By Lizbeth Olivarez, GAHP Intern
As a student, adequate and affordable housing was one of my top priorities when selecting a university that made it possible to pursue my academic and career goals. Like many, I wanted to ensure I had stable housing and food without struggling to afford rent after moving nearly 300 miles away from my hometown. In Fall 2020, I had the opportunity to live on campus for my first semester at the University of New Mexico. However, due to COVID-19 restrictions and tuition costs, I had to move back home to continue my education online. The early stages of the pandemic made it possible for me to learn remotely but it was very difficult for international and out-of-state attendees who couldn’t do so to find stable student housing. COVID-19 amplified these market conditions, but few community food and shelter resources are available for low-income students.
“When you factor in the rent that I have to pay and any bills, tuition, and that sort of thing, it leaves you with very little left at the end of the month for your food." - UNM Graduate student
Affordability greatly influences and reflects the choices prospective college and university students make before attending a two or four-year institution. The #2021 RealCollege report found approximately 3 in 5 college students face some form of basic needs insecurity. Housing and food insecurity has become prevalent among students attending the University of New Mexico. The Basic Needs Survey illustrates 43.5% of UNM student respondents reported experiencing housing insecurity in 2021. African American, Native American, Hispanic, International, and LGBTQ+ student respondents often experience a higher burden than the average for food and/or housing insecurity.
The UNM student population resonates with the challenges associated with finding affordable housing during the academic year. This is often accompanied by stress, worry, and anxiety generated by housing insecurity, often leading to students bargaining for other basic necessities such as clothes, school supplies, and even food. 25.6% of UNM students reported they were food insecure, in 2021.
“I financed everything. I paid for my rent and food and everything. But as a freshman trying to work and do all of that, I mean, it was stressful. I never had time for myself. When I’d come back to school, I was burnt out and it was tough to make it. But then also if you can’t eat, yeah, your brain is just not there. There’s a point where you are just like why I am doing this?” - UNM Basic Needs survey respondent
In New Mexico, housing and food insecurity remain under investigation. The New Mexico Higher Education department has allocated $24 million towards a state-run effort to combat hunger by gathering data on NM college students. There have been limited strategies enacted as the most appropriate interventions are yet to be determined. The UNM Basic Needs Project is an initiative with the goal to alleviate housing and food insecurity among college and university students in New Mexico. It hosts a collaboration of UNM faculty, students, and staff in the early stages of building partnerships with schools, the government, and other stakeholders to adequately resolve this insecurity in higher education.
Several out-of-state institutions have sought to partner with schools, local governments, and states to develop more affordable housing options for students. The University of Michigan and the College of Idaho in Caldwell have experimented with nontraditional student housing by taking advantage of available land near or on-campus. California state legislature fosters strong collaboration with in-state institutions, like UCLA and UC Berkeley, to pave the path for future policy changes such as removing zoning limitations near campuses, incentivizing developers to build affordable units for low-income college students, and allocating funding towards rental subsidies under emergency circumstances.
As the University of New Mexico continues to attract more prospective students each year, it is important to expand affordable student housing by implementing similar interventions and partnerships. However, this requires generating awareness of housing and food insecurity among college and university leaders, local officials, developers, and other stakeholders. Ultimately, these are the next steps forward in creating more adequate and stable housing options for students in NM institutions. It is important to make these investments in higher education to ensure a healthy and equitable environment of learning, despite a student's socioeconomic status.