The intimate connection between housing and education

This story first appeared as part of WFAE’s EQUALibrium newsletter, exploring race and equity in the Charlotte region. Get the latest news and analysis in your inbox first by signing up here.
We kicked off a three-part series at WFAE this week, looking at the efforts to transform Boulevard Homes from a dilapidated public housing complex into a mixed-income community centered around a reborn school. As Ann Doss Helms reports, the Renaissance West Initiative is showing promise after 14 years, but the road to transformation is long, winding and comes with a good amount of backtracking.
What this series really highlights for me is the connection between housing — stable, affordable, safe housing — and students succeeding. I admit my bias as a former real estate reporter (my longest-held beat for the Charlotte Observer), but I think this connection is fundamental enough that we can’t start to solve the educational challenges facing Charlotte and other communities without truly addressing the role of housing.
Some quick background on Ann’s story: In 2009, Charlotte applied to demolish Boulevard Homes on West Boulevard. They were, as the story puts it, “tiny apartments with mold, asbestos and extensive physical decay. And Boulevard Homes was at the heart of a neighborhood where vacant buildings and substandard homes were common, crime was rampant and kids were failing in school.”
Fast-forward to today and there’s an “educational village,” with an improving school, new apartments and townhouses, child care, a senior center and other social services for families. It’s not perfect — the school is still dealing with lingering pandemic disruptions, trying to attract experienced teachers and concentrated poverty — but it’s a start. Unlike a lot of “failing” schools, it feels like Renaissance West is going somewhere.

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