South Knox 4

New park construction and new apartment homes line the river.

Hundreds of residential apartments are being built in downtown Knoxville right now. Over 400 units are under construction with an additional 500 units planned to be built, according to a WATE article.

While students can either stay on campus or move into some of the planned residential units strictly for University of Tennessee students, many of these options aren’t affordable for those who don’t have some type of financial support.

On average, room and board at UT is approximately $11,482 according to One Stop Student Services. This price is in addition to either in-state tuition, $13,264, or out-of-state tuition, $31,684, as well as an additional estimated $7,264 for books, transportation and personal costs.

“We have lots of apartment complexes across campus that are extraordinarily expensive and no one who's coming out of homelessness could afford that. No one,” said Courtney Cronley, associate professor in UT’s College of Social Work. “So people will say, well we build apartment complexes all the time. Yes, we build expensive lofts downtown. That's not what we're going for here.”

“We are building some more expensive university housing down there that no one's going to be able to afford as a university student,” Cronley added. “Their parents are going to have to pay for that. We do not build affordable multifamily housing. We don't, there is major pushback against that and that is what we need.”

Pushback which can include the “Not in My Backyard” mentality, with some opposing affordable, supportive or transitional housing based solely on assumed characteristics or stigmatization of those who will be living in the development.

Even in Knoxville, coordinator of the city’s Office of Homelessness Michael Dunthorn said it can sometimes be a challenge in having a neighborhood accept such affordable housing in their area.

“We've shown that it works and when it's done right, it is actually an asset to the neighborhood, but on the front end it's sometimes hard for people to see that,” Dunthorn said. “And I think there's this strange thing with strange people that they're going to be moving into my neighborhood and that's not the case.”

And the need for affordable housing isn’t just located in Knoxville. Annette Beebe, case manager and Youth WINS program manager at the Community Action Committee, pointed toward legislation an Ohio senator introduced to the Senate in 2019.

The bipartisan legislation, Housing for Homeless Students Act, aims to update current law ensuring that students, including veterans, who are currently homeless or have been in the past can have access to affordable housing while pursuing their education.

The bill is still stuck in the Senate, having been read twice and referred to the Committee on Finance.

In Knoxville, under the guidance of Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon, the Office of Homelessness has carried forward a community homelessness plan from the last administration.

“Central to that is an idea that homelessness is not an acceptable circumstance for anyone in our community. ... [It] calls on us to be as accountable to one another and to the people that we're trying to help ... to do as much as we can to help not just to respond to someone's immediate need, but to prevent homelessness whenever we can,” Dunthorn said. “And for those who do become homeless, do the things that we can to make sure that we're directing them towards a permanent stable housing situation moving forward.”

In the recent past, the strategy to help the homeless was to first shelter and then move to transitional and finally permanent housing.

However, this process doesn’t work for everyone. Dunthorn explained that some people never graduate through the system and fall through the cracks, ending back where they started.

“Well, it was figured out that it's actually the stability of having a permanent place to live that can help someone address the underlying causes of their homelessness,” Dunthorn said. “And so a concept called Housing First was created where you have somebody who's chronically homeless and you work with them to as quickly as possible ... help them get into permanent housing with supportive services.”

Housing First prioritizes permanent housing needs and helps individuals then focus on improving their quality of life, which for students would mean focusing on their classwork and graduating instead of putting all their attention on where they’ll be staying for the night.

One way to help college students struggling with housing insecurity, Beebe explained, is to admit students struggling with homelessness into subsidized housing, as they’re not to blame for their circumstances.

“We need more affordable housing and we need to let kids who are struggling more in college and struggling with housing insecurities and don't come from supportive backgrounds and have had bouts of homelessness, we need to let them into subsidized housing,” Beebe said.

“That's a no duh. We need to let him into subsidized housing. Let me say, our population that we work with, they absolutely are worthy of being held to the same standards as their peers who come from supportive housing,” Beebe added. “They've done nothing to deserve that. They are true victims. They've done nothing.”

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