Courtesy of Kelley Manzo / The Highlander

A new report from the state Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) indicates that California Community College (CCC) students are experiencing higher rates of homelessness compared to University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) students. This has shed light on the limitations of the “rapid rehousing program,” a state initiative launched in 2019 to address the escalating issue of student homelessness. While the program has made strides in reducing the rate of students facing housing insecurity, its impact is not enough.

The issue of housing insecurity or homelessness is particularly acute in the state’s CCC system. The report’s data shows that “more than half” of CCC students have faced homelessness in the past year, while 11% of CSU respondents and 8% of UC respondents reported housing insecurity. While the UC has implemented the rapid rehousing program across all 10 campuses, the same cannot be said for the CCC system. Here, the allocation of rapid rehousing funds is ”competitive,” resulting in only a limited number of CCC campuses that can provide housing assistance. To put this into perspective, only 25 of 115 local CCC campuses, including Riverside Community College (RCC), participate in the program. At the CSUs, only 8 of 23 campuses receive rapid rehousing funds. This unequal distribution of resources at CCC campuses severely hampers access to much-needed support services. 

The CCC system also serves highly underrepresented populations: 64% are low-income, 46% are Latino and 35% are first-generation. Approximately 20% receive a Pell Grant, and 45% receive a California College Promise Grant. These students rely significantly on financial aid and basic need services, such as the rapid rehousing program offered on select campuses, and should be prioritized for additional state support. 

In addition to providing a snapshot of the growing numbers of unhoused students in the state’s three higher education systems, the LAO report confirms that housing affordability due to a significant California housing shortage is at the core of the problem. 

Even the University of California, Riverside (UCR), traditionally a commuter school, is not immune to this problem as more and more students choose to live on campus. As Bob Brumbaugh, UCR’s former Director of Housing Services, explained in a recent Los Angeles Times interview, the campus’ housing demand is growing because UCR is “attract[ing] students who live far away, reducing commuters.” Furthermore, university housing is seen as “more secure, less expensive and more reasonably operated than off-campus private apartments.” UCR’s shift from a commuter school to one where more students want to live on campus is driving demand for on-campus housing, thus creating longer housing wait lists at a time of increased prices.

The North District Phase 2 project, a collaboration between UCR and RCC, broke ground this year. It will construct new student housing for UCR and RCC students and create a transfer pipeline to the campus. This addition to the campus will generate 1568 beds to help alleviate the problem. However, while building more housing options is commendable, North District is the most expensive campus housing at UCR and is unaffordable to many students. 

Out of all the UC campuses, UCR undergraduates receive the most financial aid as “98% receive gift aid” and “77% of those who receive aid have their full fees covered by grants and/or scholarships,” according to the UCR Financial Aid website. When developing housing options, UCR must remember the student population it serves and expand affordable housing options, including Bannockburn and Falkirk, instead of building unaffordable housing for students who cannot afford it.

The Housing Assistance Program at UCR has expanded its services to students in recent years by now developing “housing plans” and assisting in finding short-term housing rather than just providing emergency housing. The growth of this program is laudable and necessary. However, until the university can produce more affordable on-campus housing options to meet the financial needs of students, these programs are merely band-aids on the reality of housing unaffordability. 

The first step towards effectively addressing student homelessness is requiring standardized reports by all three California university systems on the number, demographics and outcomes of the rapid rehousing program. Currently, the CCCs are the only university system that publishes annual reports on basic need service programs. Without standardized information about the types of students utilizing its services and the program’s outcomes, the UC and CSU cannot fully support its student population or analyze the success of the rapid rehousing program. 

The cost of college — including tuition, housing, food and transportation — has never been higher. Universities must support their students by expanding basic needs services, including the rapid rehousing program, and prioritizing more affordable housing options. Students cannot be expected to perform well, and universities cannot expect to be seen in a positive light when so many students’ basic needs are compromised.


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    The Highlander editorials reflect the majority view of the Highlander Editorial Board. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Associated Students of UCR or the University of California system.