Mixed-income housing combats educational inequality

Chelsea Boushka

The American Dream tells us if we work hard we will succeed, but this is a false hope for many students. Eighty percent of low-income 4th grade students in the U.S. fail to meet their grade level’s reading standards, and the gap between the average math and reading levels of students at the 90th and 10th percentiles has increased from 40 percent to 50 percent in 25 years.

Many cultural and socio-economic factors intersect with the income achievement gap, so there are many opportunities for reform. But housing patterns cannot be overlooked because there are so closely related to school systems and other lifestyle factors that allow families to focus on their education and success.  

  In a study published in the journal Community Investments, Stanford sociologist Sean Reardon found the growth of the gap isn’t only about the rich having more dollars than they did before; it’s also that a dollar buys more achievement than it used to. 

“Rising income inequality has led to the increasing segregation of high income families from middle- and low-income families,” Reardon said. “Because residential patterns are closely linked to school-attendance patterns, the rise of residential income segregation has likely led to a concurrent rise in school segregation by income."

Data from the Department of Education shows the average state and local funding gap between the richest 25% of school districts and the poorest 25% is $1,500 per student. This means the schools of wealthier children can afford to hire and keep better teachers, better programs and many other resources.

Mixed-income communities, where people of all-income levels live in the same housing area, solve the problem of residential income segregation. Our schools are failing our poor students, but mixed-income communities would keep school district tax bases from creating poor and rich schools. The money would be spread out to provide adequate funding throughout the districts. 

The Urban Institute found that low-income adults who moved into mixed-income communities reported improvements within employment, mental health, safety, and educational opportunities.

Changes in other areas like employment and health matter because they contribute to parents having more time, resources and mental energy to invest in their children’s education. Overall, the children reported being happier and working harder in school.

Austin developers just began construction on an apartment complex, Aldrich 51, in the upscale Mueller neighborhood. 85 percent of the complex is paid by the city to be affordable housing, and the goal of the city’s $4 million investment is to create mixed-income housing.

The Mueller affordable housing complex is a step in the right direction, and we need to radically accelerate the number of these projects and others like them that combat the problems of income inequality. To realize all these educational benefits, future developments need to focus on catering to families, which the Mueller apartments does not, and they need to be be accessible to the poorest populations. 

The extreme inequality in this country is the greatest threat to the American Dream we want to believe in, and improving education is the way to fight it.

Boushka is a psychology sophomore from El Paso.