As families across the largest school district in Texas prepare for the upcoming academic year Aug. 28, some of the 189,000-plus students will face challenges related to unstable housing situations.

Close to 10% of Houston ISD students face the threat of eviction on multiple occasions throughout the school year, according to ongoing research from the Kinder Institute’s Houston Education Research Consortium and the Eviction Lab at Princeton University.

“When we look at those kids and what happens to them after that [eviction] filing comes through, we see that they’re much more likely than their peers to change schools; they’re much more likely than their peers to simply not be in the HISD records the subsequent academic year,” said Peter Hepburn, associate director of the Eviction Lab and assistant professor of sociology at Rutgers University-Newark. “They either move to another district or drop out entirely. They have much lower levels of stability year after year.”

The Eviction Lab reached out to school districts across the U.S. to match data about school enrollment with eviction filing records. They developed an algorithm that found close to 20,000 HISD students faced the threat of eviction multiple times in a single academic year during the 2002-2016 timeframe.

Before the pandemic, Harris County recorded close to 60,000 eviction filings in a given year, according to data from the analytics firm January Advisors. Since pandemic protections for renters lapsed in July 2022, the number of filings spiked to almost 80,000 that year, according to the firm’s March housing report.

Connect the dots

In Bellaire, Meyerland, West University Place and surrounding areas, January Advisors found more than 3,700 eviction cases were filed between January 2020 and July 24, 2023.

Hepburn said there is evidence in his research to suggest that, in areas where large numbers of eviction filings are taking place, vulnerable student populations are attending schools located close by.

Wraparound Services are available at every HISD school and provide campus-specific plans to assess student needs and integrate critical noninstructional support for their physical, mental and social-emotional development, according to HISD information. HISD officials said they were not able to comment for this story as the department undergoes a reorganization under new Superintendent Mike Miles.

Hepburn said he thinks HISD is taking the issue seriously, but more could be done to reduce the overall number of evictions in the county.

“Otherwise, not only are you creating a problem for families, but you’re shifting a greater burden onto the school,” he said.

For more than 30 years, Sharon Reynerson has represented low-income families throughout Texas facing education-related issues, such as eviction or unjust disciplinary actions, as litigation director with Lone Star Legal Aid. Her cases advocating for student rights have been taken up with the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Supreme Court.

“You could have 100 lawyers doing all this in a third of Texas, and it would not be enough,” she said.

Reynerson said she wishes more families knew about the federal McKinney-Vento Act, which states schools must allow students who are considered homeless to remain enrolled until the end of the academic year and provide them with transportation to the school.

Throughout Reynerson’s tenure providing access to legal assistance for low-income Texans, she said she sees a large population of minorities.

The Eviction Lab also addressed the causes and consequences of eviction in the U.S. Researchers found connections to the long history of excluding women and communities of color from housing, banking and credit opportunities.

Out of the roughly 10% of HISD students facing repeated threats of eviction, students of color were most at-risk for having an eviction filed against their parent or guardian, Hepburn said. More than 70% of the students living in a household facing eviction were Black, roughly 25% Hispanic and less than 5% white.

“The big picture here is that eviction is something that is happening to a lot of kids in your community,” Hepburn said. “It’s costing them, and it’s sort of setting them back on their educational trajectories.”