NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Housing Projects not as Bad for Kids as Alternatives



"...children in projects actually fare better in measures of educational attainment and housing quality than those of similar socioeconomic backgrounds who don't live in projects."

It has long been conventional wisdom that public housing projects are a disaster, particularly for children. But in many cities, families still fill waiting lists to live in public housing. In Are Public Housing Projects Good for Kids? (NBER Working Paper No. 6305), NBER Research Associate Janet Currie and Faculty Research Fellow Aaron Yelowitz attempt to measure the effects of projects on children's living conditions and educational attainment.

Combining data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Census Bureau they find, unsurprisingly, that children living in housing projects are more likely to have been held back in school and to live in an overcrowded dwelling than children who don't live in projects. But when they control for demographic and other differences between project dwellers and the population at large, they find that children in projects actually fare better in measures of educational attainment and housing quality than those of similar socioeconomic backgrounds who don't live in projects. In short, in terms of child outcomes, projects are usually better than the alternatives available.

Currie and Yelowitz speculate that part of the gap between perception and reality on housing projects stems from the disastrous failure of some huge urban projects, such as Chicago's infamous Robert Taylor Homes, which are in fact vastly different in terms of scale and quality from most of the country's housing projects. They also acknowledge that the data they rely on is of no use in determining whether children in housing projects are better off than children whose families receive govenment vouchers in order to help pay for better private housing. But they conclude that the data do suggest that "projects as a group have been unfairly vilified".


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