Some community colleges have found innovative partnerships with their public housing authorities may help combat student homelessness.

October 16, 2018

 

Officials at Tacoma Community College knew they had a problem when they surveyed students four years ago and learned that nearly 100 of them reported being homeless or near homeless.

The survey underscored what, at the time, was becoming a crisis for the region. The IT boom in Seattle had driven demand for housing to accommodate new workers moving to the area. Rental housing costs and home sale prices shot up.

Residents priced out of the Seattle housing market were willing to pay for rentals about 40 miles south in Tacoma. Meanwhile, Tacoma property managers increased their prices and welcomed the demand from former Seattle residents who could afford the higher rates, said Marybeth McCarthy, who oversees the college’s student housing program.

“We had mass migration to Tacoma and Pierce County,” she said. “Tacoma rent went up and displaced people. Our folks that were struggling became homeless, and the City of Tacoma declared a state of emergency.”

The college administrators searched for ways to help students with housing problems and found a unique solution. They partnered with the Tacoma Housing Authority and started the College Housing Assistance Program in 2014.

The program provides federal rental assistance vouchers to students who are homeless or are at risk of becoming homeless because they can’t pay their rent and utilities. The program served about 50 students,76 percent of them with children, in the first year it started. It now provides vouchers for about 150 students annually.

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