Housing conditions may affect how well children do in school (Plain Dealer)

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Housing conditions may affect how well children do in school (Plain Dealer)

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Do housing and neighborhood conditions affect how well Cleveland children perform in school?

That will be examined by two Case Western Reserve University researchers who were awarded a $300,000, two-year grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

While it is generally acknowledged that the environment in which children spend their early years is crucial, little is known specifically about how housing conditions in children’s homes and the immediately surrounding areas factor into school readiness and early learning, the foundation said.

The grant is one of six totaling $2.8 million awarded by the foundation to support research that explores how housing may affect social, health and economic outcomes of children, families and communities.

The six grant recipients, chosen from 300 submissions, complete the foundation’s five-year, $25 million research investment in its “How Housing Matters to Families and Communities initiative.”

Claudia Coulton and Robert Fischer of the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences will compare property records and school performance data — such as grades and attendance and the results of statewide kindergarten readiness assessments and third-grade proficiency tests — to determine whether there’s a correlation between neighborhood and housing conditions and how well children learn.

CWRU likely received a grant because it has about 20 years of extensive data from agencies, Cleveland, Cuyahoga County and the Cleveland Metropolitan School District that includes information about students, housing and foreclosures, Coulton said.

“We have already built the capacity to do this study and they can get a bigger payoff from the research more quickly,” she said.

The study will focus on children in the Cleveland school district who entered kindergarten from 2007 to 2010 and follow them through third grade.

Real estate data used for the study includes housing conditions, values, land use, mortgage originations, sales, foreclosure filings and auctions, vacancies, code violations, demolitions, tax delinquencies and crime reports.

Property information is linked to the child’s residential locations during the first eight years of life.

No study has looked specifically at how housing can affect children’s ability to thrive in school, she said.

“A few studies have looked at overcrowding in houses and how that is detrimental to children but looking at surrounding houses and neighborhoods has not been done,” she said. “Especially in this period of time (of the study) when we have had a recession, foreclosure crisis and a whole problem with vacant and abandoned housing. We suspect there are human costs to this kind of abandonment and deterioration of neighborhoods.”

Another grant was awarded by the MacArthur Foundation to the Ohio Housing Finance Agency in Columbus. It received a $460,000, three-year grant to undertake a multistate study of the housing and employment impacts of the Housing Finance Agency Innovation Fund for the Hardest-Hit Housing Markets, which represented a combined $7.6 billion federal investment over seven years.

The fund is a foreclosure prevention program targeted at unemployed homeowners to provide temporary mortgage stability to allow people time to find a job, the foundation said.

The MacArthur Foundation said its support of 42 studies over five years has important implications for a new generation of housing policies.

The new research will inform timely policy discussions on topics ranging from how the housing market boom and bust is affecting public finances and cities’ ability to promote safe, stable neighborhoods, to the effectiveness of federal mortgage payment assistance to families experiencing unemployment, it said.

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