Housing problems in the United States derail efforts to help low-income students

The high-stakes battle over housing around the University of California, Berkeley dramatizes for American higher education the growing reality of rent as an overlooked barrier to greater equity on campus and in society.

The showdown at Berkeley – where a court ruling sharply limiting enrollment at one of the world’s top public institutions required a legislative override of the state of emergency – has been portrayed as largely pitting a few against the wealthy city dwellers faced with unruly student tenants.

More generally, however, experts say the United States is suffering from a chronic shortage housing that hurts all low-income Americans, especially those trying to attend almost any type of college or university.

The resulting expectation is that U.S. policymakers and academic institutions, even as they direct more financial and logistical aid to students most in need, will not succeed in many places without dramatically improving housing options. .

“This is a widespread problem, not just in California but across the United States,” said Bryce McKibben, senior director of policy and advocacy at Temple University’s Hope Center for College, Community and Justice. .

As with most things, Covid has further deepened social divisions in housing and education. Global Enrollment at US Universities fell nearly 3% last fall, after a 2.5% decline the previous year. Elite institutions, meanwhile, have seen their applications surge. Berkeley recorded a record 128,000 offers for admission this fall, a 13% jump from last year’s record. The University of California, Los Angeles reached nearly 150,000, the most requests in the countryside.

The patterns are similar among elite soldiers. Applications to Harvard University rose 8% to nearly 43,000, a fourth straight record year. Yale University hit a record high of 50,000.

But U.S. campuses, for the most part, are not miraculously finding large tracts of land at affordable rates within easy walking or commuting distance, said Dave Borsos, vice president of capital markets at the National Multifamily Housing Council, the America’s leading association of apartment building companies.

This large imbalance between supply and demand naturally pushes up house prices, Borsos said. The effects are even worse, he said, for low-income students, because government tax credits and other housing construction subsidy programs are typically designed for needy families. “There really is no equivalent on the student housing side,” he said.

Government grants for students are also do not follow. The main federal aid for low-income students, the Pell Grant, accounted for three-quarters of the cost of studying at a four-year public institution when the program was created in the 1970s. It now covers about 30 percent. The Biden administration offered to double its value, but Congress only authorized much more limited increases.

A survey last year by Mr. McKibben’s research institute, covering nearly 200,000 students on 200 campuses in 42 states, reflected these realities. It revealed that 43% of four-year-olds struggled to afford accommodation. Of those attending two-year institutions, more than half were classified as precarious housing.

California – marked by a relatively high cost of living and steady population growth – has particularly shocking examples. These include Long Beach City College, a two-year institution just south of Los Angeles that has outfitted a parking lot with bathrooms, power outlets and nighttime security guards to help some of its dozens of students sleeping in their cars.

The University of California, Santa Barbara sits a few hours from the Pacific coast, nestled between the mountains and the coastline, on a campus of scenic bliss and little room to expand. Like Berkeley, it faces state pressure to enroll more students and local pressure to limit community impact. His response – requiring a private donation of $200m (£150m) and ridicule on the promise of windowless rooms – is Munger Hall, a planned 11-story structure with nearly 5,000 students that will be the largest dormitory in the world.

Even among students who manage to attend an elite institution, higher education housing problems can exacerbate rather than heal divisions in the human situation. Just two blocks west of Berkeley’s main campus — one of the growing number of American institutions that no longer guarantees housing, even for freshmen — is a private complex offering students who can afford his $3,500 per month “a myriad of contemporary apartments”. and stylish interior features, including private bedrooms, spacious steel appliances” and more, as well as “views of the San Francisco Bay, San Francisco skyline, and the Bay and Golden Bridges.” Gate”.

Its owner, Georgia-based Landmark Properties, is a member of Mr. Borsos’ association. He said he feared for a world in which universities can’t serve a wide cross-section of society and bring together students from all walks of life, but didn’t see that as a problem for developers to solve.

“They will build if there is a demand,” Borsos said of his members. “If they could financially make it work, knowing there is a demand for a low-cost product, they would too.”

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