What do you think of when you hear the word “home”? Most people equate “home” with a traditional house on its own plot of land, owned by the occupants: the proverbial American Dream.
But “home” has a much broader meaning than owning a house. “Home” is a more abstract concept representing the emotional feeling of where one lives, whether it’s a traditional house, a tiny house, an apartment, a mobile home, a nursing home, or even a dorm room. And “home” can be a space that someone owns or is buying, or one that is rented. We want to encourage elementary educators to broaden their understanding of “home” by incorporating more information about apartments into their classrooms.
Elementary Educators Should Include a Focus on Apartments
Teaching about a variety of different living situations is an example of culturally responsive teaching. It allows those living in rented apartments to feel more accepted and exposes other students to housing options they may not be aware of. It may even allow teachers to reconsider their own housing biases.
Data from the American Housing Survey, tabulated by the National Multifamily Housing Council (2020) indicates that of the nearly 22 million apartment homes in the United States, nearly 15% are occupied by households with school-age children (ages 6–17). These approximately 3 million children need to know that they (and their family’s housing choices) are valued and respected, and they need to know that it’s okay to rent an apartment at any point in their lives.
As the price of single-family home ownership continues to increase, there has been an increase in rental apartment demand. According to research prepared by Hoyt Advisory Services (2017), over 4 million more apartments are needed by 2030 to keep up with demand and to keep overall housing prices low. However, the construction of new apartments is often challenged by city officials and/or neighborhood groups, driving up the overall price of rental apartments due to the imbalance of supply and demand (Bibby, 2017). Today’s children are tomorrow’s housing consumers, housing professionals, and community leaders; their increased knowledge about apartments and acceptance of apartments will help guide apartment development in the future.
Even with the current shortage of apartment homes, the apartment industry also has a shortage of employees (Collins, 2020), which will only become more problematic as more apartments are built to meet demand. The apartment industry provides more generous compensation than the more traditional housing career of real estate sales. As an example, property management positions typically include an array of employee benefits and may even include a reduction in rent (National Apartment Association, n.d.), whereas 2018 data from the National Association of Realtors indicates that real estate agents are typically self-employed and therefore do not receive employee benefits (Real Estate Career HQ, n.d.). We want to make sure today’s children are aware of the many apartment industry career opportunities.
Incorporating Apartments, Residents, and Staff Into Your Classroom
- Children’s literature: Build a library of culturally responsive books that depict different living situations and incorporate them into your classroom discussions. The books listed portray apartments, apartment residents, and/or apartment staff in a positive way. Use the evaluation tool found in the Housing Diversity in Children’s Literature article listed below (Earhart, 2016) to evaluate other children’s books and to determine if they send the appropriate “housing message.” Some of our favorite apartment-friendly children’s books include:
Busybody Nora, by Johanna Hurwitz
Going Up, by Sherry J. Lee
My Building, by Robin Isabel Ahrens
The ABC Book of American Homes, by Michael Shoulders
The Imaginary Garden, by Andrew Larsen
- Community interaction: Have apartment industry professionals visit the classroom to discuss apartment living and apartment careers. Better yet, take students on a tour, as some may have never seen an apartment community, an individual apartment home, or apartment community amenities up close. Contact your local affiliate of the National Apartment Association for suggestions for speakers and sites.
- Learn by doing: Design a mock apartment building in your classroom by creating side-by-side forts (i.e., apartment homes) comprised of sheets and desks; populate the apartment homes with groups of students (households), and have them decide (with the aid of the teacher—the apartment manager) what amenities their apartment building needs: a playground? swimming pool? fitness center? computer lab? movie theater? dog park?
Additional Benefits of Expanding Housing Options
This high-cost housing shortage is specifically impacting teachers, whose salaries may require them to pay more than half their income for rent, or have an inconvenient location or long commute, in order to make housing more affordable. These housing concerns have resulted in an inability to attract and retain teachers in some areas (Dizon-Ross et al., 2019; Winfrey, 2021).
Planning for the Future
We want to continue to explore this topic to encourage educators to expand their own understanding of “home” as well as create greater awareness among their students of the many ways we can be “housed.” Somewhere Called Home is a short Emmy-nominated documentary created by a group of Dr. Earhart’s university students, highlighting children’s perceptions of apartment living. Use it to introduce this topic to preservice and in-service teachers.
We are currently seeking funding to pilot-test the professional development materials we are creating for teachers, and invite you to reach out to us with your suggestions for how we can continue to share our passion about this important topic. Contact Dr. Carla Earhart at email@example.com
By Hannah McKellar and Carla Earhart
Ms. McKellar is a junior Elementary Education major at Ball State University. She is serving as an Undergraduate Honors Fellow to assist Dr. Earhart in expanding housing education in the elementary classroom.
Dr. Earhart is Professor of Residential Property Management at Ball State University. Her scholarly work focuses on methods of housing education, including use of the humanities to provide greater awareness and appreciation of the full range of housing options.
Bibby, D. (2017). How can we meet future apartment demand? Multifamily Executive.
Collins, G. (2020). Property management jobs. ManageCasa.
Dizon-Ross, E., Loeb, S., Penner, E., & Rochmes, J. (2019). Stress in boom times: Understanding teachers’ economic anxiety in a high-cost urban district.. AERA Open.
Earhart, C. (2016). Housing diversity in children’s literature. Proceedings of the Charleston Library Conference. http://dx.doi.org/10.5703/1288284316439
Hoyt Advisory Services. (2017). U.S. apartment demand – A look forward [PDF file].
National Apartment Association. (n.d.). Career benefits. RPM Careers.
National Multifamily Housing Council. (2020). Households with children.
Real Estate Career HQ. (n.d.). Do real estate agents get benefits?
Winfrey, A. L. (2021). Frenetic real estate market exacerbating teacher shortage in Montrose. Montrose Daily Press.