Stabilizing Families Through a School-Centered Housing Response

About the Author

Ann Willemssen is a director at UPD Consulting, where she specializes in public sector organizational transformation work centered around data. In addition to directing the School-Centered Housing Response work in Baltimore, Ann worked with the New Mexico Public Education Department on a series of transformation projects centered around data management and use, supported the implementation of a continuous improvement practice in nine schools in Virginia, and lead the convening of city-level economic mobility stakeholders from across the nation to build a set of data use cases to support greater data collaboration in the field. Prior to joining UPD, Ann worked for the City Administrator of the District of Columbia implementing strategic, multi-agency initiatives, and she led performance improvement projects for DC’s Office of the State Superintendent of Education. She also worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture on nutrition programs for children and low income households.

Ann believes that more should be done to support students through safe and affordable housing, and she would love to talk to anyone with that shared interest. Contact her at: (Website) 

UPD Consulting, in collaboration with the Baltimore Department of Housing and Community Development and Baltimore City Schools, recently designed a model program which connects affordable housing opportunities to elementary school families. (You can download the white paper here.) The work started as an idea by a Baltimore elementary school principal who noticed, while placing his McKinney Vento-identified students into taxi cabs to stay in shelters and on couches across town, that there were vacant homes right across the street that could be put to better use. After many conversations with national and regional experts, an innovation fund award from Fannie Mae, engagement with Baltimore school leadership and low income elementary-school families, and a year-long research process supported by a steering committee of Baltimore leaders on this topic, we built a new management model to connect housing to education. And we intend to pilot the model with three Baltimore City elementary schools.

The premise of the model is simple. The Housing Department will partner with affordable housing providers to facilitate the rehabilitation and maintenance of a selection of properties within the neighborhood of each pilot school. What is unique about this model is that the properties will be under the purview of the neighborhood elementary school. This means that the school leadership team will place housing unstable families enrolled at their school directly into those properties. The housing is reserved for that school’s families. We call the model School-Centered Housing Response (SCHORE). It is not coincidental that the name starts with “school,” because the work centers around the relationship between the family and school. And chief among the outcomes we hope to see with this program is a reduction in childhood toxic stress and attendance stability.

A key feature of this model is the role of the community school coordinator who also serves as the McKinney Vento coordinator in our three pilot schools. Baltimore recognized the benefits of community schools, a model which fosters close partnerships to provide community services for its families through the school environment, and already provided a dedicated community schools coordinator at each school to support that work. In the SCHORE model, the community school coordinator cultivates relationships with enrolled housing unstable families and serves as the connection point between the family, the school, and the housing provider. Families are selected by first applying the set of criteria to prioritize families outlined in the graphic below:

If there are more families meeting all of the criteria than there is housing available, the school leadership team will make a recommendation of the family(ies) they think would most benefit from the program to the housing provider who will make the final decision.The model is based on Baltimore’s strong community school system and the abundance of vacant properties under the city’s control. But these two elements are not absolute “must haves” for the model to work. The housing could be new construction. Or the schools could rely on a counselor or other school role to support this work. Variations abound. The most important feature of the model is that it builds a coordinated, shared governance between government agencies and funding stakeholders to solve a challenge that no one agency is able to solve on its own. We intend to use a robust continuous improvement process to bring these collaborators together during the pilot phase, not only to learn and improve the pilot, but also to strengthen that shared governance for what we intend will be a fully scaled program in the future.