How School Administrators Can Be Key Partners in Housing Stability
Deanna Creighton Cook and Serge Martinez had a problem. They knew that rental assistance and legal services could prevent eviction for families in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but their initial efforts weren’t identifying families early enough in the quick eviction process for assistance to make a difference. So they used their backgrounds in tenant legal assistance and community school services and pivoted to a new strategy.
“We had a eureka moment when we noticed the extreme overlap between areas of high eviction rates and high school mobility—that is, students leaving schools during the school year. We know that mobility has a seriously deleterious effect on student achievement—for individual students and, less intuitively, their classrooms and their entire schools—and so we thought that reducing evictions could lower mobility in some of our county's poorest schools,”
- Martinez and Creighton Cook
Out of this idea, they developed Amparo, a nonprofit funded through private donations and philanthropic grants that provides rental assistance to prevent homelessness among families with school-age children. Community school coordinators in the ABC Community School network or McKinney-Vento school staff members vet and submit relief requests to Amparo, allowing assistance to reach families faster. These services especially help students from families with low incomes and students learning English.
This service model reflects a growing body of work that leverages existing homelessness services in schools to intervene with rental or legal assistance to prevent eviction and housing instability. These partnerships grew during the pandemic, as school systems worked with staff members at local emergency rental assistance (ERA) programs to develop systems and procedures that supported families facing housing instability. These partnerships highlight an opportunity for schools and their partners to continue to expand assistance networks and integrate eviction diversion and rental assistance programs more effectively into their standard support systems.
How housing instability affects students
Research shows housing affordability, stability, and quality and neighborhood quality are foundational to improving educational outcomes among children in families with low incomes.
“A supportive and stable home environment, including housing stability, can complement the efforts of educators and lead to improved student academic outcomes. Safe and affordable housing may foster the educational success of low-income children by supporting family financial stability; reducing mobility; providing safe, nurturing living environments; and providing a platform for community self-determination,”
- Martinez and Creighton Cook
How schools supported housing stability during the pandemic
Increased hardship and increased support resources during the pandemic allowed schools and rental assistance programs to forge new partnerships. Though many of these programs were temporary because they relied on funding that has now expired, other programs have found ways to make these new support systems more permanent.
- Linking schools with training and mobile assistance
Connecticut’s statewide ERA-funded rental assistance program worked closely with preschools, K–12 schools, and colleges across the state. Through these partnerships, UniteCT provided training for school staff members and resources with program information for parents. The program also had a mobile technology bus that traveled to schools to help with application completion and connection to other social services. Program staff members also worked with public schools to streamline the application process for families enrolled in services, such as free or reduced-price school lunch. UniteCT’s program has been paused.
- Connecting students with housing and technology assistance
Atlanta’s ERA-funded COVID-19 Emergency Housing Assistance Program has ended, but at the height of the pandemic, school officials and program administrators recognized the connection between remote learning and income loss for parents, as well as technology access and school attendance. School counselors identified renter households with low incomes and low attendance rates, and local officials combined ERA and other funding sources to provide assistance for internet services and computer equipment alongside support for rent and utilities.
- Expanding existing rapid rehousing services
In Chesterfield County, Virginia, Housing Families First has long been working to end homelessness for students and relies on homelessness service school liaisons to identify families facing housing insecurity. With ERA funding, the program has connected families with financial assistance to help them bypass shelter stays and instead move directly into new housing.
Considerations for expanding partnerships
Many localities strengthened partnerships between school systems and housing support systems during the pandemic, even if only temporarily. Now, there is an opportunity to leverage relationships between schools and housing supports to more effectively prevent housing insecurity for students.
“Teachers are often the first ones to be aware when students are experiencing housing instability, and we have found that families who have an existing relationship with the school are able to receive assistance in a timely and efficient manner,”
- Martinez and Creighton Cook
A few best practices could help localities effectively integrate housing stability programs and school systems.
- Enable direct application and disbursement
Schools already have direct points of contact with students and their families, so they can connect families to housing resources sooner. During the pandemic, members of Congress called for greater integration between ERA programs and school systems to accelerate assistance delivery, including by allowing families to apply for assistance at schools, authorizing education agencies to distribute assistance, and encouraging the use of ERA funds to fund ERA navigator positions in schools. Though effective, these interventions would require a larger budget, more staffing, and more training in school systems and could overburden systems that are already facing staffing and budgeting constraints.
- Help programs reach children and their families
Working directly with school staff members whom students already know and trust can help programs better reach families who are facing housing instability. But the pandemic brought new challenges to reaching these families. The number of students experiencing homelessness dropped 22 percent in the 2020–21 school year compared with the 2019–20 year, but this drop is believed to have been caused by students who moved schools or stopped attending school rather than a decrease in housing instability. Even before the pandemic, it was difficult for schools to determine who is facing homelessness, and some don’t even try. Improving identification systems can help, but it also requires increased staffing and funding.
- Use the community schools service models to support stability
Community schools are public schools that provide services run by community organizations to better support students and their families. “Community schools in particular are also able to connect families with additional wraparound resources such as food assistance, clothing, help with school supplies, homework, or other services and supports,” said Creighton Cook and Martinez.
Various funding sources can support these efforts, including funding from Communities In Schools, the US Department of Education Full-Service Community Schools Program, and other federal sources.
By working together, local housing assistance programs and school systems can better prevent homelessness for students and their families, helping to ensure foundational educational success and stability that could improve their life outcomes.