Connecting Housing Policy with Education Policy

Feb 20, 2012

As Governor Dannel Malloy prepares for a legislative session focused on education, many say the General Assembly needs to address other inequities, such as housing, in order to truly close the achievement gap. WNPR’s Neena Satija reports.

In most Connecticut towns, less than 10 percent of the housing is affordable. That makes it difficult for low-income families to move to districts that may have better schools – and it also means their kids grow up in environments that are often unsafe. Housing advocate Howard Rifkin told WNPR’s Where We Live that housing and education policy need to go hand-in-hand. Rifkin is executive director of the non-profit organization Partnership for Strong Communities.

RIFKIN: “There’s a lot of research that suggests that school performance of kids can suffer markedly when children are denied an affordable, secure home, a community with adequate services and a neighborhood that is both welcoming and safe.”

A few cities have taken steps to connect housing and education more directly, said Rifkin. For instance, New Haven Public Schools recently brought in a new full-time liaison between the schools and the community. Meriden recently received a federal grant to provide services that both boost neighborhood stability and encourage families to engage in their children’s school. Miguel Cardona is principal of Hanover Elementary School in Meriden, and chairman of the state’s Achievement Gap Task Force.

CARDONA: “We need to fix education from 9-3. But unless we look at factors from 3:00 p.m. till 9 in the morning, we’re really not going to dent the context in which education thrives.”

Improving the stability of neighborhoods is one thing. But housing advocates say what the state really needs to do is build more affordable housing in the first place. 115,000 families in Connecticut spend more than 50 percent of their income on housing. And, the lowest-cost housing in the state falls into isolated clusters. Erin Boggs of the Connecticut Fair Housing Center says it’s a deeply-rooted problem.

BOGGS: “Part of what we have going on in Connecticut is a Darwinesque, zero-sum game that the towns are playing. You win the game by having as few low-income people in your town as possible. And we need to figure out a way either through incentives or other means to change the game.”

Advocates are hopeful the governor will make housing a priority alongside education in the coming legislative session. For WNPR, I’m Neena Satija.