In a previous post, we explained how College Houses defines affordable housing, and showed how our housing has significantly lower rent costs compared to other options in Austin. We can all understand the benefits of students spending less money on rent, especially with high student debt making headlines. But how does College Houses make sure our housing benefits students who need it?
This is the second in our series aiming to demystify affordable student housing. To catch the rest of the series, be sure to sign up for College Houses Community News where we will share future posts, as well as news and opportunities for you to help solve the student housing crisis in Central Texas.
What Are Income Verified Rooms?
Cooperative housing can benefit all students, regardless of income. Non-financial co-op benefits include meeting new friends, learning practical and leadership skills, and having a right to vote on decisions affecting your living environment. That said, we want to make sure that our limited supply of affordable housing is substantially serving students who truly need it.
One way to ensure that this happens is to reserve some spaces based on income. We refer to these as ”Income Verified” or “IV Reserved” spaces. In order to qualify for these reserved spaces, students must verify their income to show financial need.
We currently reserve 100 spaces across four of our co-op houses: Halstead Co-op, Nueces Co-op, Laurel House, and 21st Street Co-op. These Income Verified spaces are not physically different from our other rooms. Rather, we simply set aside a quota of spaces for eligible students each semester.
We began reserving spaces in 2008 to comply with the terms of a loan we received from the City of Austin Housing and Planning Department to build the Super Co-op. IV Reserved spaces remain our best tool to ensure students who need affordable housing can access it here at College Houses.
How Do We Verify Income?
Prospective members can verify their income by showing need-based financial aid or by showing their household income.
Financial aid is the simplest way to verify a student’s income. U.S.-based financial aid packages that include a Pell Grant (full or partial), a Subsidized Stafford Loan, or another award based on financial need can qualify members for a reserved space.
Members without U.S.-based financial aid can verify their income by providing documentation of the annual income for each member of their household, such as their tax returns. To qualify for an IV Reserved space, a member’s household income must be at or below 50% of the Austin area median family income, or MFI. MFI is updated yearly and can be found via the City of Austin Income Limits website.
Our staff is always available to help members look into their eligibility to see if they qualify. Please contact our Administrative Coordinator at [email protected] to learn more.
Connecting to Students
College Houses offers rates far below other options in our area, and rooms generally fill up well before the start of each school year. However, our IV Reserved spaces tend to fill up later than our unreserved spaces. This is likely due to the simple fact that students might not submit documentation for a reserved room if there is an unreserved room available, even if they would have qualified. In order to help us lease more efficiently, we strongly encourage all students who receive need-based aid to submit financial aid documentation. To incentivize this, we offer a 3% discount on semesterly rent payments to Income Verified members only.
We are exploring other ways to get the word out about our reserved spaces, including targeted outreach to financial aid recipients and outreach to programs that serve students with financial need. Once the word is out that we offer this great resource, we may be able to expand the number of reserved spaces beyond the 100 we offer now.
A lack of affordable housing has been a crisis in Austin for years, and sadly this crisis has only intensified. College Houses works to solve this problem by offering 100% of our housing at significantly below market rent rates. We are always looking for ways to increase our impact, both through policies like IV Reserved spaces and by expanding to offer more units overall. As more attention is placed on solving the affordability crisis, we believe that housing co‑ops like College Houses must be considered part of the solution for Austin students.