Making the Grade Through Community Engagement: Recreating the Benefits of Home Ownership for the Children of Renting Families

Owner, Renter Green Road Sign Over Dramatic Clouds and Sky.
Owner, Renter Green Road Sign Over Dramatic Clouds and Sky.

KELLY KINDER

Staff Writer Kelly Kinder is completing a writing degree at Metropolitan State University in Denver.

In 2008 the mortgage crisis crushed the American Dream of homeownership for many families. If not impacted by a foreclosure, families likely felt the tightening of restricted lending, a drop in their home’s market value and, perhaps a return to the rental market. In light of studies that conclude higher academic performance and fewer behavior problems for children of families who own their home, these could be disheartening circumstances.  While the mortgage crisis has passed, for many families the aftermath has not. If you are one of these renting families, asking yourself what you can do to help your children achieve the academic and behavioral benefits enjoyed by the children of home-owning families, read on.

What you must know about existing research is that the same factors that increase the likelihood of homeownership may also increase positive academic and behavior outcomes, so it has been suggested that there may not be a direct correlation. Child-rearing is complex and cannot be narrowed to cause and effect formulas. However, valuable information has been highlighted in the studies of this topic, information that renting parents of young children can extract and use to model the positive characteristics of homeownership in their rental homes.

Perhaps the strongest data was put forward by Haurin, Parcel, and Haurin (2002) who found “that owning a home compared with renting leads to a 13 to 23% higher quality of home environment, greater cognitive ability and fewer child behavior problems. For children living in owned homes, math achievement is up to 9% higher, reading achievement is up to 7% higher, and children’s behavioral problems are 1 to 3% lower.” The study attributes stronger investment incentive and greater geographic stability as the two driving factors that set the stage for better home environments, greater social capital and more stable school environments (Haurin, 2002). 

These factors can be examined by renting families for the purpose of recreating homeowner characteristics in a rental home. Regarding greater geographic stability, families who own their home tend to stay in their homes and neighborhoods for longer periods than renting families. Therefore, one of the greatest considerations for renting families is to carefully research location prior to renting. Renters should ask, does this location suit our long-term needs? Families should examine their prospective neighborhood to answer important questions. What are the traffic patterns and crime rates? Who will their neighbors be? Are they young singles, older adults with no children or young families with children, and do community activities revolve around family? Once the best rental home is identified, families can seek longer rental contracts to increase stability.  In the event that a move is necessary, efforts should be made to find a rental location within the same community and school district as the existing rental home to maintain geographic stability and preserve community ties. In some cases, families are faced with multiple households due to divorce or other circumstances.  In these instances, efforts should be made to maintain continuity between the two households by maintaining involvement in common community activities, including school events, as well as agreeing on behavior expectations and academic performance.

Once in their rental home, families can accelerate the process of building community by reaching out and taking the initiative to engage.  This can be done in person by meeting the people in the neighborhood.  Take the role of welcome wagon ambassador to greet your neighbors and find common ground. Find shared social opportunities, such as the local school, to make connections with other families in similar situations. Initiative can also be taken through the use of technology, apps such as NextDoor and Facebook. These can also be valuable platforms for offering and asking for help.

While rental families don’t share the same financial investment in their homes as home-owning families, they can work to ensure that their rental home is safe, well maintained and suitable for their family’s well-being. Investment in a home often equates to pride in homeownership. Historically, affordable rental housing has garnered a bad reputation. Known for dilapidation, high crime, and low property values, a family would be hard pressed to take pride in their subsidized rental home.  Thankfully, during the past few decades, there has been a shift to Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) programs.

The federal tax credit program is gaining interest and traction in private sector community development. The result is often beautiful, efficient, well-maintained rental properties that offer community amenities characteristic of single-home neighborhoods. This shift in affordable housing holds promise for families seeking quality affordable housing in which they can take pride in investing in their family’s future. LIHTC properties often contain community rooms that can be reserved for social events in addition to sponsoring community activities. In many cases, the properties are so updated and well-maintained that they blended seamlessly within their single family home neighborhoods.

Few studies have been done on the effects of neighborhoods on renter children. The Moving-to-Opportunity (MTO) demonstration program suggests that better neighborhoods are not better for renters’ children. However, the conclusion is based on an assumption that the frequent mobility of renting families prevents children from developing close ties in the community. Perhaps those statistics can be overcome for long-term renter families who make deliberate efforts to maximize their community involvement.  The following chart identifies a number of opportunities for renters to model characteristics identified in home-owning families.

Common Homeowner Attributes Renter Opportunities
Greater geographic stability Rent selectively. Consider long-term suitability. Seek longer rental contracts. If a move is necessary, seek rentals within existing community and school district.
Stronger investment incentive While a renter isn’t financially invested in their property, they can become “invested” in their community through many of the following actions.

Financial investment often equates to pride, renters can take equal pride in a property that is safe and well-maintained.

Better home environment Seek rental homes with consideration for safety features such as no lead paint, quality construction, and good maintenance history.
Neighborhood involvement Participate in local organizations and civic groups – boy/girls scouts, local church affiliations, library programs, city programs.

Use programs such as NextDoor to create a platform for offering/asking for help with household needs and childcare.

Build community by taking the initiative – reaching out, getting to know people, start a single parent group or become a welcome wagon ambassador.

Opt in to the community directory or suggest/start one.

Better citizens Attend meetings involving city initiatives, read communications regarding city activities, volunteer for city programs.
Higher voting rates Study local political candidates, become educated on ballot issues and cast your vote.
Better school districts/stable school environment Seek rental homes in better school districts. Consider open enrollment, vouchers or charter schools to maintain school stability. Attend school events such as back-to-school night, parent nights and other school functions.

Create continuity in multiple family homes – communicate consistent homework requirements, parent/teacher relationships, attendance.

Neighborhood amenities Utilize parks and open space, recreation facilities, hiking and biking trails.
Support crime prevention Participate in initiatives by local police and fire departments. Attend seminars, sign up for emergency alerts, seek community outreach programs such as neighborhood watch.
Support public schools Volunteer. Look for opportunities to attend board meetings, participate on school committees, and vote for school ballot issues.

Identify the school/community liaison to make connections for assistance or with families in need of assistance.

Greater social capital Build a network of parents and professionals. Surround your children with responsible adults that they trust.
More space for play Utilize local parks and recreation facilities in addition to available open space at or near your rental home.
Higher Parent self-esteem Seek assistance for concerns such as stress, finance/budget, marriage counseling, parenting courses and vocational assistance.
Satisfaction/Happiness Take pride in your rental home and in your efforts and successes. Set goals and track progress to celebrate milestones.
Informal social participation Take the initiative to welcome new neighbors, plan barbeque or potluck events, organize holiday giving drives.
More intent monitoring of children’s activities Get to know the parents of your children’s friends, create a network of parents to encourage accountability for your children.
Foster a stimulating, emotionally supportive environment Schedule family dinners at least 3 nights a week. Designate homework time and time for games and relaxation.

According to Artie Lehl, Douglas County Housing Partnership, as a renting family it is important to periodically reexamine your circumstances to determine if homeownership is in your future. Numerous resources are available for exploring affordable housing options including Credit and Budgeting Counsel and First-time Homebuyer programs. For a variety of reasons, you may find that your family is better suited to a rental home either permanently or temporarily. There are costs associated with homeownership such as maintenance and adjustable mortgage rates that can make homeownership costlier than renting. If homeownership causes a financial strain or allows fewer opportunities for parenting time or family activities, renting may be a better option until homeownership is more financially feasible.  Do not be discouraged; continue to emulate the characteristics of homeownership in your rental home until homeownership is right for your family.

There are those who will say that the data is incomplete and that homeownership alone is not magical and will not guarantee higher academic achievements or better behavior. These are true statements. But as parents and guardians we know that we can’t always wait for additional studies to be complete or for findings to be affirmed; we must do what we can now.  We must apply our common sense, our logic, and our instincts to do what is within our power now. The data that does exist clearly supports the idea that homeownership, combined with the positive characteristics that accompany it, can provide stability, structure and resources that will benefit our children and that can result in higher academic results and better behavior outcomes.  As a rental family, you have the opportunity to

model these characteristics in your community.

References

Barker, D. R. (2010). Cityscape (Vol. 15). Evidence Does Not Show That Homeownership Benefits Children. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Harkness, J. M., & Newman, S. J. (2003). Effects of Homeownership on Children: The Role of Neighborhood Characteristics and Family Income.

Haurin, D. (2010). Cityscape (Vol. 15). The Relationship of Homeownership, House Prices, and Child Well-Being. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Retrieved August 18, 2016.

Haurin, D. R., Parcel, T. L., & Haurin, R. J. (2002). Does Homeownership Affect Child Outcomes? Real Estate Economics Real Estate Econ, 30(4), 635-666. doi:10.1111/1540-6229.t01-2-00053

Shlay, A. (2006). Low-income homeownership: American dream or delusion? Urban Studies, 43(3), 511-531. doi:10.1080/00420980500452433

Woo, A., & Joh, K. (2015, September 13). Beyond anecdotal evidence: Do subsidized housing developments increase neighborhood crime? Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S014362281500212X