CSU student moving belongings into dorm
Story Basic Needs Initiative

CSU Battles Housing Insecurity with New Affordable Housing Grant Program

Stephanie Metzinger


CSU student moving belongings into dorm

The California State University (CSU) is bolstering its efforts to support housing-insecure students with a new Affordable Housing Grant Program. Through this plan, the CSU is slating a minimum of $5 million in grants for students who are experiencing financial challenges in securing housing or who would otherwise require substantial loans to pay for housing.

“We have a moral obligation to help our students and remove any barriers or obstacles that they are facing and get them connected to on-campus housing as much as possible," said Dilcie Perez, the associate vice chancellor for student affairs, equity & belonging at the CSU Chancellor's Office. “And if not on-campus, because that may not the ideal spot for every student, support them in living off campus so that we can remove that financial barrier for them as a challenge."

Perez is among the CSU team that is working closely with the Cal State Student Association to ensure access to high-quality and affordable housing for students through the new grant program. This collaborative effort was officially launched in late September 2022 and was made possible through a re-investment in basic needs by California Governor Gavin Newsom.

Basic Needs Allocation Funds Housing Grants

When the 2022-23 California Budget provided the CSU with $10 million in recurring funds to advance basic needs initiatives, the CSU encouraged its campuses to designate 50 percent of its allocation to go toward addressing housing needs for students.

CSU campuses worked swiftly and efficiently to develop tailored grant programs that would best serve students. Understanding the imperative that stude​nts need a safe, stable and affordable place to live while pursuing a college degree, these programs were implemented within weeks of the state's allocation disbursement.

“Knowing that students are facing insurmountable barriers and challenges and that housing affordability continues to be an issue not only on campus but throughout California, this effort was our bold movement to do something right now. We knew we couldn't wait," said Perez.

The monies will be put toward direct financial support for students seeking to live in on-campus housing facilities or off-campus housing. Funds will cover 50 to 100 percent of housing costs, depending on how each campus has created the program to meet the needs of its specific student demographic. Assistance can be provided by covering the housing costs through the creation of a new campus-based housing grant or by offsetting associated required fees (e.g., housing application fees, meal plans and security deposits) for undergraduate and graduate students.

CSU Campuses Immediately Breaking Down Barriers

CSU campuses are already taking action to make a difference in solving the housing insecurity issue. Many have broken down silos to establish cross-departmental partnerships to identify students who have the greatest need and would most benefit from this financial assistance.

For example, Chico State brought together its Financial Aid & Scholarship Office, University Foundation and Off-Campus Student Services to develop the inner workings of its grant program. The three entities are working seamlessly together to build an application and distribution process that will be easily accessible to students in need of housing support. Additionally, Chico State is going beyond the suggested 50 percent and has earmarked 100 percent of its basic needs allocation ($276,000) to go toward the campus' housing grant program.

“We are using 100 percent of our award to go toward student housing, and we are doing that through scholarships through our financial aid process," said Dr. Isaac Brundage, vice president for student affairs at Chico State. “We are looking at students who have a high need and funding and assisting those students to get housing."

These high-need students can be former foster students, unaccompanied homeless students or individuals with a low expected family contribution (EFC) of zero. Furthermore, the campus plans to launch a fundraising campaign later this year that will match its allocation. 

“Our foundation is part of the team involved in this program, and we are looking for donors to match our allocation so we can help even more students," said Brundage.

At San Diego State (SDSU), the Basic Needs Center led the charge in developing the campus' housing grant program and disseminating funds.

“We got the allocation last fall and were thrilled," said Chelsea Payne, SDSU's director of the basic needs center & economic crisis response team. “As soon as we got the memo, we started to gather the internal accounting structure that we would need to start to disseminate the grants out to students. What we already had in place was the team and staff that would be able to outreach to students and get them the grant funding."

SDSU received its basic needs allocation in September, started building the infrastructure of the program and outreached out to students in October and November, and distributed the first round of grants in December.

Payne notes how the Center prioritized making accessibility to the grants as low-barrier as possible. For instance, the Center worked with the Office of Housing Administration to identify any students who had a balance in their housing. They then reached out to these students and encouraged them to use the grant to pay off their dormitory balance.

“The time from application to award is one week," said Payne.

As of January 2023, SDSU has disseminated $87,000 in housing grants; the university estimates that the grant program will serve 500 - 600 students this school year.

CSU campuses also offer a variety of other supports and services for students who need housing assistance. This includes CSU's Rapid-Rehousing Program, where campuses establish ongoing partnerships with community organizations to support students in finding affordable housing, and the CSU Systemwide Housing Plan, which aims to add 4,600 new beds for 2022-2025 and 10,000 new beds for 2026 and beyond.

“What we want to create on our campuses are living-learning communities," said Perez in a recent interview with EdSource. “What we do not want to happen is that students have to make a choice between either living or learning. We want them to be able to do both."

CSU's Housing and Basic Needs Initiative Supports GI 2025

This program is the latest effort by the CSU to address the student housing crisis. It is also part of the CSU's basic needs efforts and its university-wide student success initiative, Graduation Initiative 2025. Housing falls under GI 2025's operational priority of “Student Engagement and Well-Being," and the CSU will continue to implement innovative strategies to battle housing insecurity as the university system works to increase graduation rates and ensure student success.

To learn more about the CSU Affordable Housing Grant Program, read EdSource's “CSU's housing grants aim to prevent rent crises among students" story.