Homelessness increases among AISD students

Lauren Florence

The number of homeless Austin Independent School District students increased by 30 percent over the past two years, according to HousingWorks Austin.

The number of students without a permanent address rose from 2,030 students in 2012–2013 to 2,490 students in 2013–2014, and the number has continued to increase, according a report by HousingWorks Austin, an affordable housing advocacy group. Out of the 84,791 students enrolled in AISD for the 2014–2015 school year, 2,642 are homeless, although the overall number of students enrolled in AISD decreased by 500 students this year, the report found.

Of the 2,642 students, 2,078 reported living doubled-up with another family, 249 in shelters, 275 in hotels and 271 with friends, according to HousingWorks Austin’s report. Forty-six students live unsheltered, such as in vehicles or squats.

The increase in homelessness among AISD students can be attributed to several factors, according to the study, including the increasing number of renters in Austin and the opposition tenants who use Section 8 vouchers — or vouchers that help low-income citizens find government-assisted housing — face with landlords.

Karen Paup, vice president of HousingWorks Austin, said the previous city council passed a fair housing ordinance last year that required landlords to accept Section 8 renters. A state law went into effect Tuesday which prohibits Texas cities from enacting anti-discrimination protection for renters using Section 8 vouchers.

“When the state law takes effect, and Austin’s source of income protection ordinance will no longer be enforceable, it’s time to consider ways to mitigate the racial and ethnic segregation that voucher discrimination creates,” Paup said in a statement.

Paup said because vacancy rates in Austin are low, landlords are able to be more selective about the tenants they accept, which results in low-income people of color living in specified areas of Austin.

“Landlords protecting their ‘freedom’ to refuse voucher families translates into denying those same families the freedom to rent near jobs, near schools they would like their children to attend or near other amenities of our city,” Paup said.

Ann Teich, AISD Board of Trustees member and former teacher, said the city and school district need to plan policies that provide a safety net for homeless students and their families.

“We, as a city, have not been able to find the housing, set the policies — whatever it takes to bring these kids out of homelessness — and the numbers are going up,” Teich said in a statement. “We also have the parents who are being denied — say they qualify for a Section 8 voucher — they can’t get that because we have landlords not being willing to take those vouchers.”

More than 125,000 school-age children in Texas experience homelessness during the course of a year, according to the Texas Homeless Education Office’s website. Of the more than 4,300 people who are provided housing by the Housing Authority of the City of Austin, 48 percent are children, according to a statement the Housing Authority published Tuesday.