Published: June 5, 2018

Download: Life Course Centre Working Paper: 2017-24


Deven Carlson, Hannah Miller, Robert Haveman, Sohyun Kang, Alex Schmidt, and Barbara Wolfe.

Non-Technical Summary:

In a majority of school districts in the United States, students are assigned to schools on the basis of their residential location, and the income level of this location tends to be related to public-school quality. Hence, the main option available to parents seeking higher-quality schools for their children is to move to a neighborhood with a higher average income level.

Housing assistance, particularly housing vouchers, is a potential vehicle by which families with limited resources can access a better neighborhood and potentially better schools. In this paper, we estimate the effect of a family’s initial receipt of housing assistance on the achievement of children in the recipient families, comparing them to children in similar families who have not received housing assistance or who received housing assistance in later years.

Our findings provide evidence that children whose households received housing assistance make small academic gains. Specifically, we find some evidence that housing recipients experience minor math gains two years following housing receipt relative to future recipients. Further analyses suggest that these gains are concentrated among Black students. In addition, we tested whether rental subsidies or public housing assistance were more strongly associated with academic performance. We find evidence of a positive association between rental subsidies and math test scores two to three years after receipt. However, we also find a negative association between public housing receipt and later test scores.

Our study is notable in its ability to separately assess the academic changes experienced by recipients of public housing and housing vouchers. While research has largely focused on the effect of housing vouchers on educational outcomes relative to public housing, the standalone effects of public housing have largely been ignored, perhaps due to the negative connotation public housing carries. However, not all public housing aligns with this stereotype. While many associate public housing with dilapidated and crowded high-rise buildings, public housing in Milwaukee includes smaller apartment buildings and single-family houses. Despite this, we find evidence that public housing is associated with negative math scores, while rental subsidies are positively associated with math achievement.

Despite the findings in this study and previous research that housing has limited effects on children’s educational outcomes, federal housing assistance continues to play an essential role in providing safe and affordable housing to millions of families across the nation. We encourage researchers to continue to study the numerous ways in which housing assistance improves quality-of-life for these families.


December 13, 2017