How tight is Madison's student rental market?  Researchers hope to find out.

How tight is Madison’s student rental market? Researchers hope to find out.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the UW-Madison housing market is nearing a crisis.

Earlier this fall, students waited for hours to sign leases for housing they deemed affordable. Some students max out their housing budget after working all summer. As of last week, University Housing had a waiting list of 2,400 for 1,000 beds for returning students.

Madison University students camped out overnight and waited hours before J. Michael Real Estate opened on Friday, October 7. The students were looking to sign leases for the 2023-24 school year, which were first come, first served.

But so far, all UW-Madison has are anecdotes, not data, to define the student housing problem.

A new collaboration between the city of Madison, UW-Madison departments and the UniverCity Alliance — a network of researchers and local government experts at UW-Madison — aims to change that.

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The result is expected to be a study, set for release next fall, that details the availability of off-campus housing and students’ ability to afford it.

“We don’t know how serious the problem is,” said Gavin Luter, chief executive of UniverCity Alliance. “For the moment, we have no common fact. All we have are some numbers that show how much students get for their financial aid, how much they pay on average, by financial aid, but that’s about it.

The study will be inspired by a University of California-Davis housing study, in which students were asked 68 questions about where they lived, overcrowding, housing quality and affordability. . It will be led by Revel Sims, associate professor of housing and community development.

The Madison City Council approved $9,300 in funding for the study in November. Aldus. Juliana Bennett, who represents the 8th Ward, which includes much of the UW-Madison campus, offered funding for the study and also lobbied to change the city’s supplemental tax funding language to allow for more flexibility. for student accommodation.

Previously, developers could only receive additional tax funding if there was a “significant affordability component” in a project.

The current off-campus housing market puts students in a bind, Bennett said. Faced with signing leases in October, students often have to choose between nicer accommodation at full price or aiming for something more affordable that hasn’t been well maintained.

Bennett heard stories from constituents and experienced the rental housing market herself, when she debated between sharing a room and “living in a closet.” But hard data is hard to come by, she said, adding that she hopes the study can help the city and university work together to solve the problem.

“This study is intended to answer speculative questions,” Bennett said. “I could tell you, in my opinion, we are in our affordable housing crisis, and in my opinion, what situation students are facing. But that’s a lot of speculation about the current situation we find ourselves in.

‘Pressure cooker’

In most cities with Big Ten schools, the university is the predominant entity. The style of off-campus student housing in those cities mirrors that of Madison, with one key difference: Rents can be hundreds of dollars a month cheaper elsewhere, said UW-Madison urban planning professor Kurt Paulsen.

At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, rents can be as low as $330 per month per student for a 3-bedroom apartment; near the University of Iowa, students can pay an average of $500 to $600 a month. More expensive leases exist, but few reach the level of UW-Madison’s off-campus market, where students pay an average of $940 per month, with some one-bedroom apartments in “luxury” complexes costing more than $2,300 per month.

Contributing to rising off-campus student housing rents is the fact that students aren’t the only ones clamoring to live downtown, Paulsen said. They face young workers who want to live in a densely populated environment and service workers who want easy access to jobs in the region.

“It’s like a pressure cooker: you keep adding fuel, the pressure builds,” Paulsen said. “A lot of students who want to live in the greater downtown area, so they can get to class by bus, bike or on foot, so they don’t have to own a car – they are in competition with others who also want to live in the city center.

Add the fact that college housing has been nearly pushed to its limit this year with record freshman class sizes, with no new dorms requested for the next state budget cycle.

UW-Madison offers students free meals, free housing, or $5,000 to get out of dorms

With record enrollment contributing to the housing crisis this year, UW-Madison has lured returning students from dorms by offering financial incentives to live elsewhere.

The problem is further exacerbated by the fact that Madison and Dane County have not kept pace with new housing development to meet the growing needs of their populations, Paulsen said. Over the past 15 years, Dane County has added 57,000 households but only increased by 46,000 housing units, Paulsen said.

Many high-income people are also choosing to stay in apartments rather than buy houses, putting more pressure on those dependent on renting, Sims said.

“It’s all part of the dynamic of very few housing options for students, and at this particular moment it feels like a crisis, like there’s just nothing available and students are feeling it. really more than ever,” he said.

Students in the city

One in eight Madison residents is an undergraduate student at UW-Madison. But the city’s overall plan does not take into account the growth of student housing.

That’s a problem, because the overall plan “is a framework to solve all of our problems,” Bennett said.

To the east of campus, where many off-campus housing developments are being built, areas are marked as high-density residential or downtown mixed-use. No area is identified as student accommodation.

Completing the UniverCity Alliance study and knowing the needs is a first step in addressing these issues, Bennett said. Developing stronger ties between the city and UW-Madison is another, as Bennett said she feels some of her fellow council members dismiss students as “privileged white children.”

“I hope the narrative will change, to recognize that the city wouldn’t be where it is today without the contributions of the students who live in this city, and we started to work together more,” she said. declared.

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