A place to call home

Food pantries are just one piece of the wraparound services provided at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photos: Tri-C)

Community college students are more likely to be low-income, people of color and first generation in their family to attend higher education than their four-year peers. For a combination of these reasons, they are more apt to be housing insecure.

Some two-year colleges, mainly those in rural areas where students come from farther distances, have provided housing for decades. Since the Great Recession, and even more since the outbreak of Covid-19 — with housing insecurity having grown in the past 1.5 years — more institutions in metropolitan areas have moved forward on or are considering plans to break ground.

This article is an excerpt from the current issue of the Community College Journal, the flagship publication of the American Association of Community Colleges since 1930.

Among them is Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) in the Cleveland area, which is partnering with Cleveland State University and other local entities to leverage a State of Ohio low-income housing tax credit to help fund the Cleveland Scholar House, which will provide residences for students of both institutions who are single parents, with a target opening date of fall 2023.

Tri-C has been thinking about developing student housing of some sort for at least a decade but was initially thinking more broadly about economically disadvantaged students, says Alex Johnson, Tri-C president. The target has narrowed to single-parent “students who need that as a supplement to the college experience, to provide them with not only that but an opportunity to engage more extensively with the institution and to have a more robust experience,” he says.

The college initially had focused on its Eastern Campus in Highland Hills, Ohio, but has ended up making plans for the Metropolitan Campus in central Cleveland, which is near Cleveland State. The tax credit will cover three-quarters of the eventual $12 million price tag, and the partners need to raise the rest.

Details TBD

The number of units and how they will be divided between the two schools are still to be determined, Johnson says, and architectural designs are still in progress, although he envisions family-sized apartments. However, the scope of what will be provided to students and who will be eligible in the first place — parents and minor children, and mostly single parents — already has been worked out.

Other partners include CHN Housing Partners, which will develop and own the site; United Way of Greater Cleveland, which will provide wraparound services; the Cleveland Metropolitan Housing Authority, which will lease the land and provide rental vouchers; and Step Forward, which will operate on-site daycare.

“The most important thing about the scholar housing is that it provides on-site, wraparound services and opportunities that students don’t traditionally get at residence halls,” Johnson says. “Rental assistance and high-quality child care, which are a big deal for working parents; it provides academic support on site, either in virtual format or in-person [through CSU and Tri-C]; and then a number of resident services like mental-health counseling, financial literacy, access to benefits available through the government and employment opportunities either through the housing or on campus.”

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Johnson expects raising the remaining $3 million will be smooth given the “attractiveness of the idea, and the fact that it dovetails with other efforts going on in the community.” The plot of land for the development has been identified, he says, and “the beauty is that the area where the Metropolitan Campus is located has been completely rejuvenated over the past five years, with a brand new public health center” as well as a new private housing development.

In addition, the campus itself has been revitalized with a new student center, plazas and a workforce building with a technology training center, along with a “revamped manufacturing center.”

Students wishing to live with their families will need to demonstrate, before they are considered for this residence opportunity, “that they are committed to education, committed to taking advantage of every opportunity to support families,” Johnson says. “They have to be committed to going to school on a full-time basis. This is not permanent housing. It’s designed to support them through their personal challenges, and ultimately help them get jobs that will enable them to identify other housing opportunities.”

Read the rest of the article in the current issue of CC Journal.

About the Author

Ed Finkel
is an education writer based in Illinois.