Riverbats Call On ACC’s Administration to Act On Housing

“They want us to be like our mascot and sleep under bridges.” The administration’s lack of support enables housing insecurity to persist, student government members say.

by Daniel Sadjadi

Last August, ACC’s Student Government Association (SGA) members presented a recommendation proposal to the Board of Trustees to address the shortage of affordable housing for students. 

The solutions included immediate steps such as creating a housing message board for students to connect with roommates, medium-term solutions such as creating a housing committee and increasing resources for affordable housing initiatives and programs, and long-term solutions such as working with the SGA and community partners to create more affordable housing options. 

The SGA also surveyed ACC students on their financial and living conditions. They received 533 responses and found the following:

  • 71% of students worry about paying rent
  • 61% have faced housing insecurity
  • 12% of students reported facing homelessness
  • 30% of students spend more than 60% of their income on rent
  • 31% report struggling to pay their bills after rent 
  • 20% have received rental assistance
  • 80% say COVID-19 has drastically impacted their ability to work and pay rent
  • 40% of students have been behind on rent
  • 11.3% of students have faced eviction
  • 7 current students surveyed were homeless

According to SGA Senator, Julia Cloudt, upon being presented with this information, ACC’s Board of Trustees asked SGA to return with more data on students’ housing situations. SGA members, who have already volunteered dozens of hours of unpaid time to gather data through surveys distributed in tabling events, classes, and through word of mouth, felt frustrated according to Cloudt.

The main issue for ACC students finding affordable housing is the lack of support from the administration, Cloudt said. 

“We provided them with short, medium, and long-term solutions and there has been a lot of red tape with them not making it easy for us to even get solutions out to students,” she said. “I think one of the main issues is that we brought a lot of evidence to the administration and I think they see it as ‘it’s housing, it’s too big of an issue.’”  

Some of the main solutions proposed by the student government included providing information on affordable housing within a ten-mile radius of each campus and creating an app to connect students looking for housing. However, the administration has not taken any significant actions to address this issue, leaving SGA to deal with it themselves, Cloudt said. 

“We provided them with short, medium, and long-term solutions and there has been a lot of red tape with them not making it easy for us to even get solutions out to students”

Cloudt says that there is a misconception that students are looking for a huge solution to the housing issue, but they are only asking for help to help themselves. Cloudt also expressed that the lack of guidance and support provided by ACC to the Student Government is discouraging. Cloudt believes that the excuses given by ACC might be both legitimate and illegitimate, as there is data that ACC already knows that students are struggling with housing and even homelessness. 

Rent in Austin has increased 93% since 2010 and the majority of students reported struggling to afford housing. Cloudt experienced housing insecurity herself during her senior year in high school and was forced to stay with friends after facing homelessness. She struggled to find work and save up to get her own apartment. Struggling to find housing and a job while homeless made a significant impact on her education as she was unable to attend school regularly during that time.

“I didn’t know where to go. I had no savings. I had no job. No support… I just had to stay with friends while I was looking into getting a job so I could save up and get my own apartment. That was like three or four weeks after me having to just go struggle by myself. I didn’t go to school that entire time. I had teachers reach out to me and call me because they were like, you haven’t been to class. I was using an old iPod Touch, so I didn’t even get the messages until after I was back home. I was real-life struggling. I almost slept at a bus stop one night, but I was so scared for my safety that I walked four miles to my friend’s house, it’s either that or maybe getting raped or assaulted.” 

The lack of affordable housing affects students’ ability to focus on school and their overall well-being, as their basic needs are not being met. The transportation system is also a significant problem for people who do not have stable housing, as many are forced to rely on public transport, which takes away time and energy from their studies.

During a meeting with a trustee, they confirmed that the city fined ACC $1 million for not keeping apartments at Highland campus affordable, said Kay Trent, SGA’s president. At Highland, the Ella Parkside apartment building features 300 units but only 30 of which are reserved for affordable housing. A one-bedroom apartment would set you back $1,400 a month. “You need three or four times the rent to be able to sign off on it… my own teachers don’t make four times that amount. It was beyond affordable housing,” Cloudt said. 

Frustrated by the lack of action, a group of SGA members organized a peaceful protest on campus by putting sticky notes onto advertisement posters for the Highland campus, containing quotes about the high cost of housing and living expenses. The sticky notes were taken down the next day but the group plans to continue protesting and keeping the pressure on the board to address the housing issue.

“The SGA hopes to find solutions within ACC but is also looking to reach out to other sources for help if they continue to be ignored,” Cloudt said. The protest was successful, with the group receiving coverage in a local newspaper.

Trent said that ACC has the money to buy or build student housing, but is choosing not to. She suggested the closed ACC Pinnacle building could be used for student housing instead of converting it into a vineyard for the culinary department. Trent stated that ACC has displayed a lack of care for their students that is reflected in the budget, which is close to a billion dollars but not being used to build affordable housing. 

At one of the Board’s meetings, the topic of the administration’s frivolous spending while ignoring basic issues came up. In 2019, ACC Chancellor Richard Rhodes received a 5% raise which brought his salary to $360,000. SGA members say this money should have been used for student housing instead. Trent also noted that the administration rejected a $20 living wage proposal for ACC employees. 

Trent said that the investments made by the college are not always in the best interest of the students, like offering food services but making them prohibitively expensive to students, such as in the case of $9 ‘grab-and-go’ snack options at Highland.

Trent says that the college should invest more in resources that would benefit students, such as affordable housing for those without families and single mothers. Trent believes that providing a safe and stable housing environment for students would allow them to focus on their academics without being in “survival mode.”

Trent said that the city’s efforts to combat homelessness have not been effective and that the issue has only gotten worse without any permanent solutions. She stated that the city council needs to be more active and work together to find a solution, ‘as everyone is talking in circles about housing but nothing is actually being done to address the issue.’

“I just think that it’s selfish that a city can continue to go on this way. Or they try to push you out of the city, because the surrounding areas – Round Rock, Leander, Georgetown, all of that they still consider that to be Austin. But to live in Austin, you have to give up two legs and a half a year to afford it… Everybody’s sacrificing, like I sold my car because I was like, ‘Well, I can walk to school, I really don’t need a car per se,’ but also I couldn’t afford the gas, and insurance and gas are a big killer, especially if you’re already barely making rent.” 

Providing a safe and stable housing environment for students would allow them to focus on their academics without being in “survival mode.”

For ACC students struggling with housing insecurity or looking for a place to live, the college has a student emergency aid program that gives out a maximum of $500 to help with temporary housing, but there is no one on staff to talk to for more permanent solutions.

Trent has been working since April to address the issue of students not having their housing and other basic needs met. She has been reaching out to different departments for help and working to build bridges between them. She believes the ball is in the Board of Trustees’ court to find a real solution. 

“Nobody’s asking them to build an arcade, a gym, or anything. All those things would be lovely to have, but we just want housing right now… and so it’s just a lot of holding them accountable, a lot of physically going up to the Board of Trustees meetings, being in there, having interviews with people across the city. It’s a very challenging task, but it’s not impossible.” 

She plans to continue the fight, even after she graduates from ACC, to hold the Board of Trustees accountable for not addressing the issue of housing. She is also looking to partner with other organizations to help find a solution.

SGA (Student Government Association) at Austin Community College is a group that helps students with various issues, including housing. They represent 72,000 students on campus. The best form of contact is to reach out to the ACC SGA email address listed below. 

SGA tries to help students who are being redirected endlessly by other organizations on campus. SGA is a group of people who are tirelessly fighting for students and trying to help them. Change can only happen when people become involved, so the SGA encourages students to become involved and reach out to them. You can find more information and volunteer to get involved with SGA here.

Student Government Association Email: [email protected]

Hunger & Homelessness


Written by Arleene Lozano
Video by Sam Douglas
Photos by Halie Davis

Students at the OXFAM Hunger Banquet as low-class

Hunger and Homelessness is a popular topic across the world. The United States alone is constantly struggling with this problem. There are 23,122 people experiencing homelessness on any given night in Texas, according to the 2016 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR). About 40 percent of the homeless in the U.S. are under the age of eighteen.

“I think it is getting harder [for students] to be self-sufficient,” Mass Communication major William Menjivar says. “Regardless of your income, whether you are at the 1 percent or not, I think at some point you are going to struggle. I think a lot of college students will sacrifice in the area of being able to eat so that they can provide in other ways, like having clothes on their back.”

Hunger and homelessness can derive from various factors in a person’s life like being born into poverty, being mentally or physically disabled, experiencing job loss, being incarcerated and more. People experiencing hunger and homelessness, may not have asked for this lifestyle but can’t seem to find the right help.

“When it comes to the topic of hunger and homelessness, I think that people are aware of it, however it becomes very easy to ignore,” Student Life Supervisor Kelly Brown says.

Throughout the city of Austin and its suburbs, it is unavoidably easy to spot someone on the side of the streets, and highways holding up signs and walking up and down the lines of cars stopped at a red light asking for some sort of help.

ACC recognizes the situation is difficult, so every year the Office of Student Life steps to raise awareness of hunger and homelessness. The Student Life Food Pantry program asked that each campus host a minimum of one program during the week of November 13-17, 2017.

The purpose and objective of this program derives from a statistic provided by the Wisconsin Hope Lab stating that “an estimated average of 13 percent of community college students may be homeless.”

homeless statistics
Statistics from the OXFAM Hunger Banquet

With these statistics, ACC Student Life’s Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week hopes to provide educational awareness to these problems. According to Office of Student Life, the objective of this week is to raise awareness regarding hunger and homelessness at ACC and the greater Austin area, educate the student body about these issues and build support for solutions. Plus, connect students with resources and encourage them to act and volunteer with Operation: Riverbats.

During this week, ACC campuses conducted events such as a sock drive, cardboard brigade, a hunger banquet and more.

“I think that everything ACC is doing, is definitely useful to the community,” says Menjivar. “It definitely raises awareness of how serious the situation is and I think it adds some humanity to it.”

Every year, the Office of Student Life hosts the  OXFAM Hunger Banquet. Brown says, “Oxfam America is a global organization working to right the wrongs of poverty and hunger. The purpose and focus of the Oxfam Hunger Banquet is to bring awareness to global poverty, hunger, and the efforts that are being made to stop it. Essentially, we understand that everybody walks with a certain amount of privilege in life and we want everybody to recognize that and give them an opportunity to discuss it and the ways that they can help those that are suffering from food insecurity and housing insecurity.”

With the certainty that at least one classmate is food insecure, ACC Student Life offers a free service to its students, known as the Food Pantry. Every Student Life office has a food pantry full of canned and boxed, healthy foods for students experiencing food insecurity. Two in three community college students are food insecure, according to the Wisconsin Hope Lab. This affects many students on the ACC campuses.

“We see that here at Austin Community College, you see it pretty much at any two-year, four-year, higher education,” Brown says. “What we want to do here is educated students that there are opportunities for them to get food through food pantries popping up across the nation or through programs like Aunt Bertha.”

Other local and national organizations that Student Life connects students with are Give Pulse, Feeding America, Covenant House, Students Against Hunger, and Central Texas Food Bank.

Aunt Bertha is a search and referral platform that helps those facing social needs to find and make referrals to appropriate programs and services for food, shelter, health, care, work, financial assistance, and more, according to auntbertha.com. This website lists free and reduced cost service programs in every zip code. This platform currently has 1,853 programs serving people in Austin – some of which include the 31 food pantries they have listed.

Feeding America focuses on creating a nationwide network of member food banks to engage the nation in the fight to end hunger, according to feedingamerica.org. Feeding America is a U.S. based non-profit organization with more than 200 food banks that feed more than 46 million people through many food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, and other community-based agencies.

According to covenanthouse.org, Covenant House offers housing and support services to young people in need, reaching nearly 80,000 boys and girls every year by saving the lives of homeless, runaway, and trafficked young people. Almost 40 percent of the homeless in the U.S. are under 18. In the U.S. alone, more than 20,000 kids are forced into prostitution by human trafficking networks every year. 10 to 50 percent of homeless youth engage in survival sex, or the exchange of sex for food, clothing, or shelter.

Central Texas Food Bank is the largest hunger-relief charity in Central Texas. They work with donors across the country, financial supporters and volunteers to fill unmet needs in Central Texas. They assist families who qualify for federal assistance programs, share free food and knowledge on low-cost, healthy eating with families in need, and make food affordable for charitable government partners. Their website helps people locate places nearby if they are ever in need of a meal.

“College students should care about the homeless because they are people, just like you, me and somebody that is just trying to get by,” Menjivar says. “Maybe at some point, they fell down on their luck and did not have the means to get back up so they had to humble themselves to the point of asking for help. If I were in the situation, I would want somebody to help me out so we should open up our hearts to helping other people.”

This is not to say that all community college students are struggling. For those who are not, there are multiple ways to get informed and involved to help others who are going through these daily struggles. “In the Austin population, where we do have a large homeless population, they almost become fixtures that we get used to and therefore it becomes easier and easier to pass it by,” Brown says.

Students have an array of options to choose from if needed and the Office of Student Life can direct someone seeking help in the right direction in order to prevent skipping a meal. Having so many cities and nation-wide resources available at any moment for the hungry and homeless is a great start ending the issue of hunger and homelessness.

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