Why Should Kids Learn About Fair Housing?

Since we began work on our children’s book more than ten years ago, this is the most common question we’ve received.  And it’s true - most kids aren’t looking to purchase a home anytime soon, and they probably don’t even know what “foreclosure” means.  Housing discrimination might affect them, but they aren’t the ones filing the complaints.

Despite all this, we are convinced that kids should learn about fair housing, and that the fair housing movement can be a portal into conversations about larger issues like systemic inequity and access to opportunity.  We are convinced of this for a number of reasons:

1) Kids get it.

Recently we conducted a fair housing workshop with fourth and fifth grade students at a local school.  In the workshop we played a board game that simulates the experience of housing discrimination.  Students are assigned characters, and must choose the best house for their family based on certain criteria.  For example, one character uses a wheelchair.  Another needs to be close to her mom’s office because the family doesn’t have a car.  Some of the characters are discriminated against, and don’t get the house that best fits their needs.  This has a negative impact on their quality of life and they end up finishing last in the game.

After the game, emotions were high.  Faciliators asked the students how they were feeling, and a girl named Cori raised her hand.  Her character was not discriminated against, and subsequently won the game.  Staff expected her to express excitement or happiness about her success.  But instead she said, “I feel cheated.” She understood that the game was unfair, and that made winning a lot less fun.

The idea that discrimination negatively affects all of us, even those of us who are not discriminated against, is a concept that Cori caught on to quickly at age 10.

2) Kids are affected by it.

Housing discrimination affects kids just like it affects adults.  LaFHAC receives dozens of housing discrimination complaints on the basis of familial status (a protection for families with children) each year. Where a child lives affects many quality of life factors including where she goes to school, how she gets there, what recreational opportunities and healthcare resources are available, the types of food she eats, how she is treated by law enforcement, and where her parents or guardians work. Not only can housing discrimination negatively impact a child’s access to resources and opportunity, but it can also result in homelessness when discriminatory practices steer families away from affordable and livable communities. According to a 2008 report by the National Center on Family Homelessness, Louisiana ranks worst of all 50 states in child homelessness, with homelessness affecting 19% of all children in the state. Children who are homeless are more likely to have health problems, and less likely to do well in school.  Because of the broad range of ways in which housing influences a child’s life, it is critical that children have tools to contextualize their experiences as they begin to both develop a sense of personal and group identity, and become influenced by social biases.

3) Kids can do something about it.

At the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center, we believe strongly that kids can make a difference.  So do the teachers, parents, and students that generously offered their advice throughout the development of the Fair Housing Five book and curricula.  We’ve seen kids brainstorm innovative ways to inform their communities about fair housing - everything from writing skits about housing discrimination and performing them for their peers, to having conversations around the dinner table with their parents or guardians.  And in the end, we think teaching kids about fair housing is a great way to reach the adults in their lives who may also be affected by housing discrimination.  We hope that parents, guardians and teachers will read The Fair Housing Five with their kids and have meaningful conversations about opportunity, diversity, and justice.