Housing policy key to equalizing access to high quality education

By: Leslie Black-Plumeau

Lower income and non-white students lack equal access to top performing schools  largely because of housing availability and cost, according to a recent report from the Brookings Institution.  Based on research pertaining to 84,077 schools nationwide, the report documents   disparities between the performance of schools in areas with low housing costs and those with high housing costs. Homes cost an average of 2.4 times as much near top performing schools than near low performing schools, in the nation’s 100 largest metro areas.

"Limiting the development of inexpensive housing in affluent neighborhoods and jurisdictions fuels economic and racial segregation and contributes to significant differences in school performance," the report concludes.  For this reason, the authors suggest that educational disparities be addressed by supplementing education policy initiatives, such as magnet schools, vouchers, and school choice, with housing policy measures.

The following housing market policies can effectively promote access to improved school environments for low-income and minority children, cites the report:

Eliminating exclusionary zoning altogether (i.e. prohibiting local governments from discriminating based on housing type or size.)

Increasing the portability of housing vouchers.

Creating enforceable “rights” to develop affordable housing in towns not providing their “fair share.” New Jersey, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire have been successful in this area by allowing developers to challenge denials in court in an expedited manner. Similarly, California requires municipalities to including planning for affordable housing in their zoning laws.

Encouraging municipalities to adopt inclusionary zoning policies that mandate that new construction include a certain share of affordable housing units and/or to grant developers density bonuses. Burlington, Vermont is one of the growing number of cities with inclusionary zoning ordinances.

Read the Brookings report.