Colleges, partners step up investments to address housing insecurity

Two-year colleges, state lawmakers, and community partners are ramping up their efforts to provide affordable housing for students experiencing or at risk for homelessness. “I think this is one of the areas where the pandemic has genuinely helped,” Sara Goldrick-Rab, president and founder of the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice at Temple University, told Inside Higher Ed.

“I think that people are just really waking up to how widespread the housing insecurity is,” she continued. “I think it brought a sense of urgency and…it brought real money.” Specifically, Goldrick-Rab notes that the infusion of federal funds received by public housing authorities and colleges have enabled them to join forces and launch pilot projects.

Partnerships enabling community colleges to make progress

In Pennsylvania, the Community College of Philadelphia has teamed up with the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) to update two nearby homes and offer the space to 16 housing-insecure students. PHA will oversee the renovations, while the community college will select Pell-eligible students—prioritizing those with experience in the foster care system—to move in starting this fall.

Participating students will pay 30 percent of their income in rent, up to $125 per month, and will have access to counseling and academic advising services provided by the Community College of Philadelphia. College officials also have pledged to help students secure a permanent residence post-graduation.

In a March Hope Center survey, more than half of students at the Community College of Philadelphia said they were housing-insecure during the past year. In the past, officials at the college would help students with unstable housing access youth homeless shelters, but the shelters’ environments proved too crowded and distracting.

Donald “Guy” Generals, president of the Community College of Philadelphia, says the PHA partnership is just “the beginning,” adding that the college hopes to secure private and public support for expansion by showing “that not only is there a need, but that this particular response begins to satisfy and advance the prospects of people who would otherwise not have an opportunity to get an education.”

State programs, funding paving the way

State grant and affordable housing tax credit programs are making similar initiatives possible across the nation. In Cleveland, Ohio, the Cuyahoga Housing Authority, developer CHN housing partners, community organizations, and leaders at Cuyahoga Community College and Cleveland State University are collaborating on a building for single parents enrolled at the two schools. Inspired by a similar project in Kentucky, the building will include seven three-bedroom units and 33 two-bedroom units.

The developer is deploying state low-income housing tax credits, the housing authority is leasing the land, the United Way of Greater Cleveland will offer mental health counseling and other support services, the college and university will provide academic advising, and a nonprofit will provide on-site daycare.

Noting that many students at the community college are juggling work and parenting responsibilities, Denise McCory, president of the Metropolitan Campus of Cuyahoga Community College, said that administrators see the new housing as “a retention tool” for students who might otherwise drop out.

Meanwhile, in California, Imperial Valley College, another public, two-year institution, is using a $2.6 grant from the state to create a community of 26 single-occupancy “tiny homes,” where housing-insecure students can reside for $200 per month, provided they complete 10 hours of community service monthly.

Governor Gavin Newsom’s latest budget proposal also included $4 billion for a grant program to increase students’ access to housing. Legislation supporting development of affordable housing for students is under consideration in Illinois and New Jersey, as well, according to Inside Higher Ed.

The state support and community partnerships emerging from the pandemic around housing will be crucial as community colleges work to meet students’ basic needs, said Rashida Crutchfield, an associate professor of social work at California State University, Long Beach, who focuses on student housing. Because community colleges “can’t be experts in everything… it really is those collaborative partnerships that ensure that the full experience of higher education is achieved.”

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