No More Lazy Days of Summer: Summer Reading Comes to Affordable Housing

Read any good books lately? Dozens of kids living in Richmond, Virginia, affordable housing developments will be able to answer yes to that question by summer’s end as the city embraces the growing trend of helping children — particularly those in low-income households — continue learning during these lazy days of summer.

The Richmond Public Library is sending books and librarians to affordable housing communities every two weeks to help kids ages five to twelve sign up for library cards, choose books, and participate in a summer reading challenge.

Though children and many parents take a break from the rigors of school during the summer months, experts say all kids — and especially children from lower-income families — lose too much ground if these months pass without some structured learning. Studies have shown that lower-income children give up as much as two months of the previous year’s gains in math and reading while school is out.

That’s why education and housing advocates are cheering the move in some developments to embrace—and even serve as a home to—these summer learning programs. Housing authorities in Chicago, Denver, and North Carolina are among those hosting programs at affordable housing sites this summer.


Summer learning programs in the United States are a patchwork, funded unevenly and located in cities large and small. They are powered by school districts, nonprofit organizations, and Community Development Block Grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Knowing that their residents crave such programs, many affordable housing developments are beginning to include summer learning offerings on site, said Abra Lyons-Warren, a research and policy analyst with the Council of Large Public Housing Authorities in Washington, D.C.

“These initiatives are … filling a gap where community education programs may have staff and curricula, but no space to hold the program,” said Lyons-Warren. “In the long term, we believe these efforts are critical for giving kids in affordable housing important tools so that in ten to 20 years they don't need public housing of their own.”

A 2011 Rand Corporation report, Making Summer Count, found that summer learning loss is cumulative and that over time the achievement gap in reading between lower-income and higher-income students continues to widen because of the existing disparities in educational opportunities by income. Rand is currently assessing the outcomes of summer learning programs. Early assessments show that students who attended programs lasting five weeks — a common length — entered school in the fall with stronger math skills than those who didn’t.

Senior researcher Catherine Augustine, author of the Rand report, said that when children consistently attend such programs and receive additional hours of instruction, their math and reading skills often reflect it.


Housing these educational programs on affordable housing campuses comes with built-in advantages, said Molly Calhoun, executive director of The Bridge Project, a program of the University of Denver that runs after-school and summer learning programs at many of the city’s affordable housing sites for kids ages three to 18. She says parents are happy to send children to on-site programs because they don’t have to deal with the cost of transportation or concerns about the logistics or safety of getting children home from programs elsewhere using late-run school buses or public transit. They also know that their children are right around the corner rather than across the city.

In Baltimore, the housing authority uses federal Community Development Block Grants to support summer learning programs with an added benefit: meals for the children. Because many children from low-income families rely on school meals to supplement their diet during the school year, they risk going hungry when school isn’t in session. Baltimore Housing feeds children’s stomachs along with their minds.

Summer program staff are part of the broader support network for low-income children. “A social worker at a summer program told me she looks carefully at the children eating at each meal, keeping her eyes peeled for kids who eat two breakfasts because they are likely not to have much food at home,” Augustine said.

That social worker then sends extra food home with those children each day — and especially before weekends. It’s just one more way to help keep kids healthy, Augustine says. Providing summer meals and educational programs is among the many ways affordable housing providers help children grow, learn, and thrive.

Video courtesy of Foundation Communities.