Will this partnership solve student homelessness in Silicon Valley?
The one thing that’s probably worse than racking up a massive college tuition bill is not having a roof over your head, which is the unfortunate circumstance of nearly 15 percent of students at four-year institutions in the US.
The problem is particularly pervasive in areas where affordable housing has become something of a pipe dream, and not just for low-income Americans.
According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, there’s no city in the country where a full-time minimum-wage worker can afford a modest two-bedroom apartment. In fact, you’d have to make nearly US$35 an hour just to afford a modest home in California – that’s triple the minimum wage rate.
In the Silicon Valley bay area, the startup and tech capital of the world, students are certainly feeling the pinch. A recent California State University (CSU) study found that some 13 percent of students at San Jose State University (SJSU) – the equivalent of 4,000 students – experienced a form of homelessness in 2018.
For this reason, key stakeholders in the city have worked on a solution.
Airbnb, the global room-letting online marketplace, is partnering with the City of San Jose, the Bill Wilson Center and SJSU to give homeless and housing-insecure students free temporary housing.
This public-private and non-profit partnership is billed as the first such arrangement for homeless students in the US.
“College students should worry about final exams, not about where they’ll sleep each night,” San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said in a press release last week.
“We are proud to forge this partnership with Airbnb, Bill Wilson Center, and San José State to do better for our next generation of leaders.”
The partnership was borne out of initial conversations between the Mayor, Airbnb, the center and SJSU over the summer. The stakeholders are rolling out the pilot now with an added focus on ensuring students have a place to bunk for the holiday season.
“San José State, particularly students who may need support during the upcoming winter recess when the campus is closed, will find the funds earmarked for this initiative to be a welcome and timely gift as we approach the holiday season,” said San José State University Vice President of Student Affairs Patrick Day.
The programme will draw its funds from a US$250,000 state grant, reports say.
“We know that a comforting and supportive environment for our students—including housing— is an important building block for meeting their basic needs.
“Partnerships like this are a must when tackling such an urgent and critical issue, so this collaborative effort is a step in the right direction,” Day added.
According to agreement terms, housing booking arrangements for homeless and housing-insecure students will be made via the Airbnb for Work third-party booking tool, which allows an administrator to book and manage stays on behalf of others. San Jose is the first US city to use the tool to address student homelessness.
The center will use the tool to allocate temporary housing for participating students, while Airbnb will refund its host and guest booking fees to the center. The host will also get the option of providing the room rent-free or at a discounted rate.
Depending on individual needs, temporary housing will be provided for short-term stays ranging between a few days to a few weeks and up to several months. The center will in the meantime work on identifying long-term stable housing for participating students.
“We need to work together in Silicon Valley to assure vulnerable college students have a place to stay when they face homelessness,” said Bill Wilson Center CEO Sparky Harlan.
“Thanks to Airbnb, Bill Wilson Center will have access to rooms in hosted homes where we can temporarily place a student while we work to find them longer-term, stable housing.”
Airbnb Senior Vice-President of Global Policy and Communications Chris Lehan said “too many” students go to bed nightly without a roof over their heads.
“We are honored that Mayor Liccardo is leading this work and grateful for the opportunity to bring public, private and nonprofit resources together to support local students in need. We look forward to working with the Bill Wilson Center in the coming months to leverage our host community and place students in a safe place they can call home.”