For many years Minnesota advocates have joined others across the country in trying to fix a policy which forces young, formerly homeless people to choose between a roof over their heads and devoting themselves full time to getting an education. Minnesota's own Senator Al Franken has recently introduced a new bill which would address this pernicious housing policy issue.
The Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC), established in 1986, is responsible for most of the affordable rental housing produced nationwide. In the legislation behind this program, something called the "Student Rule" stipulates that full time students cannot live in an LIHTC low-income unit as head of the household, as a way to prevent scarce resources from being used to build college dormitories.
While the student rule made sense to prevent subsidy of less needy college students, once developers began using tax credits to house homeless youth, we ran into trouble. When homeless youth who are full time students are offered a spot in tax credit housing, they have to certify that they are not attending school full time. Both college and high school homeless students have had to choose between dropping to part time student status, and taking advantage of safe, affordable housing. Some students who choose housing also face losing financial aid as a result of their change in student status.
Senator Franken's bill, "The Housing for Homeless Students Act of 2012," creates an exception to the student rule for youth who have been homeless at any time up to five years prior to occupying a tax credit-financed apartment. Representatives Jim McDermott (D-WA) and Erik Paulsen (R-MN) are expected to introduce the companion bill in the House. Franken's staff said that they are hoping to get a Republican senator to join their bill. Their legislative strategy is to include this student bill in a bigger package of various extensions of current tax policy that Congress is expected to pass in the lame duck session after the election.