Ten Percent of Students at California State University Face Homelessness

deltion-college-1310596_1920By Isaac Harris, NLIHC Outreach Intern

Approximately 10% of the 460,000 students in the California State University (CSU) system experience homelessness, according to “Serving Displaced and Food Insecure Students in the CSU,” a study published in January by researchers at CSU Long Beach under the direction of Dr. Rashida Crutchfield. The study sheds light on an issue that remains largely unreported and unaddressed in the nation’s public universities. The report also found that between 21% and 24% of students experience food insecurity.

Facing uncertainty in their living conditions, students afflicted by homelessness reported managing incredible stress while having to balance the demands of schoolwork. “I feel like once I get my Bachelor’s under my belt, I can just keep moving forward. Inside I think I’m falling apart,” said one respondent quoted in the report. Students considered homeless in the study included those who lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence, as defined by the McKinney-Vento Act, and those who were “doubled-up” or living as a temporary guest in another’s home.

Schools have only begun to address the issue, and just one CSU campus out of 23 has a program to support all students experiencing housing instability. About half of all faculty and staff surveyed said they needed more information about how to appropriately support students facing homelessness and food insecurity. A lack of information can have direct consequences for affected students—one respondent disclosed to residential staff that she had nowhere to stay when the dorms closed, but was told that it would be “unfair” for her to remain there once all the students left. Only Chico State University provides campus housing to foster youth during holiday breaks.

According to the survey, local cost of living and limited dorm availability were the main challenges to students without fixed and regular housing. Thus, off-campus housing development efforts and policy changes will play an important role in serving their needs.

The Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act of 2016 (S. 3237), a bill that would expand and reform the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (Housing Credit), includes a provision that would qualify homeless students and foster youth for housing built under the tax credit. When the Housing Credit was created, legislators excluded most students from qualifying for program housing so that funding would not be used to construct dormitories. S. 3237 would broaden the list of exceptions to this rule, allowing for current or former foster care students, unaccompanied or homeless youth or emancipated minors. The bipartisan bill was introduced July 14 by Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT).

In California, there are over 281,000 apartments financed with Housing Credits that are dedicated to low income families. Baring homeless students from accessing this critical source of housing only makes the problem worse by making it more difficult for these students to pursue academic opportunities.

Community Housing Partnership (CHP), a San Francisco-based supportive housing developer and National Low Income Housing Coalition member, has led an awareness campaign to highlight the legal restrictions facing formerly homeless youth in Housing Credit-financed housing. Michael, who lives in one of CHP’s youth residences, realized he had to choose between attending college full-time and remaining in his apartment. “I felt very disappointed. As a part-time student, I wasn’t eligible for the financial aid I needed, and realized it would take me over ten years to finish,” he said.

Efforts to expand student eligibility for Housing Credit housing have been the focus of numerous pieces of legislation over the past decade. Last year, Senators Al Franken (D-MN) and Rob Portman (R-OH) introduced the Housing for Homeless Students Act of 2015 (S. 1412), which proposed modifying the program’s rules to qualify homeless and formerly homeless full-time students for subsidized housing. The Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act of 2016 builds on these efforts and further expands student eligibility. Under these proposals, homeless students would gain access to affordable housing, while current occupants of Housing Credit developments would gain access to greater educational opportunities.

Click here to find contact information for your Senators. Contact them to urge support of S. 3237.

S.3237 is located here: http://bit.ly/2aNpQSP

If you have questions, please feel free to contact Joey Lindstrom at jlindstrom@nlihc.org.

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