Student’s Living in Low-Income Housing

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This paper contains a review of several pieces of literature that relate to the relationship between living in low income communities such as: public housing; housing communities for low income families; and areas in which families living in poverty reside, and the effects it has on those families’ students’ academic performance. Socioeconomic factors play a major role in children’s behavior and while poverty has been a well-known issue in the United States, the children that live in these communities carry the emotional and mental burdens of their family’s economic hardship. Children living in poverty tend to have higher dropout rates and poor academic achievement. There are a few students who tend to break the cycle and use resources available to them to help achieve academically. Creating resource centers in communities to help provide students with a safe and onsite facility for learning, tutoring, and peer encouragement would help change the outcome for children in low-income housing and their academic achievement.

Keywords: low income students, poverty living student performance, poverty student achievement

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Student’s living in poverty struggle academically due to minimum resources and socioeconomic factors. Low-income communities are associated with criminal activity, neglect due to substance abuse and other factors, as well as limited resources. These socioeconomic factors cause trauma and emotional distress for students that often negatively affect their academic performance. There is a strong demand for creating the right resources in these low-income communities to help promote academic success for children living in low-income neighborhoods.

The following articles provide different research and data on the various effects living in low income communities have on students and their academic performance. The shared results also indicate various trends and themes regarding students of both low-income and homeless families and their academic performance. There is also some discussion about suggestions on how to help children living in poverty to become or remain successful in their academic progress. The goal of this paper is to connect the dots between personal living situations or socioeconomic issues and academic performance in school-aged children.

The search for the upcoming articles were found by using the key words: “low income students”, “poverty living student performance,” and “poverty student achievement.”

Poverty is a socioeconomic issue with factors that negatively influence an individual’s economic activity including health, housing, and education and/or lack thereof. Poverty is often a result of low-income producing families and can easily lead to members of low-income families having few options for a place of residence. If low-income families are positioned to live in low-income communities this does not end their financial, or socioeconomic plight. In addition to having to focus on maintaining an adequate housing environment, when children are included in low-income families the issue of obtaining adequate education is also present. Should these families be fortunate enough to be in a school zone with above average schools, there is still plenty of data to support that school-aged children in low-income families perform academically worse than their counterparts from wealthier families and communities.

 The American Journal of Public Health has an article entitled “The effect of neighborhood socioeconomic status on education and health outcomes for children living in social housing” that explores the differences in health and education outcomes between children living in social housing and those who do not. 3 The study uses the population-based repository of administrative data at the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy. It includes children aged 0 to 19 years in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in fiscal years 2006-2007 to 2008-2009 (n = 13 238 social housing; 4 n = 174 017 others). It examines 5 outcomes: 5 age-2 complete immunization; 6 a school-readiness measure; adolescent pregnancy (ages 15-19 years); 4 grade-9 completion; and high-school completion.

Children in social housing fared worse than comparative children within each neighborhood income quintile. When the study compared children in social housing by quintile, preschool indicators (immunization and school readiness) were similar, but adolescent outcomes (grade-9 and high-school completion, adolescent pregnancy) were better in Q3 to Q5. Children in social housing had poorer health and education outcomes than all others but living in social housing in wealthier areas was associated with better adolescent outcomes.

A 2015 article published in the Washington Post suggests that most public-school students are now living in poverty. It reports that for the first time in at least 50 years, many U.S. public school students come from low-income families, per an analysis of 2013 federal data. At the time of the report there were at least half of the public-school children in 21 states, that were eligible for free and reduced-price lunches – ranging from Mississippi, where more than 70 percent of students were from low-income families, to Illinois, where one of every two students was low-income.

According to the Education and Urban Society Journal, living doubled-up is a form of homelessness that can go undetected by schools, yet the toll it takes on the lives of students is significant. 7 “Doubled-up homelessness” refers to a situation where individuals are unable to maintain their housing situation and are forced to stay with a series of friends and/or extended family members. Given that most of the previous research has mainly focused on more visible forms of student homelessness (eg, living in shelters, cars, or hotels) this group has been largely avoided, however, the following study suggests that this group warrants consideration.

The conducted study focused on determining how students who live in doubled-up homeless families differ from low-income students who live in permanent housing regarding demographics, academics, and behavior problems. The study used records from a Northern California school district and a nonexperimental research design to determine how student homelessness predicts various school-related outcomes.

The collected results indicated that doubled-up homeless students earned significantly lower grade point averages (GPAs) and were less likely to graduate on time than students in permanent housing. Doubled-up homeless students were also more likely to have truancy problems.

More research reveals some truths regarding mastery of certain early learning skills and future (successful) academic performance. 8 In the Journal of Housing and Community Development an article asserts that reading proficiency by the end of third grade is a critical milestone on a child’s path to high school graduation and success later in life because it marks the transition from ‘learning to read’ to ‘reading to learn.’ Students who have not mastered reading by that time are 13 times more likely to drop out of high school and struggle throughout their lives.

A very interesting article in the Family and Consumer Sciences Research Journal, reported an experiment that reflected a comparison of the initial and concluding thoughts, views, and perspectives of public housing residents. For students considering careers in the housing industry, moving beyond stereotypical views of low-income individuals is essential to ensuring fair housing opportunities.

Using qualitative data from two reflective writing assignments, this research examines changes in the perception of public housing residents and the demonstration of intercultural competence among 69 undergraduate students completing a service-learning project in an affordable housing policy and management course. Most students entered the course with stereotypical views of public housing residents that could prove unproductive in future social or professional interactions. A reflection writing assignment after the service-learning project provided evidence of intercultural competence through an empathetic, informed frame of reference shift. However, a small number of students held firmly to negative, ethnocentric attitudes. This finding suggests that the service-learning project affected students in different ways.

When faced with the question as basic as, ‘Are we going to have food tonight?’ the response in many children is one of anxiety and to learn survival skills that are not necessarily good social skills. When children must add personal issues of how their most basic needs will be met to the expected social issues that come with school interactions, the response can be a feeling of being overwhelmed and possibly exploding or lashing out. Most children have not finished developing their psychological skills to know how to properly cope with their issues in a healthy manner. Since many instances of homelessness are often undetected in schools, that results in many of those issues being unresolved. Or worse, sometimes students who are carrying the weight of basic daily survival and managing school work, reach the end of their rope, lash out at another student in the form of a fight or altercation at school, and the forbidden act fighting is punished rather than the student’s greater need for food, shelter, clothes, etc. There needs to be a greater system in place for students who suffer in having their basic needs met recognized. When these students come into a public school there should be some fairly easy ways to identify when a student suffers from homelessness of any kind and has a need beyond what meets the eye. Some of the articles provided strategies for overcoming the silent suffering of homeless or low-income housing students.

The research findings are motivating educators to rethink zero-tolerance discipline policies that punish kids for outbursts that can be signs of trauma and to rally support for efforts to bring more mental health care into schools, where students and families have ready access to them.

Tackling the grade-level reading crisis requires strategies to rebuild what is now a tangled system of early care and early grade education by using grade-level reading proficiency as a unifying goal; promoting quality teaching for every child; 9 supporting community solutions to address lack of school readiness, chronic absence and summer learning loss; 8 to help parents succeed in their critical roles as first teachers and best advocates; and to ensure healthy, on-track development for children starting with quality, easily accessible prenatal care. 9 By embracing grade-level reading as a goal of the supportive services they provide, housing authorities are showing that they can break the cycle of hopelessness. School districts need also to identify students living in doubled-up families and seek ways to improve their academic experiences.

Providing mental health services in schools is also an effective way to address the various issues that these students from low-income housing or homeless families face daily. D.C. Council member David Grosso (I-At Large), chairman of the education committee, said trauma is a ‘root cause’ of the achievement gap between rich and poor students, and he aims to shepherd more resources for mental health services in public schools.

Being unable to change the current living situations for students’ parents should not paralyze any efforts to help those students cope with the harsh realities that prove to strongly impact their academic performance either negatively or positively. One of the proven ways to combat low-income housing and homelessness is successful completion of education and becoming gainfully employed. Positioning the students from low-income families to earn a great education and secure gainful employment is one of the ways to help them overcome the living situations beyond their control, and to make better decisions than their parents or guardians may have made.

One article explored the suggestions from low-income housing students themselves for how they can best be helped from their school counselors. In a qualitative study conducted by the Professional School Counseling Journal a national sample of academically resilient, low-income middle school students’ (N = 24) perspectives of what school counselors can do to promote their academic achievement was captured. Three main themes were identified: build meaningful relationships; build on the cultural wealth of students; and provide mental health services in schools.


As Steve Turbeville, director of Lighthouse Ministries says, “Looking at poverty from one angle is tough. It’s like looking at an elephant up close. You might see the trunk or the tail, but it’s not really the whole elephant.” While there is no magic solution to change the minds of every single person on the planet or even in this nation, employing multiple solutions and strategies to improve the academic performance of students in low-income housing stands to produce more benefits than harm.

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It is important to help children realize they are not alone, and that while they may be experiencing homelessness or low-income housing today, it does not always remain that way. Things can often change in the blink of an eye, and sometimes it just needs to be said, heard, and received to make the difference in someone having an amazing day, and someone having another bad day.

The change must begin somewhere, and to implement even one of the shared suggestions could do so much to positively impact the lives and academic performance of students from low-income families. The goal is to end the cycle of poverty and poor academic performance. The effects of low-income housing, homelessness, and poverty as stated above provide sound reasoning for the need to break this viscous cycle sooner than later.


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  2. BREAKING THE CYCLE OF POVERTY: Public housing as a platform for student success Drumm, S. (2015, Sep 21).
  3. Basic needs lead to challenges for students living in poverty. The Ledger Retrieved from
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  5. Academically resilient, low-income students’ perspectives of how school counselors can meet their academic needs. Professional School Counseling, 19(1), 155. doi:10.5330/1096-2409-19.1.155
  6. Layton, L. (2015). Most public-school students now living in poverty.  The Washington Post Low, J. A., Hallett, R. E., & Mo, E. (2017).
  7. Doubled-Up Homeless: Comparing Educational Outcomes with Low-Income Students. Education and Urban Society, 49(9), 795–813.
  8. Martens, P. J., Chateau, D. G., Burland, E. M. J., Finlayson, G. S., Smith, M. J., Taylor, C. R. The PATHS Equity Team. (2014).
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  11. Skobba, K., & Bruin, M. J. (2016). Examining public housing stereotypes and building intercultural competence through service-learning. Family and Consumer Sciences Research Journal, 44(4), 345-359. 11 doi:10.1111/fcsr.12163
  12. Williams, J. M., Bryan, J., Morrison, S., & Scott, T. R. (2017). Protective factors and processes contributing to the academic success of students living in poverty: Implications for counselors. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, 45(3), 183-200. doi:10.1002/jmcd.12073
  13. What is the official definition of homelessness? | National Health Care

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Student’s Living in Low-Income Housing. (2021, Oct 19). Retrieved from