Black Boys in Crisis: Affordable Housing and Low-Income Families

In this series, appropriately titled “Black Boys in Crisis,” I highlight the problems facing black boys in education today, as well as provide clear steps that will lead us out of the crisis.

The effects of being raised in poverty or a low-income family can be staggering. Household income has an effect on children’s physical, mental, and emotional health on a daily basis. Children in low-income environments often have more stress and health issues than their higher-income counterparts. These hardships contribute to educational deficits that begin when the children are young and continue through high school and even college. The effects of poverty on African-American children are complex and difficult to address individually, but their causes are more easily outlined. Many of these negative effects stem from one root: a lack of safe and affordable housing.

Housing is a major expense for American families, especially those that live in poverty. In fact, 25 percent of low-income families spend over two-thirds of their salaries on rent and utility bills. For many families, salaries are not guaranteed. Of children who are classified as low-income, 75 percent live in families where at least one parent works part time or for just part of the year.

Furthermore, despite the stereotypes on television and disparaging political ads, most low-income families do not receive any public housing or housing assistance. In fact, of all of the families that would qualify for assistance, only a quarter receive any aid. When high prices are coupled with a lack of job security, the result is increased mobility due to rent changes and eviction for low-income black children. Not surprisingly, the subgroup most at risk is African-American women.

Being constantly forced to uproot has a negative impact on African-American students in school. Studies have shown that students who move frequently have lower achievement in school than students who do not. Furthermore, children who attend some schools throughout their educational career are more likely to drop out of high school.

In addition to forcing families into frequent moves, the lack of affordable housing in America contributes to health hazards for low-income families. Detroit, Michigan, is a perfect example of this issue. Detroit has extremely high levels of poverty and high populations of African-Americans. In some areas, around half of residents live below the poverty line. The houses in these areas are mostly old and contain lead paint and piping, leading to greater risk of lead toxicity.

Lead is especially dangerous for young children, and high levels of lead in the body can lead to delayed brain development, nervous system issues, a decrease in school achievement, and even a reduction in IQ. Since the cost of removing lead paint from homes is prohibitive—approximately $10,000 per home—many municipalities are unwilling or unable to make the improvements, leaving low-income families with no choice but to continue living in unsafe environments even if they are aware of the risks.

How can we help a critical mass of black boys to thrive, while dealing with so many obstacles?

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