College Housing Assistance Program
The College Housing Assistance Program (CHAP) is a partnership between THA, Tacoma Community College (TCC), and the University of Washington at Tacoma (UW Tacoma). CHAP provides rental assistance to homeless and near homeless college students.
THA provides or finances housing in three ways:
- We provide rental assistance to help pay rent on the private rental market;
- We provide apartments we purchased near campus that prioritize students as units become available;
- We sign long term contracts with private developments near the campuses to reserve apartments for homeless or near homeless college students. We pay down the rents to levels affordable to the students.
The education partners manage program outreach, marketing, intake, referrals, and additional case management.
Background & Continued Innovation
CHAP began in 2014 as a pilot program at TCC. TCC has a student population of nearly 14,000 students. It is the largest college in the South Puget Sound Region. In comparison to other colleges, TCC’s students are older, lower income, more likely to be parents, more likely to be working, and more likely to be their family’s first member to attend college. TCC is justifiably proud of the warm welcome it gives them. A TCC degree can transform their lives.
Yet, a notable number of TCC students do not have stable housing. In 2019, Temple University’s Hope Center conducted a basic needs survey. 63% of TCC students responding to the survey reported serious housing insecurity within the 12 months prior to the survey; 23% reported that within those 12 months they experienced homelessness. It is hard to attend college without a stable place to live. The challenges are harder for homeless students who are also parents. Many homeless students are at risk of dropping out. Initial positive results from the pilot compelled THA to expand the program. Currently, THA has allocated 75 subsidies (vouchers) for students to rent on the private rental market.
However, over the last few years, Tacoma’s housing and rental market has become increasingly exponentially more competitive. These changes brought about additional challenges for students trying to secure housing. In response, THA tested out an innovative approach to provide subsidized housing to students facing housing insecurity. We partnered with local developers to buy down the rents of their units and in return the units are set aside for students accepted into CHAP. These are known as property-based subsidies. This approach ensures that students have access to affordable units near the college without having to go through the THA application and housing search process. THA subsidizes nearly 200 units using this approach. This expansion also provided UW, Tacoma an opportunity to join CHAP.
However, as discussed in the following section, expanding to include property-based subsidies does not fully address the challenge of leasing up in the current rental market. As of July 2021, THA has spearheaded an additional partnership to support CHAP. The Housing Connector provides an innovative platform to help match housing shoppers with affordable housing options. Available housing is filtered based on the needs of the participant. Housing Connector also recruits landlords and encourages them to relax their screening criteria thanks to the availability of a landlord risk mitigation fund. THA’s partnership with Housing Connector is expected to help CHAP participants be more successful at securing housing with THA’s rental assistance.
Impact & Evaluation
In 2017, the Hope Center partnered with CHAP to conduct an evaluation to measure program impacts on retention, post-secondary completion, and longer term economic outcomes. The scope of the Hope Center report is limited to TCC students who received assistance to rent on the private rental market between 2017 and 2019. The initial findings are shared in A First Look at Impacts of the College Housing Assistance Program at Tacoma Community College.
The key takeaways from the initial report are as follows:
- Only one-quarter of students who were accepted into CHAP between 2017-2019 were able to secure housing on the private rental market using a THA subsidy.
- Students who were successful in leasing up were more likely to be older, have stronger academic profiles, and less likely to be Black/African American.
- At 6 months into the program, students who received assistance showed little difference in retention and GPA to those who did not receive assistance.
The recent Hope Center report focuses primarily on the early stages of the program (application and housing search). Over the next year or so, the researchers will begin looking at the longer term academic and economic impacts of participation in CHAP.
Eager to explore if recent program changes would better support students, THA contracted with BERK Consulting to conduct research on how students were faring on the program and what barriers were impacting their ability to remain enrolled.
The BERK evaluation highlighted a few barriers:
- Challenges in defining homelessness and near-homeless. Some students were not “homeless enough” while others were homeless but lacking financial resources to participate in the program (CHAP provides a fixed subsidy that is not intended to cover the full rental amount).
- For students who were unemployed or working part-time, low wage jobs, the fixed subsidy was not enough, and they struggled to lease up.
- Maintaining full-time enrollment was especially challenging for students with children and those working full-time to pay their portion of rent.
- Students of color and students with children were more likely to be removed from the program for not meeting program requirements.
- Students who are exiting from the program need greater supports to ensure they are not exiting CHAP and returning to homelessness.
During the time of the BERK evaluation, THA, in partnership with TCC and UW Tacoma, worked to revise program requirements so that students would not lose their housing assistance in cases where they need to attend school part-time, take a term off, or experienced a drop in their GPA. Additionally, housing assistance would no longer end when a student graduates, but can continue for up to 12 additional months for students who have completed their program or are transferring to a non-participating school or apprenticeship program. BERK’s findings supported these changes and provided greater insight into the various non-housing related barriers that CHAP partners need to take into account in order to define realistic/achievable program requirements that are aligned with students’ realities and not acting as additional barriers to their success.
Though THA has been responsive to program challenges, and we continue to pivot in order to ensure students have access to affordable housing opportunities, the recent Hope Center and BERK evaluations in addition to the short and long term impacts of COVID have given us even more reason to expand access to post-secondary opportunities for the households we serve.
Specifically, THA is exploring how we can strengthen our program design to ensure the most marginalized populations are able to participate, while also making sure program requirements are supportive and flexible to each individual student’s needs. In sum, CHAP works to ensure the ability to pay rent and pursue a post-secondary path are not competing but complementary and attainable realities.
- A First Look at Impacts of the College Housing Assistance Program at Tacoma Community College
Hope Center, 2021
- Supporting Community College Students with Affordable Housing Vouchers: Lessons from the Field
Hope Center, 2020
- Harvard’s Kennedy School named CHAP among the nation’s top 25 most innovative governmental initiatives for 2018.
- Barriers to Success: Housing Insecurity for U.S. College Students [PDF]
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 2015
CHAP is part of Tacoma Housing Authority’s Education Project. This project seeks to spend a housing dollar not only to house someone but also to (i) help them and their children succeed in school and (ii) help Tacoma public schools and colleges educate low-income students. When it works it is a very good use of a housing dollar.