Many ACC students struggle to pay rent. Student leaders are calling for solutions.
Austin’s housing crisis is taking a toll on community college students, according to a new survey. The Austin Community College Student Government Association conducted a housing affordability assessment during the 2021-2022 academic year.
Student Government President Kay Trent presented the results of the survey to the ACC Board of Trustees on Monday.
“The whole reason that we brought this about was because there is clearly a housing crisis in the City of Austin,” she said. “The housing crisis has been increasing since 2010 and certainly isn’t getting any better.”
Of the 533 students who participated in the survey, 44% were part-time students and 56% were full-time. The respondents hailed from all 11 of ACC’s campuses in Central Texas.
The majority of survey respondents said they were worried about paying rent. Eighty percent said COVID-19 has drastically impacted their ability to work and pay rent. Another 61% said they had faced housing insecurity, and seven students said they experienced homelessness.
“And then you can add me to that number because I’ve been homeless for the past month,” Trent said.
Trent told trustees the co-op she had been living in wanted to double the rent and the number of roommates she was living with. She would have had more than 20 roommates and paid $880 per month for a bed and a desk.
"I said I just was not going to do that because it’s not conducive to my living situation,” she said. “I want to graduate in the spring, and I would not be able to live on top of people to do that.”
Trent ended up finding an apartment, but she said without support from her community, she would have had to stay at a homeless shelter.
“This is affecting your student leaders,” she said. “This is affecting your very people that are in [the Student Government Association] helping to run this school.”
The Student Government Association proposed a number of short- and long-term strategies to help students amid the ongoing housing crisis. The group said ACC should begin asking students about their housing situation in admissions materials so the college has more data on the student body and can better serve them. Other recommendations include putting together a list of affordable housing options and creating a housing message board at every campus to help students find roommates.
Austin Community College Chancellor Richard Rhodes said ACC was already working on the message boards and housing information for students.
Trent also outlined strategies that would take more time to implement, such as creating a committee to examine housing issues and potential solutions to the crisis. She said the panel should include the ACC administration, the Board of Trustees, students, staff and faculty, because the crisis is not only affecting students.
"Adjunct professors don’t know where they’re going to live at," she said. "Everybody is struggling at this point.”
The Student Government Association also suggested conducting a land survey to identify potential sites for student housing. The group said ACC should work with UT Austin and St. Edward’s University to come up with citywide solutions.
Trustee Manny Gonzalez said it would be helpful to know how many ACC students facing housing insecurity have kids or other dependents.
“It would help us in terms of making decisions of prioritization or providing mixed-use housing options if we know … who we need to serve in terms of providing that resource,” he said.
Trent said most of the survey respondents were 25 or older and have children.
Trustee Stephanie Gharakhanian, who is working with Gonzalez and the ACC administration on housing issues, said that ACC serves a unique population, so it may need to come up with a unique solution.
“As we’re taking this task on, part of what we’re doing is something that really hasn’t happened in this particular context before,” she said. “That’s not new for us. We have been innovators for a really long time. But that does mean that there isn't sort of a rubber stamp that we can borrow from somewhere else and implement here.”
Trent said the Student Government Association plans to regularly conduct the housing survey to keep the board informed about the challenges students are facing.