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MN lawmakers introduce act to help homeless college kids find a place to live

It would allow students to take advantage of low-income housing.

Democratic and Republican lawmakers from Minnesota are trying to make sure college students have a roof over their head.

U.S. Sen. Al Franken and Reps. Keith Ellison and Erik Paulsen introduced the bipartisan measure this week, which they say will close a loophole that prevents a lot of full-time college students from qualifying for affordable rental housing, which could hold them back from getting an education.

The Housing for Homeless Students Act would make it possible for students who are – or recently were – homeless to still qualify for the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) Program, which gives tax breaks to developers to build affordable housing units for low-income people and families.

But the way the law is currently written prevents people who qualify for the program from being full-time students.

This rule was designed to prevent students – whose income is just temporarily low from, well, being a college student – from taking a unit from a person or family who has longer-term housing needs.

The problem is there's no exception for youths or veterans going to school who have been or are homeless, lawmakers say. If they decide to go to school full time they could lose access to their LIHTC unit, and if they decide to be part-time students to keep their unit they could miss out on scholarships or grants that are limited to full-time students.

“This bipartisan effort fixes a harmful, counterproductive loophole that prevents these students from being able to pursue an education, career, and better life. These are people who are looking to lift themselves up, and this commonsense initiative will help them do so," Paulson, a Republican, said in a statement.

A look at homelessness in college

Young people ages 24 and younger are the most at risk of being homeless in Minnesota, according to the 2015 Minnesota Homeless Study, which found 16 percent of Minnesota's homeless population are minors and young adults living on their own.

According to a 2014 news release from the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, between 3-5 percent of college students struggle with homelessness. That same year, MPR News reported there were 2,500 college students who faced homelessness in Minnesota.

But these are all just estimates. There's really no database that keeps track of how many homeless college students there are in the U.S. One way to get some kind of idea is how many people reported being homeless on federal student aid forms – the most recent figure we could find is 58,000 students, USA Today reported in 2013, with advocacy groups saying that number could actually be a lot higher.

Meanwhile, 2015 study by the University of Wisconsin found 13 percent of undergrads at community colleges in the U.S. reported being homeless.

For more information on college students and homelessness, click here.

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