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Partnering to Combat Student Housing Insecurity

rendering of affordable housing design
Tom Barrie's studio class in the College of Design is designing solutions to address student housing insecurity.

In 2017, NC State University psychology professor Mary Haskett published a research study with some unsettling findings: 14 percent of NC State students had experienced food insecurity over the previous 30 days and 10 percent had experienced homelessness or housing insecurity.

In the time since, Haskett has been on a mission. Together with Sarah Wright, TRIO academic coach at the university, she co-chairs the Pack Essentials Steering Committee, established in fall 2017 to work toward a range of solutions for supporting these students.

“It’s a challenge that the larger community and our alumni want to solve,” Haskett said. “They know these students are doing everything right and everything they possibly can to get their degree — the least we can do is step up.”

As their work continued, Haskett received a grant from the NC State University Foundation for the 2018-2019 academic year to develop an approach to student housing insecurity. A group of campus and community members met throughout the year, gathering examples from other universities, reviewing literature on homelessness and interviewing affected students on campus.

Three subcommittees were formed to address:

  • Emergency housing — providing immediate solutions for students who need housing that same day.
  • The establishment of a Host Homes Program — where members of the community open their homes to students.
  • Future building ideas — if the university were able to construct housing for students experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity, what would that look like?

This academic year, a second NC State University Foundation grant will allow the study group to begin taking action on the Host Homes Program as they continue to seek additional funding. At the same time, an interdisciplinary partnership with Professor Tom Barrie in the College of Design will explore what it might look like to provide housing on or near campus, Haskett said.

Host Homes Program

The Host Homes Program will match students facing homelessness or housing insecurity with members of the community who are willing to open their homes to a student. This hosting arrangement might last for a full semester, or for a shorter period such as winter break, Haskett said.

With an initial Foundation grant of $18,000, Haskett hired a facilitator who is an expert in that role — Todd Rosendahl is also the associate director for the Southern region for Point Source Youth, a national organization addressing youth homelessness. The facilitator will lead an action team of students, faculty, staff and local experts to launch the Host Homes Program.

Over the next nine months, the team will work to raise the funds for one year of operation, at a total cost of about $122,000, Haskett said. The budget includes salary for a program coordinator whose role will be to recruit and support hosts and to match hosts and students. A case manager will work on identifying students and connecting them with resources, she added.

Mary Haskett talks to students
Faculty member Mary Haskett has worked with a student research team to study food and housing insecurity at NC State. Photo by Marc Hall.

Additionally, that budget will go toward helping students with transportation if the host home is far from campus, or grocery store gift cards if the host can’t provide food. In some, but not all cases, a small stipend for the host may be provided if the host faces challenges paying for the extra costs of water, electricity and so forth that come with having another person in their home, Haskett said. Last, students will receive a welcome kit with bedding and basic needs to help them get set up in their host home.

This month, the team will host a forum inviting those interested in becoming hosts to campus to learn more. Hosts will go through a standard training so they know what to expect, and to answer any questions they may have, Haskett said.

From there, the team will begin to identify students. The goal is to begin with 10 students in the fall 2020 semester, evaluate the program and grow from there.

Haskett noted additional funds will be needed to continue to support and grow the program in the future. The grant covers only the planning process this year. Financial backing for start-up and to support the ongoing program, as well as volunteers who may have fundraising knowledge or can help with community partnerships are welcomed to serve on the action team, she said.

Potential Building Solutions

Recognizing that the Host Homes Program can’t cover all needs, such as students with children, Haskett and Barrie seized on NC State’s interdisciplinary approach to problem-solving to look at additional housing options.

“Part of my work is looking for solutions in the context of affordable housing,” said Barrie, professor of architecture and director of the college’s Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities Initiative. “It was an easy fit for me.”

Barrie’s studio class this fall is devoted to exploring possible solutions to student housing insecurity.

“The project is really designed around innovative approaches to university housing, recognizing that housing insecurity and homelessness are a problem at NC State,” he said.

At the same time, the name of the studio, Affordable and Supportive Housing, signals that “support” is also key. Counseling and the availability of case workers are essential to assist students with all of the factors that contribute to students struggling to pay their bills, he said. So his students must incorporate plans for those types of services into their building design.

As the semester progresses, students are conducting research on contemporary models of affordable housing, innovative university housing and micro-housing, Barrie said. In teams, students explore these topics and compile their findings, making them accessible on the web to the public.

By mid-October, team research was completed and students began working individually to develop potential designs for two university-owned sites. Those two sites serve as possible locations for students to imagine how they might serve the homeless and housing insecure population, Barrie said. The process will be informed through input from the Office of the University Architect, University Housing and local professionals. 

His students use architectural methodologies, examine the site conditions, and develop the concepts that address various components from the different types of living units to whether a day care center might be needed on site, to the inclusion of support space for counseling and case workers. The end of the semester will yield a range of approaches and outcomes, Barrie said.

While the studio experience is designed for the education of his students, Barrie said the research materials and prototypical housing designs can provide a toolset to people charged with future decisions on making something like this a reality.

“We give them the materials to do that,” Barrie said. “The hope is they’ll raise the money, hire professionals to design it and execute.”

This story is part of an ongoing series highlighting ways to address food and housing insecurity on campus. Learn more about how we’re working to meet our students’ needs.