Shaping Lives: The Impact of Building Quality & Housing Security on Childhood Development

Shaping Lives: The Impact of Building Quality & Housing Security on Childhood Development

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, humans spend approximately 87 percent of their time indoors. This striking fact has serious implications, as the quality of the spaces we occupy is directly linked to the quality of the lives we live. The connection between space and human health is particularly critical for young children who are forming the cognitive, emotional and physical systems that will carry them through adulthood. As we celebrate the Week of the Young Child (April 8-12), it’s important to understand how a lack of stable, high-quality housing can detract from the wellbeing of our youngest community members.

Households in rural, suburban and urban communities alike are facing significant financial pressure, with more than one-third of families burdened with housing costs that consume over 30 percent of their income. With such a large portion of earnings dedicated to housing, low-income families can’t always afford purchasing basic necessities, such as medicine, heating, clothing and nutritious food. This type of financial stress and poverty shapes the experiences of almost half of U.S. children and is intertwined with an increased likelihood of living in detrimental housing conditions or facing housing insecurity, both of which can lead to negative short- and long-term health outcomes.

Substandard housing – or homes with inadequate ventilation and heating, contaminated water supplies, the presence of mold and mildew, poor sanitation, pest infestation (particularly vermin and cockroaches) and/or structural deficiencies – has been connected to greater rates of chronic illness and injury. In children, dangerous living environments result in higher instances of respiratory illness, such as asthma; lead poisoning, which impacts behavioral, intellectual and physical development; “sick building syndrome,” or discomfort resulting from building defects, which increases absenteeism; and cancers caused by exposure to asbestos and radon. Additionally, children can be prone to falls, cuts and burns in residential settings with structural deterioration, older building materials and exposure to natural elements.

With financial instability can also come housing insecurity. Of the children facing homelessness and seeking transitional housing, nearly half are under the age of six. The inability to access a stable living environment can stunt socio-emotional growth, linguistic development and literacy in children, among causing other severe consequences. It can also result in “toxic stress,” or the sustained activation of the body’s stress reaction system. Producing excess stress hormones, as well as raising blood pressure and heart rates, the reaction of children’s bodies to an adverse environment can delay development, worsen academic performance and hinder behavioral progress. It’s also associated with more chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes.

As affordable housing continues to grow scarce, it’s crucial that we protect children’s mental and physical health, especially during the most formative early years. At IBA, we have worked toward that outcome throughout the years by focusing on high-quality housing and early childhood education. With particular attention to the children in our community, IBA’s Preschool, an accredited bilingual learning program, encourages inclusivity and adaptability, as well as cultivates linguistic, cognitive, motor and socio-emotional development in young children in a nurturing multicultural environment. We engage families and support them in the early learning journey of their children. Along with quality early childhood education, IBA remains committed to providing high-quality affordable housing for all of our residents, as well as promoting on a larger scale the expansion of affordable housing opportunities and equal access to early childhood education.

We are proud to be working to develop housing opportunities for low-income households and minority residents in Boston. For more information on how you can support IBA, please visit our page: