Housing instability is a widespread problem throughout the United States, including in Ft. Collins and in Colorado generally. A common misconception amongst the general public about housing instability is that younger children are resilient and quite capable of “going with the flow” when a family is faced with housing instability. In fact, housing instability has pervasive and persistent negative impacts on pre-teen children in a number of different ways.

Overview of Housing Instability

Before diving into the different ways in which housing instability negatively impacts pre-teen children, a general understanding of what is meant by housing instability is necessary. Housing instability is a status broadly defined. Housing stability is something of an all-encompassing term that covers a variety of challenges and situations. These include:

  • Difficulties paying rent
  • Overcrowding
  • Frequent moves
  • Staying with relatives
  • Disproportionate income share spent on housing

A U.S. household is deemed cost burdened if more that 30 percent of income is spent on housing costs. A household is considered to be extremely cost burdened if more than 50 percent of income is spent on housing.

When a household is classified as cost burdened or extremely cost burdened, little money is available for other basic necessities, including:

  • Utilities
  • Healthcare
  • Clothing
  • Food

Households comprised of black and Latino families are nearly twice as likely to be classified as cost burdened as are white households. Approximately 25 million households are cost burdened, according to the U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. About half of that number are extremely cost burdened.

Housing instability pervasively, and persistently adversely impacts pre-teens in a number of key ways:

  • Nutrition
  • Peer socialization
  • Academic performance
  • Family relations
  • Health and safety

The Impact of Housing Instability on Pre-Teen Nutrition

Housing instability and food instability by definition and operation are directly related. As noted previously, because housing instability oftentimes arises from housing costs requiring a disproportionate share of a family’s budget, less money is available for other essential expenses, including food. Despite the obvious importance of food, expenditures for nourishing food is one area in which a family experiencing housing instability is forced to make cuts.

Cutting back on food budgets impacts pre-teens directly on two levels. First, they oftentimes have less to eat than is ideal. Second, the volume of food consumed might be unchanged, but food purchased in a more restrictive budget becomes less nutritious.

There is another important impact housing instability has on pre-teen nutrition. Many pre-teens experiencing housing instability are living in areas in many communities that are classified as “food desserts.” These are sections of a city in which there exists no readily accessible full-service grocery market. Families in such areas are relegated to doing their “grocery shopping” at convenience stores and “dollar stores.” Although these types of establishments do serve a helpful role in a community, they are not venues from which the most nutritious, healthy, and wholesome groceries can be purchased, items that truly are needed to meet the nutritional needs of children.

Housing Instability and Pre-Teen Peer Socialization

Housing instability has a significantly negative impact on all-important pre-teen socialization. The negative impact on pre-teen socialization can arise from something as simple as a child may lack a suitable place to invite his or her peers to play and socialize. Because a family may be relegated to living in housing in poor repair, a child may feel compelled to keep his or her peers away from the home. A child may be ashamed of where he or she lives.

This situation proves to be the case even in a setting in which many children are living in similarly situated households. Even when commonality exists in this regard, many families feel shame about their situations and do not encourage their children to invite friends to their homes.

Housing instability many times also results in families having to move with alarming frequency. Due to the need to move frequently, a child in such as household lacks the ability to form meaningful friendships with his or her peers in the first instance.

Youth Academic Performance and Housing Instability

Housing instability impacts a pre-teen’s academic performance in many ways. Housing instability, nutrition, and academic performance are interrelated. A lack of proper nutrition directly impacts a pre-teen’s ability to effectively engage in academic pursuits on a consistent basis.

Housing instability has the potential for impacting a child’s academic performance in a very direct manner. A pre-teen simply may lack a suitable location in which to do something as simple as undertake a homework assignment.

Due to financial and associated challenges, a parent or parents of a pre-teen facing housing instability have less time to spend assisting their children with school-related issues. In addition, for different reasons stemming from underlying housing instability, pre-teens have a higher rate of school absenteeism, which negatively impacts academic performance.

Familial Relations and Housing Instability

Housing instability has a broadly negative impact on familial relationships. Stress, poor nutrition, inadequate housing, and other associated issues can adversely impact the relationship between parents and children and between siblings. The negative impact on interrelationships of the family unit can not only prove to be profound but can permanently negatively impact the relationships between parents and children.

Housing Instability, Health and Safety Hazards, and Pre-Teens

Housing instability can also result in the exposure of pre-teens to health and safety hazards associated with their living environments. This can come in a number of different forms.

First, a family experiencing housing instability may be resigned to living in a residence that is in disrepair. By its very nature, a residence in disrepair can present different physical and other hazards to a pre-teen and others in a household.

Second, a family facing housing instability may reside in a residence located in a part of a community with a higher crime rate. Such an environment places a pre-teen at greater risk of becoming a victim of crime.

Third, in a more extreme situation, a pre-teen and his or her family may end up homeless. Homelessness significantly increases a pre-teen’s exposure to health and safety risks. For example, if a pre-teen and his or her family gravitates to a homeless encampment, broad spectrum exposure to health and safety risks becomes part of everyday living.

The availability of resources to lessen the negative impacts of housing instability on pre-teen children is crucial. Absent such resources, pre-teen children are disadvantaged on many levels. The risk of perpetuating an ongoing cycle of housing instability becomes more likely.