This represents the third post in a three part series discussing issues of basic needs insecurities prevalent among college students nationwide. In this post we highlight the work that College Housing Northwest (CHNW) is doing currently to address these issues, and outline additional recommendations that might help this growing problem.
College Housing Northwest Approach
College Housing Northwest (CHNW) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization devoted to helping students succeed through more affordable housing, supportive communities, impactful services and meaningful employment. Created by students, for students, CHNW grew out of a 1969 urban studies seminar at Portland State University. In the wake of the South Portland/South Auditorium Urban Renewal Project, which was demolishing much of the housing stock in and around Portland State University, a group of students developed and realized a plan to purchase and later develop housing exclusively for students. Within just three years of its inception, the student led organization opened a brand-new, 221-unit high rise apartment building in Portland’s Goose Hollow neighborhood. The building, known as Goose Hollow Tower, was funded through a loan from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and represented CHNW’s first major asset.
Today, CHNW manages over 800 units across 6 properties in Portland and Corvallis, offering rents that average 15% below market rates, and low barriers to entry to ensure that students have access to affordable housing when they need it most.
As an organization, CHNW has three primary areas of focus: Student housing management, support services, and new property development.
Student Housing Management: CHNW structures their management practices around providing more affordable, supportive communities to local students. These include:
• Low Barriers to Entry — Renting from CHNW does not require proof of income, previous rental history, or cosigned agreements. The organization also offers low security deposit and application fees to minimize the financial burden on students.
• Rental Education — CHNW gives newer renters the chance to build rental and credit history, while strengthening student knowledge and understanding of the rental process through the organization’s Leasing and Learning program.
• Eviction Prevention Services — CHNW maintains a rental assistance fund to help students who are facing emergency situations to pay their rent. If students get behind in their rent, the organization works with them to set up payment plans in order to get back on track.
• Utility and Security Deposit Assistance Fund — CHNW has a fund for homeless and housing insecure students to help assist with security deposit and utility payments, two barriers that often prevent students from attaining housing.
• Employment Opportunities — Over 30% of all CHNW jobs are held by student tenants. They offer flexible, student-focused job opportunities, and hire students as Resident Ambassadors, leasing agents, shuttle drivers, maintenance staff, and cleaning teams. Resident Support Services: In addition to providing affordable housing, CHNW offers support services for residents to ensure their safety and success. These include:
• Larger Unit Sizes — CHNW’s properties include larger floorplan units available for families in need.
• Location Priority — CHNW understands the importance of proximity and convenience when it comes to student housing. That’s why all CHNW properties are within three tenths of a mile of their campus (about six blocks). Some properties also offer shuttle services.
• 24/7 On-Call Services — CHNW Staff and Resident Ambassadors (RAs) are readily accessible during weekdays and RAs are on-call evenings and weekends to address student concerns. Additionally, peer support staff are always around to help answer student questions and provide resources.
• Community Building — CHNW RAs and staff are active in creating opportunities for community interaction through scheduled events, celebrations, workshops and opportunities to connect to our larger communities and neighborhoods.
• Student Participation — Every CHNW facility has a Resident Council, a group of students who meet monthly to discuss student needs and continually improve their communities. The organization also maintains three positions on its Board of Directors exclusively for student representation.
New Property Development: CHNW’s new property development work entails purchasing, construction, refurbishing, and leasing of existing properties for CHNW students. The organization develops and manages all of its own facilities, and maintains a clear focus on the students, selecting only projects that offer the greatest amount of flexibility to future residents. CHNW projects benefit from:
• Affiliations & Partnerships — While an independent organization, CHNW works directly with universities and organizations to augment their housing capabilities and services. Such partnerships include providing housing for students of Portland State University, Oregon State University and the Pacific Northwest College of Art, as well as for students coming out of homelessness or foster care.
• Bond Financing — CHNW’s 501(c)(3) status allows for the unique opportunity to bond-finance projects at a low cost of capital, requiring less equity than conventional financing. This allows Colleges and Universities to focus on education while still providing a close-to-campus housing experience for students.
• Sustainable Structuring — Due to their ability to finance through bonds, CHNW projects also require much smaller investments than traditional housing projects, while providing all the benefits of a traditional multi-family housing project—and then some.
• Lower Development Costs –– CHNW’s experience in student housing development and agility as a private entity enable them to build faster and more efficiently than a similar project undertaken by a university or public entity.
• Augmenting Student and College Success — CHNW provides housing that aligns with the specific needs of their partner campuses, while offering students an intermediate housing option that is more independent than dorms but far more supportive and student-focused than market rental housing.
• Not Profit Seeking — CHNW’s strict alignment with their mission means that as an organization, they invest directly back into their business and infrastructure. Their projects are not built to make money, they are built to sustainably support student success.
By providing students with affordable housing, and a supportive rental environment in which to build their knowledge and experience, College Housing Northwest is working to minimize the burden on not just students, but the city and state as well.
The work being done by organizations like TCC, THA, and CHNW points to a growing trend of partnerships among local housing authorities, educational institutions, non-profit organizations, and housing developers to address the student housing crisis. Indeed, similar programs are emerging around schools in Chicago, Columbus, Los Angeles, and Louisville, to great success. These cross-sector collaborations and upstream solutions can be furthered by actions within each of these groups, supporting and laying the groundwork for other potential collaborations.
Colleges and Universities:
Research and Plan For educational institutions, the problems of student homelessness and housing insecurity are often felt, but not clearly understood. Data is the underlying framework of every successful initiative to address these issues, and colleges and universities looking to take part can begin by quantifying the problem, partnering with research organizations like Hope Labs or internal resources to identify rates of student homelessness and housing insecurity in their own institution. Colleges and universities are also the most direct point of contact to homeless and housing insecure student populations. As such, the most successful programs to address these needs are administered by schools, with support and infrastructure from housing authorities and local partners. Once the problem is quantified, colleges and universities can engage local housing authorities to identify opportunities, create strategies, and identify the resources needed to build and maintain a collaborative student housing program.
Governmental Agencies & Housing Authorities:
Fund and Connect Just as colleges are the most direct interface with students, state and local government agencies such as housing authorities are the most direct interface with funding opportunities for both college-run programs and developer built residences. To address student homelessness and housing insecurity, governmental agencies and/or housing authorities can seek opportunities to partner with colleges and universities, funding research and exploring the subsidies and resources needed to build and maintain a student housing program. They can also look for opportunities to partner with private developers looking to engage with the student housing crisis through building housing authority-owned sites near colleges and universities.
Developers and Housing Organizations: Build and Manage As the bedrock of any housing initiative, developers and housing organizations play a critical role in the success of student-focused programs. Housing organizations looking to engage in the student housing crisis can focus on opportunities to partner with housing authorities to build safe and affordable housing near college and university campuses. These organizations can also focus —either through their organization or in partnership with a local management group—on supplementing these properties with other student-focused services like eviction prevention, low barriers to entry, and rental education.
Inform and Support Non-profit organizations are a critical partner in the success of housing initiatives and can serve as the “glue” of many programs, offering research, insights, grant funding opportunities, management and administrative experience, and more. Any non-profit looking to engage with the student housing crisis can help by making themselves available to the above groups for assistance, support, and ongoing counsel.
All parties interested in engaging with the student housing crisis can also explore the excellent work currently being done by organizations like The Hope Center, the Tacoma Housing Authority, The Kresge Foundation and the Council of Large Public Housing Authorities:
“Eliminating Barriers to Postsecondary Success,” Kresge/CLPHA 2019
“Still Hungry and Homeless in College,” Wisconsin HOPE Lab, 2018
“Addressing Basic Needs Security in Higher Education,” Wisconsin HOPE Lab, 2018
#RealCollege survey reports from The Hope Center, 2018–2020
College Housing Assistance Program (CHAP), Tacoma Community College
“College Housing Assistance Program: A Summary,” Tacoma Housing Authority
Oregon Community Colleges #RealCollege Survey February 2020
#RealCollege 2020 Five Years of Evidence February 2020 Revised