students, the programs and services offered in affordable housing communities and the need for more affordable housing in which to offer these programs must not be ignored. Bringing these programs close to home – giving them a home – gives children and youth the advantage they need. It’s time we meet students in their own backyard.