For the last two years, Philadelphia’s community college and housing authority have been exploring ways to help students who don’t have a stable place to live stay in school and earn a degree.
On Thursday, the Philadelphia Housing Authority board approved a plan to renovate two houses within walking distance of the college at Spring Garden and 17th Streets and offer housing there to up to 16 students who are low-income and meet the definition of housing insecure.
The students will pay 30% of their income but no more than $125 a month for rent and utilities. The houses, with a total of 16 bedrooms and common living areas on North 10th and 11th Streets, will be maintained by the authority.
The pilot project, if successful, could be expanded, leaders of both the college and housing authority said. The housing, which will cost about $200,000 to rehab, will be available in July, said Kelvin A. Jeremiah, president and CEO of PHA, the fourth-largest housing agency in the country, serving nearly 80,000 residents.
The idea, he said, is to give students a stable roof over their head so they can focus on their studies.
“This is just another way to try to mitigate some of the struggles that many of our students are having so they can be successful in education and ultimately be successful in life,” said Donald “Guy” Generals, CCP president.
The community college effort, Jeremiah said, is among a number underway at the authority to help both children aging out of foster care as well as LGBTQ people. The authority later this summer will be announcing another effort to help both, he said.
“Too many kids are homeless and on the street through no fault of their own,” he said.
More housing authorities around the country are beginning to explore such ventures; among the first is a model in Tacoma, Wash., that offers students vouchers, said Sara Goldrick-Rab, a Temple University professor whose research focuses on homeless and hungry college students.
“It’s a sea change for housing authorities to go beyond encouraging students when they are young to attend college to actually getting involved in helping students who go to college succeed,” said Goldrick-Rab, who has been asking the housing authority to develop such a program.
The fact that Philadelphia’s model sets a relatively low cost for the housing and offers specific locations — in Tacoma, students get vouchers and have to find housing — are strong points, she said.
But it can be challenging to make sure students most in need of the housing learn about it and take advantage of it, she said. Selection of students for the program will be critical.
“How this is communicated at CCP and how students actually get access to it will be really important,” Goldrick-Rab said.
Students eligible for the housing must qualify for Pell grants for low-income students and be taking at least six college credits, Jeremiah said. They also must qualify as housing insecure, meaning they are staying with friends or living in a homeless shelter or unfit housing such as cars, parks, or abandoned buildings.
More than half of the college’s students who responded to a recent survey said they were housing insecure, according to CCP’s president. The college has seen students who have aged out of foster care struggling to go to school and survive, Generals said. He used to mentor a student who showed up on a Zoom meeting in an alley because that’s where he could access the internet, he said.
Under the model, the housing authority also will work with the students to create a plan with the goal of attaining secure permanent housing after they graduate. And the college will provide academic advising, tutoring, counseling, and other support.