Wanted: Affordable Student Housing Developers
June 28, 2017 Ricardo Álvarez-Díaz
affordable student housing

Students need affordable housing too.

As more Americans seek the opportunities provided by higher education, and debates continue over tuition costs and student loans, universities and colleges are finding themselves facing another challenging problem: student housing insecurity.

Today, more students are struggling to find housing, with many ending up homeless or having to drop out. Young adults typically lack the financial resources, rental history, and credit required to obtain decent housing.

Rising rents and lack of affordable housing for college students represents an opportunity for real estate developers who, along with higher education institutions and local government agencies, could help increase the availability of affordable student housing in campuses throughout the U.S.

Student Housing Insecurity Facts

  • Some 58,000 college students are homeless, according to report by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
  • Fifty percent of community college students struggle with housing insecurity and 14 percent are homeless, according to “Hungry and Homeless,” released earlier this year by the Wisconsin HOPE Lab and the Association of Community College Trustees.
  • Unstable housing situations affect students’ ability to succeed in college.
  • Because of the extreme hardships they face, homeless and housing insecure students frequently take longer to complete their studies, adding to the spiraling costs of college.
  • Housing costs can amount to anywhere between 50 percent and 100 percent of community college tuition costs.
  • Over 50 percent of students living off campus (not at home) have income below the federal poverty level, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.
  • Housing insecure students move often, “couch-surf” or live in overcrowded housing.
  • Coping mechanisms include part-time enrollment, working long hours, borrowing to pay bills and skimping on essential educational resources, such as books and computers.
  • Students experiencing housing insecurity are more likely to drop out and report depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems.
  • Federal and institutional programs are not helping enough students, often underestimating student housing costs.

Housing Woes Fail Students and the Community

The recent recession and housing collapse has led to joblessness, lack of affordable student housing and high rents across U.S. campuses. Meanwhile, tuition costs have continued to rise while financial aid has not.

Many of today’s college students are on their own, going to class, studying for exams, working one or more jobs, struggling to pay for food and other necessities and worrying about where they will sleep each night.

Housing insecurity hinders students’ ability to succeed in college. Low-income students often must resort to enrolling part time, cut classes to work multiple jobs and do without books, computers and other supplies, choices that make them less likely to graduate and secure well-paying jobs to support themselves.

When housing needs go unmet, student performance and well-being suffer. Inadequate living situations cause stress and mental health issues that hinder student’s ability to do their school work. Understandably, many students cannot cope under these circumstances and drop out. According to “Education at a Glance,” a report published last year by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, more than 70 percent of Americans enroll at a four-year college, but just over half graduate within six years.

Dropping out can have serious, long-term consequences, especially for students who paid for their education with loans. In addition, college dropouts are less likely than college graduates to make a positive, productive contribution to the socioeconomic health and sustainability of their communities.

Colleges that want students to succeed and graduate should consider their housing needs, aiding students who need it and partnering with real estate developers and local government agencies to increase the number of affordable student units.

Lack of Affordable Student Housing Development

Based on demographics and projected growth in university enrollment, demand for student housing is estimated to continue to expand. From 1980 to 2012, the number of university-enrolled students nearly doubled from 12.1 million to 21.5 million, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics data. NCES predicts the student population will reach 23 million by 2020.

Following the recession, budget constraints have forced many public institutions to delay or cancel plans for new student housing. Accelerating enrollment rates are making it more difficult for colleges to keep up with increased housing needs and are pushing students to live off-campus. Nearly nine out of 10 undergraduate students live off-campus—50 percent on their own and with other students and 37 with relatives.

Some schools are privatizing their housing, partnering with developers to help finance, plan, build and manage on-campus and high-end, more profitable off-campus student housing, neglecting the affordable student housing market in the process.

Housing conditions and housing insecurity directly affect the success of college students and the surrounding communities. Lack of affordable student housing is a serious problem. We would love to see more affordable housing developers teaming up with higher education institutions to supply the growing demand for affordable, safe, and convenient housing for the millions of students who desperately need it.


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