Low-income faculty college students barred from some housing by tax law, so Seattle group builds answer

Some community college students struggle to pay for a place to live. It’s especially difficult because they’re often excluded from federally subsidized housing. Cities, including Seattle and Tacoma, have come up with some solutions for college students facing homelessness.

Over the last 30 years, much of the affordable housing stock in the country has been built with the help of federal tax credits that give investors a tax break in exchange for keeping rents low. But a provision in the Low-Income Tax Credit, which was part of the 1986 Tax Reform Law, specifically precluded most college students from living in low-income units.


While there are some exemptions, including for single parents going to school, people experiencing homelessness or near homelessness are not exempt from the ban on college students. Dan Wise of Catholic Housing Services in Seattle says that presents a real problem for students living on the edge.


“So they’re trying to get through their program, staying in a shelter or staying in their car,” Wise said.


To address this issue, the city of Seattle and nonprofits such as Catholic Housing Services came up with a plan: build housing that doesn’t rely on the federal tax credit program and designate it for struggling community college students.


The first example of this is on a leafy street in Seattle’s Greenwood neighborhood. It’s a four-story apartment complex that will open in about 18 months. Wise is thrilled to see the project underway.


“From where it’s at, it’s the perfect location. It’s close to two community colleges, really easy access to transit, and it’s across the street from the library,” Wise said.


Mayor Jenny Durkan said the project is an example of the strategic approach Seattle is using to address the homelssness crisis.


“We meet providers and the community where they are. This is a perfect example of that,” she told reporters gathered for a news conference in Alice Ball Park across the street from the apartment complex.


Seattle isn’t the first city to address the problem of housing for low-income community college students. For several years, Tacoma Housing Authority has worked with Tacoma Community College to provide rental vouchers to students in danger of becoming homeless.