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Student commission prepares to tackle affordable housing crisis

Monday, November 29, 2021 by Jackie Ibarra

On Nov. 5, the College Student Commission voted to create a working group to study the city’s affordable housing crisis, specifically as it affects students. 

“I think that anyone who’s living here in Austin knows, we do have an affordable housing crisis. I don’t think the city is currently on track to meet its affordable housing goals,” said Chair Jeffrey Clemmons of Huston-Tillotson University.

The group, made of students from St. Edward’s University, UT Austin, Huston-Tillotson and Austin Community College, voted unanimously to form the group to come up with recommendations that will put pressure on the city to include college students in the housing conversation. 

The group also intends to address the issue of homeless college students. 

Commissioner Isaiah Smith, a representative from ACC, said college students who are homeless don’t qualify for many homelessness services. 

“I found out that there are currently no shelters that are in the city of Austin that work with homeless college students, and I was specifically told by one that homeless college students do not meet the criteria of homelessness under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development,” Smith said. 

Citing his own experience seeking a rental in Austin, Clemmons wants the working group to address the issue of what constitutes acceptable housing.

“I was awestruck by the available housing supply in Austin – a lot of these places are shacks,” Clemmons said. “I mean, just putting it bluntly, these are literally one big room and then a bathroom attached to it.” 

He said properties should be required to meet certain standards before being able to lease to tenants. 

“We have such a serious housing crisis in the city that people can only afford to get into the shack where they’re going to have water leakage, or god forbid we have another winter storm next semester,” Clemmons said. “Now these people are not going to have power, they’re gonna have their ceilings coming in because the housing’s not adequate.” 

As far as the housing that is already available, Commissioner Edwin Bautista, who represents UT Austin, wants the commission to include plans to create neighborhood associations for their respective campus neighborhoods. 

“I think that is a nice legal way to voice our opinion as students,” Bautista said. “The ultimate goal of this would also be to have a say in what gets built.” 

Bautista is planning on revamping an old West Campus neighborhood association in order to give college students a voice when it comes to development in the area. 

“I think that once we get the association up and running next semester that this can be a tool that can be used to streamline the student voices and also engage within municipal activities and involvement,” Bautista said. “We really hope that we can collaborate with everybody, every college, to get this project going and also help other colleges get their associations and neighborhoods going as well.”  

The commission plans to come to its next meeting with resolutions and recommendations to bring to City Council. 

This story was written by a journalism student at the University of Texas at Austin. The Austin Monitor is working in partnership with the UT School of Journalism to publish stories produced by students in the City and County Government Reporting course.

Photo by DaderotCC0 1.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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