Secure, affordable housing provides a foundation for family stability and for longer-term educational and economic success. Children, adolescents, and adults all need the security of a decent house or apartment that they (or their parents) can afford, meaning they do not face the disruption of eviction or involuntary moves and their family budgets are not stretched too thin to pay for other basic needs such as nutritious food, health care, and education. Further, children and adults without stable, affordable housing may feel powerless and devalued by or excluded from the larger community.

To see more information about these predictors, see our updated report, Boosting Upward Mobility: Metrics to Inform Local Action, Second Edition. For more insight into the decisions behind updates to the predictors and metrics, see that paper’s accompanying Technical Report.


Housing Affordability

Housing Stability



Housing Affordability

The availability of affordable housing for households with low or moderate incomes is an important precondition for families to achieve housing stability and to be able to move out of poverty. In contrast, housing instability and homelessness undercut families’ prospects for upward mobility.

Metric: Ratio of affordable and available housing units to households with low and very low income levels

This metric reports the number of available housing units affordable for households with low incomes (below 80 percent of area median income, or AMI), very low incomes (below 50 percent of AMI), and extremely low incomes (below 30 percent of AMI) relative to every 100 households with these income levels. Housing units are defined as affordable if the monthly costs do not exceed 30 percent of a household's income. Values above 100 suggest there are more affordable housing units than households with those income levels. Values below 100 indicate a shortage of affordable housing for households with those income levels. For this metric, the stock of available housing units includes both vacant and occupied units and both rental and homeowner units. A unit is considered available for households at a given level of income if its monthly cost is affordable at that income level (regardless of the income of the current occupant).

Validity: Affordable housing ratios of this type are widely applied in studies of local housing market conditions and trends. Both the income categories and the affordability standard are well established and accepted in both research and policy.

Availability: These ratios can be constructed using data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey and income categories defined by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, both of which are publicly available nationwide.

Frequency: These ratios can be updated annually.

Geography: Affordable housing ratios can be computed by city or county. For less populated areas, several years of data may need to be pooled to obtain reliable estimates.

Consistency: Affordable housing ratios can be computed consistently for all counties and cities over time. Because the income categories are calculated relative to AMI, the affordability metric appropriately reflects local economic conditions.

Subgroups: Because these ratios focus on the characteristics of the housing stock, stratifying by demographic subgroups is not relevant. However, housing units in each affordability category can be stratified by size (number of bedrooms) and tenure (owned or rented).

Limitations: These shares do not reflect the quality of the available and affordable housing units. Units counted as available and affordable for households with low or very low incomes may be poor quality or too small to meet household needs. This metric is somewhat sensitive to patterns of residential mobility. For example, if the number of households with very low incomes were to decline (because of outmigration), this metric would show improvement even if no additional affordable units were produced.

Housing Stability

Housing instability and homelessness undercut families’ prospects for upward mobility. Homelessness is an extreme manifestation of powerlessness and loss of belonging. It both reflects and contributes to unemployment and financial insecurity, disrupts children’s education, and undermines both physical and emotional health.

Metric: Number and share of public school children who are ever homeless during the school year

This metric identifies the number of children (age 3 through 12th grade) who are enrolled in public schools and whose primary nighttime residence at any time during a school year was a shelter, transitional housing, or awaiting foster care placement; unsheltered (e.g., a car, park, campground, temporary trailer, or abandoned building); a hotel or motel because of the lack of alternative adequate accommodations; or the housing of other people because of loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason.

Validity: Data are reported by school administrators and generally verified by local liaisons and state coordinators. This is a direct and well-established measure of homelessness for children that results from and reflects housing instability among families and unaccompanied children. The definition of homelessness used for this metric extends beyond literal homelessness to effectively include the full range of circumstances in which a family does not have a stable home of their own.

Availability: The US Department of Education requires every local education agency to collect and report these data.

Frequency: New data for the metric are available annually.

Geography: The boundaries of local education agencies can be mapped onto to the city and county levels.

Consistency: This metric is consistently defined, collected, and reported for all local education agencies nationwide.

Subgroups: This metric can be disaggregated based on students’ disability status and whether they are enrolled in English as a Second Language courses.

Limitations: This metric does not include homeless adults who are childless, and it does not capture homelessness among children who do not enroll in public school. Further, it could show improvement if the families of homeless children move to a neighboring jurisdiction or if policies “push” them out. This metric is quite sensitive to patterns of residential mobility if large numbers of families with very low incomes flow into or out of a local education agency’s boundary.