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A place to study, a place to call home

HB374 is a step to remove barriers for housing authorities and community colleges to partner to solve the housing crisis among students. They would be able to buy and develop buildings and units for their students, build partnerships with private developers and landlords, and give flexibility to local housing authorities in using their funding for student housing

Illinois House Bill 374 removes barriers to affordable housing for community college students

Illinois is poised to pass a bill that would address a problem that has long burdened community college students: housing insecurity. Introduced by State Representative Nicholas Smith, Illinois House Bill 374 proposes to amend the Public Community College Act and the Housing Authorities Act. Under current law, community colleges are prohibited from developing student housing. MPC supports this bill which would allow community colleges to partner with local housing authorities to provide increased access to housing options for students. 

Under current law, community colleges are prohibited from developing student housing.

The intersection between access to higher education and affordable housing is nothing new. As the cost of living and the cost of a college degree continue to rise, so too have the burdens placed on low-income students working to complete their studies. These burdens are particularly pertinent among community college students. According to a Hope Center survey, 50 percent of community college students were housing insecure in 2019. 

Disparities in Housing Insecurity Among Community College Students

COVID-19 has exacerbated these hardships. As college campuses closed, college students lost jobs, and government resources failed to ameliorate students’ economic hardships, it will take years for impoverished and disenfranchised college students to recover. This crisis in higher education is most pronounced among community colleges as they disproportionately serve lower-income, Black and Latinx students who have been most vulnerable to housing insecurity prior to and throughout the pandemic.

According to the same Hope Center survey, Indigenous, Black, and Latinx students were 11 to 23 percent more likely to face housing insecurity in 2019 than white students. LGBTQ students were 10 to 18 percent more likely to face housing insecurity than heterosexual students. In addition to race and gender, the Hope Center finds that life circumstances also contribute to housing insecurity. Parenting students and students who have been convicted of a crime are more likely to face housing insecurity than their counterparts.

Despite these stark statistics, the majority of students do not receive any public assistance. The Hope Center finds that only 6 percent of housing-insecure students in the country receive housing assistance; and with the increased economic uncertainty brought forth by this pandemic, it has never been more important to push for aggressive government interventions to address housing insecurity among community college students at-scale.

Examples of Partnership Interventions and Solutions

Although there is generally a lack of support for affordable housing for community college students, there are a handful of innovative programs that seek to address this need.  One prominent example is the College Housing Assistance Program (CHAP) in Tacoma, WA, a partnership between Tacoma Community College and the Tacoma Housing Authority. Launched in 2014, CHAP provides federal rental assistance vouchers to students who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, most of them parents to young children. And when vouchers were not enough to overcome barriers to adequate and affordable housing, CHAP responded by buying apartment complexes near campus, and partnering with private owners and developers to reserve units for students in coordination with the local housing authority subsidizing rent. 

Closer to home in Chicago, the Partners in Education Program is a partnership between the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA)  and the City Colleges of Chicago. In this program, CHA provides scholarships to housing authority residents to cover tuition, books, and fees not covered by other state or federal aid. The partnership, while providing crucial support for students, does not yet address the housing crisis for community college students in a substantial way or on a state-wide level. 

Why the Illinois General Assembly Should Pass House Bill 374

HB374 is a step to remove barriers for housing authorities and community colleges to partner to solve the housing crisis among students. While this bill does not provide mandates or funding, it will allow for community colleges to partner with housing authorities. They would be able to buy and develop buildings and units for their students, build partnerships with private developers and landlords, and give flexibility to local housing authorities in using their funding for student housing. 

Of course this bill can’t, on its own, solve the affordable housing crisis facing community college students. Local housing authorities will need to prioritize partnering with local colleges. And community colleges will need additional capacity for partnership and coordination with housing authorities in their jurisdiction. Long term, actors at all levels will need to devote resources to this effort.

The passage of HB374 is a crucial next step for building the innovative partnerships between community colleges and public housing authorities. Given the clear housing insecurity problem among community college students, a problem that has been further intensified by a pandemic disproportionately hurting low-income people of color, HB374 offers major strides in beginning to bridge the gap in who can access higher education. If the bill passes, Illinois community college students, particularly students of color and LGBTQ students to whom higher education has historically been out of reach, will benefit from access to more stable housing as part of the ecosystem of support needed to complete degrees and achieve economic self-sufficiency. 

MPC strongly encourages the Illinois General Assembly to pass HB374 and urges people to call on their leaders to suport this bill.

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