The College Park City Council approved an amended needs-based student housing rental subsidy pilot program on Tuesday after months of contentious debate.

The amended pilot program will grant 60 subsidies of $1,250 to full-time undergraduate students who qualify for a Federal Pell Grant and have a rental lease in a College Park apartment or house. Another 60 subsidies of $1,250 will be given to full-time graduate students with a lease in College Park earning 60 percent or less of the area median income.

Council members voted 5-3 to move forward on the program with amendments from District 2 council member Susan Whitney. The council also voted 8-0 to create a task force to further explore how the city can help residents with rising housing costs.

Whitney acknowledged the pilot program will only provide a small amount of financial assistance to College Park renters, but sees it as a starting point.

“We’re trying to provide relief,” Whitney said. “I hope it’s a bridge to get to a better, more sustainable program.”

[College Park City Council discusses options for rent subsidy pilot program]

The original version of the pilot program would have given 75 subsidies of $1,500 to full-time undergraduate students who qualify for a Federal Pell Grant and have a lease in a city apartment and 75 subsidies of $1,500 to income-eligible and full-time graduate students with a College Park apartment lease.

Whitney’s amendment lowers the program’s impact on the city budget by $75,000. Expanding the program beyond rental apartments to include all rental properties within College Park will also include students who live in single-family homes, Whitney said.

Abel Amene, a senior economics and physics major at the University of Maryland and an off-campus outlying representative for this university’s Student Government Association, testified about the pilot program on Tuesday and discussed previously experiencing homelessness. He said the pilot program has the potential to help him and other students.

Albus Du, a freshman government and politics and neuroscience major at this university, told the council he is secure in his housing, but still notices housing unaffordability throughout College Park. The pilot program will help address students’ housing insecurity, he said.

“We spend boatloads of money every year in the city,” Du said. “By supporting the student body, you are supporting College Park.”

Some locals, such as College Park resident Beth McAllister, told the council that residents should not be responsible for funding the pilot program.

“I have already paid for my four kids,” McAllister, who is also The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center’s financial coordinator, said. “I don’t think that I should have to pay for everybody else’s kids.”

[College Park City Council considers loosening eligibility for rent subsidy program]

Pilot program applicants will be selected by a lottery process and awarded with the grant once they verify their eligibility. The program will be funded by the three-cent tax increase on apartment, commercial and industrial properties in the fiscal year 2024 budget.

District 1 council member Alan Hew voted in favor of the pilot program based on his own struggles paying for college.

“I paid on my own, took out student loans and I know what it is to struggle, sometimes working two jobs,” Hew said.

Hew hopes that the council follows up on and studies the pilot program in the future.

The city will also collect and share data to understand housing needs in the new task force.

Deputy student liaison Gannon Sprinkle believes Tuesday’s decision to approve the pilot program was a victory and is thankful for the students who expressed their support.

“We could have not done it without [the students],” Sprinkle, who was a non-voting member of the subcommittee that discussed the pilot program, said. “We have tried our entire year to get College Park students engaged in the policymaking process and this was the culmination of our efforts.”

The subcommittee presented its final report to the council last week and disbanded after.

City staff will now work with the council to release applications for the program in the coming weeks.