College Connect: Lack of Affordable Housing Can Negatively Affect College Students

Posted By Crystal Beasley

By Amy Libby

College students living off campus often grapple with few housing options and poor housing conditions. Students shouldering heavy course loads that don’t allow for full-time employment are limited by scarce affordable housing options within their budget.

Nhia Vang, a senior in the Terry College of Business at the University of Georgia, said he has struggled to find housing within his limited budget while in school. His experiences growing up in Section 8 housing in an area of Fresno, California, riddled with gangs and crime activity shaped his housing priorities, he said. Vang wanted affordable housing in complexes that made him feel safe.

“I want to make sure that I’m renting in a place with less crime and less robbery,” Vang said,

“So when I go to sleep or when I’m studying, now, I don’t always have to worry about my car getting robbed.”

Karen Tinsley, a public service associate in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences at UGA, said a lack of affordable housing affects resident’s quality of life and a community’s overall vitality and growth.

As Program Director of the Georgia Initiative for Community Housing, Tinsley runs the grass-roots organization, which has a mission to improve communities through locally-based housing and revitalization strategies. The programs’ multifaceted approach tailors assistance to a community’s specific needs.

“It could be that the type of unit that students are looking for is just not available,” says Tinsley. For instance, a student on a fixed income may be looking for housing such as a loft apartment or something downtown near campus. Yet these are the very areas likely to have high demand for limited housing options, and therefore sometimes unaffordable rent prices.

GICH has supported community efforts to create housing for specific population groups like students or senior citizens. Other revitalization projects by GICH have ranged from coordinating teams of skilled contractors for external building repairs in distressed neighborhoods to increased code enforcement on neglected or hazardous private property.

In previous semesters, Vang commuted nearly two hours daily on the round trip from his apartment in Lawrenceville to Athens. He chose not to live near campus in Athens because he couldn’t find apartments affordable while clean and safe enough for times when he would have custody of his young daughter.

His rent in Lawrenceville still wasn’t cheap at $700 a month. He used to think a higher rent would mean more trustworthy landlords, but was proven wrong. When his heating broke in the dead of winter, his landlord was slow to respond. Vang was forced to seek refuge in coffee shops and bookstores sometimes overnight until his heating was repaired. He considers himself lucky, as his landlord did eventually fix his heater, while friends and family have struggled with severe living conditions such as roach infestations.

Vang hopes organizations like GICH will mean more communities focusing on “top priority issues” like improving living conditions and reducing crime in areas where students and lower-income people live.

He earned a 4.0 GPA last semester, learning after some time and considerable effort to block out these challenges so they aren’t an excuse for failure.

“I know in the past for me, and with other students, [lack of housing] does negatively impact academics,” says Vang.

Amy Libby is a student at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia

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