A month ago a couple of students came forward, during the discussion on Sterling Apartments, to point out the limited opportunities for housing for low-income students. The issue of affordable housing in general is complex – with an overlapping array of rules and jurisdictions depending on the type of site it is.
According to Danielle Foster, the city’s Housing & Human Services Superintendent, federal assistance including tax credit, HOME Investment Partnerships Program, CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) and other federal grant funds, do not provide for housing for single full-time undergraduate dependent students, as they are seen as temporarily and voluntarily poor and therefore not in the workforce.
However, students are eligible for projects that are built by private developers, without federal assistance, or on land dedication sites, provided they are without federal assistance. In these cases, there are no restrictions against any type of student household.
A recent newsletter from Mutual Housing California highlighted the growing challenges for students, what they are calling “housing insecurity.” This is the shortage “of affordable housing, high college costs, and insufficient financial aid” which leads students to attend college in pursuit of a degree “without consistent access to a roof over their heads.”
Some of these challenges were highlighted in the recent discussion of a need for a renter’s rights ordinance. Mutual Housing notes, “Struggles include a lack of a rental history, skeptical landlords, not having enough savings for security deposits or lacking someone able to co-sign, and insufficient income to afford market-rate rents.”
Students therefore benefit from affordable housing, but those options are limited. As noted, “The federal government, as a funder of some affordable housing communities, considers college students “voluntarily and temporarily poor.” The reasoning is that college students are choosing to stay out of the labor force and go to college instead. As such, while part-time college students may live in federally supported affordable housing, only certain classes of full-time college students may do so.”
The only full-time students eligible to receive assistance under TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) or CalWorks (the welfare program that gives cash aid and services to needy eligible California families) are those who are either enrolled in a job training program and receiving assistance through a program like JTPA (Job Training Partnership Act of 1982), those who are married and filing a joint tax return, a single parent with a dependent child, or those previously enrolled in the Foster Care Program (ages 18 to 24).
However, as Danielle Foster notes, the city has created a way for students to be qualified to live in non-federally funded projects. The problem is, “Without Redevelopment funding, land dedication sites are more reliant on federal tax credits as a primary funding source.”
She notes, “This becomes a policy issue for the City Council to consider: how to balance the production of housing (at slightly higher incomes due to less subsidy) that can serve students with the production of housing that serves households and individuals at lower incomes and/or with special needs who might otherwise be homeless.”
The city has developed a two-step process to qualify student dependent households in those projects without federal funding. They take into account a parent household supporting the students. In this case, an adult dependent is a person 18 years or older who is claimed as a dependent on another person’s income tax return.
A land dedication site has a number of benefits. They typically serve extremely low incomes, people making around 35 percent of the annual median income (AMI) or below. They can typically serve households at or below 60% AMI.
On the other hand, “on-site unit construction of affordable units is typically at 50% and 80% of AMI, with the majority at 80% AMI, based on the City’s ordinance requirements on income maximums.”
A land dedication site can focus on special needs populations, including those at risk of homelessness, seniors, and those with disabilities, while on-site units do not provide this option and would not supply the corresponding services.
Land Dedication sites “are developed by affordable housing organizations that are focused on resident services and support services to respond to the needs of residents, including special needs residents.”
However, on-site affordable units offer benefits as well, including mixed-income apartment complexes which can provide a more diverse community with a range incomes. Moreover, they “typically do not utilize outside funding subsidies, so there are not restrictions against all-student dependent households like those restrictions that often occur with apartments on land dedication sites that utilize federal funding.”
Finally, “Mixed income apartment complexes ensure construction of the affordable units concurrently with the market rate units, in a timely manner and without city financial subsidy.”
The challenge that the city faces here is several-fold.
First, the city is not bringing a lot of projects online, therefore affordable housing opportunities will be scarce and limited.
Second, with the loss of RDA (Redevelopment Agency) money, the city becomes more reliant on federal tax credits to offset the costs of supplying affordable housing in market rate units. That naturally limits the opportunities for full-time students to have access to affordable housing.
The city recognized this when they developed their policy for allowing Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs, or Granny Flats) to count for part of the affordable housing allotment. The problem with that program, and one reason it was discontinued, was that there was no affordable housing qualification required for the occupants of the ADUs.
This therefore becomes a policy challenge for the city council to look at this coming term.
—David M. Greenwald reporting