by April Black
A partnership between Tacoma Housing Authority (THA) and Tacoma Community College (TCC) is beginning to get national attention for its unique attempt to help homeless students reach graduation. Housing and food insecurity are growing problems amongst college students across the nation. These problems were highlighted in two separate articles in the New York Times, one in 2015: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/04/opinion/hungry-homeless-and-in-college.html, the other in 2017: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/28/opinion/community-college-misconception.html .
Ground Breaking Partnership:
The THA/TCC partnership began long before the problem gained national attention. It began in 2013 with a conversation between THA and TCC executive staff. TCC staff were expressing the challenges they were seeing with students dropping out of school due to homelessness. School staff estimated they had hundreds of students facing this challenge.
This caught the attention of THA, not just because of the tragedy of students being homeless while also incurring student loan debt and not being able to get their degree or certificate because of their housing instability, but also because THA sees itself as more than just a houser. THA seeks to spend its limited housing dollars in ways that don’t just house someone but also support them and their children succeed as students and help support the schools and colleges in Tacoma that serve low-income students. A partnership with Tacoma Community College seemed like a natural extension of the work THA was already doing through an education partnership with Tacoma Public Schools.
In January 2014, THA and TCC launched their College Housing Assistance Program (CHAP). This program had THA set aside 25 rental subsidies (vouchers) for homeless TCC students that were currently enrolled at TCC full time, had a least a 2.0 GPA, and were on track to complete their degree or certificate program within three years.
From Concept to Results:
Results in the first three years of the program were very promising. Over three-quarters of students were also parents. The rate at which they remained enrolled and on track to reach graduation far exceeded that of the homeless students that could not get a rental subsidy due to lack of resources (60% vs 16%). And their average GPAs were higher than the general TC student population.
Based on the results, THA and TCC decided in June 2017 to expand the program from 25 vouchers to 150 by the end of 2018. With this expansion come a few additions. First, Temple University, through grant funding from the Kresge Foundation, will complete a rigorous third-party evaluation of the program.
Second, THA will make the program much more accessible to students that have been previously involved with the criminal justice system. THA will remove a majority of the criminal screening criteria that was used in earlier versions of this program. It will also set aside 25 vouchers specifically for students who have previous criminal justice involvement. THA and TCC chose this focus for a couple of reasons. Primarily, students with criminal backgrounds face additional housing barriers that rental subsidies alone cannot solve. The Tacoma rental market is heating up with quickly growing rental prices and shrinking vacancy rates. With this changes the market becoming increasingly inhospitable to low-income households and households with criminal or eviction histories. The hope is that these subsidies will help students gain the buying power they need to access the market.
Luckily, TCC is one of three post-secondary institutions in Washington State with a Second Chance Financial Aid program that gives students that begin college while incarcerated access to financial aid and on-campus services. THA and TCC hope that these additional services and rental subsidies will help get formerly-incarcerated students to graduation and into careers.
We will continue to watch the progress of this large program expansion and to see whether other housing authorities develop similar partnerships to support college students.