Addressing Student Homelessness & Housing Insecurity – Part 2

This is part two of a three part series discussing issues of basic needs insecurities prevalent among college students nationwide. In this post we highlight the College Housing Assistance (CHAP) program in Tacoma which provides affordable housing to college students experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity.

The Tacoma Model
Tacoma Community College (TCC) is located about 35 miles south of Seattle that enrolls just under 14,000 students a year—the largest college in the South Puget Sound Region. In comparison to other colleges, TCC students are older, have lower income, are more likely to be parents, more likely to be working, and more likely to be their family’s first to attend college. TCC is
justifiably proud of the warm welcome it gives them.

However, homelessness and housing insecurity are serious problems at TCC. A survey by The Hope Centerfound that at TCC almost 70 percent of students were housing insecure and 26 percent were homeless. Approximately 17 percent had been evicted or thrown out of their homes, and 16 percent slept in a shelter, abandoned building, or car.

To address this, TCC partnered with the Tacoma Housing Authority (THA) to create the College Housing Assistance Program (CHAP) in 2014, targeting housing assistance to people who have already enrolled in the school, but have severe housing needs. Here’s how the program works.

Financed by the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department’s Moving to Work program, CHAP provides or finances housing in three ways:

  • Rental assistance to help pay rent in the private
    rental market
  • Vouchers for apartments purchased by THA
    near campus
  • Project-based subsidies for private developments
    near campus. THA has negotiated long term contracts
    with developers to reserve apartments for homeless
    or near homeless college students. THA pays down the rents to levels affordable to the students.

This assistance lasts for three years, or until graduation. TCC CHAP students who earn a two-year degree can also retain their housing assistance if they transfer to University of Washington Tacoma for a four-year degree. Both TCC and UW Tacoma market CHAP on campus, manage the applications and the waitlist, and refer students to THA or to the private housing. These institutions also provide on-campus support.

TCC has its own fund of $30,000 a year to help CHAP students pay security deposits, utility deposits, and rents, as well as to purchase furniture and cover other housing expenses. UW Tacoma has an emergency aid program to help eligible students pay security deposits and rental related costs.

CHAP has received a great deal of attention, including receiving Harvard’s “Innovation in American Government Award” and being featured in HUD’s Guidebook to Addressing Housing Insecurity and Living Costs in Higher Education. The attention is well-deserved: initial evidence suggests that the program’s effects on educational outcomes are substantial.

For example, the program reports that 95 percent of participating community college students (21 out of 22) remained enrolled a year later compared with 24 percent of eligible applicants (35 out of 146) who were not served. This is almost a quadruple increase in student graduation and retention rates—a statistic that is catching the attention of housing authorities around the country who are looking for ways to maximize their impact and help support their communities in need.

Next week we will talk about what CHNW is doing currently to help address issues of homelessness and housing insecurity among student in Portland.

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