The Daily Item, LYNN (Gayla Crawley) — For many North Shore Community College students struggling with hunger and homelessness, doing well in school can be especially challenging, said college President Patricia Gentile.
North Shore Community College (NSCC) is working to address the pervasive issue by partnering with a mobile housing app, Nesterly, to match its homeless students with affordable housing options in the city, Gentile said.
The “intergenerational, home-sharing” app, similar to the vacation rental site, Airbnb, would match NSCC students who are unable to afford housing with “empty nesters,” or older residents who want to rent out an empty room in their homes.
Rents would be below market value and could be reduced by students taking on chores around the house. The college is working with Harvard Business School Alumni to be able to provide a subsidy to further reduce housing costs. Students would pay their rents through Nesterly’s at-will contractual agreement that they would enter into with their landlords, Gentile said.
“For us, it’s another strategy of helping our students find affordable housing and stay in school, so they can complete their educational journey,” Gentile said. “For the city, it’s a help for those empty nesters who want to stay in their own homes and might need some help around the house, or just company.”
The college is working with the city of Lynn, Year Up Greater Boston, and Harvard Business School Alumni, and plans to start offering the Nesterly opportunity to students in January.
NSCC is actively working to recruit empty nesters who may be interested in renting a room to a student for 10 months to a year. There’s particular interest in older residents who live along a bus line, since many students lack access to transportation, Gentile said.
Harvard Business is underwriting the project and is aiming to raise $50,000 to hire a part-time coordinator for Nesterly, who would be available to help support the Lynn area. City officials are studying zoning ordinances that may hinder Nesterly from being able to provide housing to students.
“I think it’s an interesting idea,” said Mayor Thomas M. McGee. “The key is matching up the right people with the right situation. These are the kinds of things that can take finding an interested party on both sides and addressing an issue that’s affecting a lot of students.”
Despite the potential challenges, Gentile said there’s a large need for the program at NSCC, where a significant number of students are facing hunger and homelessness.
A 2016 survey performed by NSCC showed that one-third of its students were at the highest level of hunger, which meant that they had gone without eating, ran out of food or didn’t have nutritious food available in the month before the survey was conducted, Gentile said.
In addition, one out of every five NSCC students are at the highest level of housing insecurity, which meant that they were living in a shelter, out of their car or couch surfing.
With about 9,000 students enrolled at the time, that translates to about 3,000 students with hunger and about 1,800 students who didn’t have a place to live while they were attending school.
“We know that’s a significant barrier to staying in school,” Gentile said. “It’s hard to do well if you don’t eat.”
Eighty-five percent of the college’s students are working, but are often not earning enough to offset rising housing costs. At NSCC, where the average age of those enrolled is 26, more than half of those adult learners are juggling their studies with working full-time, Gentile said.
About 10 percent of students drop out of NSCC each year, or “stop out” and come back later to resume their studies. A lack of housing stability is one of the major reasons students leave, she said.
The problem of student hunger and homelessness is not unique to NSCC, but is something colleges are grappling with throughout the state.
A 2016 Hunger and Homelessness survey of the state’s public colleges and universities performed by the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education found that most campuses are seeing an increase in student hunger and homelessness.
Results showed that 44 percent of community college students surveyed reported some degree of food insecurity and 45 percent of college campuses reported an increase in student homelessness.
At NSCC, Nesterly is another option the college is trying to mitigate homelessness. Gentile said the school has worked with Lynn Housing Authority & Neighborhood Development to place students and a partnership with Salem State University allows NSCC students to live in the dorms while attending school.
“For us, it’s a part of our housing strategy for addressing some of our homeless or housing insecurity students’ needs,” Gentile said.