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Expert Perspective

Solving Our Housing Crisis Can Help Address Poverty and Child Hunger

Gay couple with their baby at home
Gay couple with their baby at home

Carl Gershenson

Lab Director, Eviction Lab


October 23rd, 2023


Every family deserves the opportunity to thrive, and safety net programs can help ensure that opportunity. But if those programs fail to meet families’ needs during a time of crisis, we should be asking ourselves why, and how we can fix it.

At the Eviction Lab, we’re studying the impacts of America’s housing crisis: How the lack of affordable housing is a root cause of poverty, food insecurity, health disparities, and other critical challenges families face. Right now, we’re investigating why so many families who rely on food assistance from SNAP lose those critical benefits when they get evicted from their home.

When Housing and Food Insecurity Intersect

Access to safe, stable, affordable housing is linked with better physical and mental health, improved educational and developmental outcomes for children, financial security, and economic mobility. The loss of housing is associated with the inverse of each of these outcomes. 

Right now, there’s a nationwide shortage of affordable homes that’s forcing millions of families to spend 50% or more of their income on housing alone. This increases their risk for housing instability and eviction. Our research shows that households with children are even more likely to face eviction than those without. This could be due to numerous factors, including: 

  • Childcare and employment challenges. Parents and caregivers in communities that lack affordable, reliable childcare may have more difficulty getting or keeping a job. 
  • Landlord discrimination. Though children are protected under the Fair Housing Act, landlords may be less willing to rent to a mother with young children, for example, than to a single adult. 
  • Income prioritization. Many families that earn limited incomes will choose to feed their kids before they pay rent.

For some families, the chance of eviction is even higher: Black and Latinx renters in general, and women in particular, are disproportionately threatened with eviction and evicted from their homes.

Improving Access to Housing and Food

The hope would be that safety net programs like SNAP would be there to help families who have been evicted get back on their feet as they seek stable housing. That’s not the reality for millions of Americans. 

For example, we’re working to understand why families lose access to their SNAP benefits when they get evicted from their homes. That includes examining the requirements families must meet to apply or re-enroll for benefits, how families receive updates and benefits, and other factors that might cause people to miss out on SNAP nutrition benefits when they’re in crisis. 

“During the pandemic we saw the federal government mobilize quickly to deliver aid where and when it was needed. What if we brought the same urgency to strengthening SNAP, especially to protect families facing a crisis like eviction?”

Carl Gershenson

Our research is still underway but we know there are solutions that could protect kids and families from experiencing hunger, poverty, and eviction, including:

  • Reducing barriers to accessing nutrition programs. If families who are eligible for nutrition benefits are not receiving them, we need to look closely at application and administrative processes to identify and address barriers. Streamlining and modernizing the enrollment processes for SNAP and other nutrition assistance programs would help ensure that the families who need benefits can get them. 
  • Investing in policies that put families first. Instituting universal childcare, raising the minimum wage, reinstituting the Child Tax Credit, and providing paid family leave are all building blocks for healthy, equitable communities that families can thrive in. 
  • Helping families find and stay in their homes. The national eviction rate fell dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic, thanks in part to financial supports like eviction moratoria and emergency rental assistance. This past year, when those programs expired, the child poverty rate more than doubled. Ensuring that families who qualify for housing assistance receive it—and making much greater investments in family-friendly, affordable housing—would help more families access stable housing.

Support for these and other equitable solutions are urgently needed in every community nationwide. Ultimately, we must dismantle the barriers that create unequal opportunity and threaten our shared prosperity to build a better future for everyone’s children and grandchildren.

About the Authors

Carl Gershenson
Lab Director, Eviction Lab
Carl Gershenson is the lab director at Eviction Lab. Together with Principal Investigator Matthew Desmond, he is conducting research on the link between housing instability and food insecurity through a grant from Healthy Eating Research and RWJF.

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