Madison’s rush to build apartments has closed sidewalks, infused the air with construction noise and woven detours throughout downtown. However, Madison residents may still have trouble finding affordable housing.
Despite a surge in building permits over the last three years, apartments in Madison are vacant at less than half the healthy target rate, according to city Department of Planning and Development Director Natalie Erdman, speaking at a Tuesday discussion at the High Noon Saloon presented by The Capital Times. As a result, rent has skyrocketed.
“Rents have gone up, and fewer people can find places to live,” Erdman said. “The most affordable housing has been pushed to the edge of town.”
According to panelists, residents feel frustrated that downtown's ubiquitous cranes and construction noises are not translating to affordable housing.
“No matter how fast we build, we’re not going to make it,” said Brenda Konkel, executive director of the Tenant Resource Center.
This statement is consistent with the city of Madison’s report that Madison will need to build 1,000 new apartments every year to keep up with demand, a number the panelists regarded as neither achievable nor desirable.
“We could build 1,000 units tomorrow and still not hit 5 percent [vacancies],” Erdman said, quoting a fellow department official.
Panelists agreed that changing demographics are at least partly to blame for the housing shortage.
“Empty nesters are fighting millennials for the spaces,” said Otto Gebhardt, a local developer whose projects include The Constellation and Galaxie apartments. These groups tend to demand apartments with one or two rooms, taking up more space and costing more per person.
“Nobody’s building a three-bedroom apartment, let alone a four-bedroom,” Konkel concurred.
While some residents blame a rise in luxury apartments for steep rents, developers’ emphasis on building apartments for one or two people has played a significant role.
“You keep talking about luxury housing, but mostly the prices are so high regardless,” said District 6 Alder Marsha Rummel. “It looks like luxury, but it’s not.”
Students, saddled with loans and usually unable to fork full-time, are hit especially hard by high rents. Carmen Gosey, the legislative affairs chair for Associated Students of Madison, was frustrated with the lack of attention student housing received on campus.
“Affordable housing hasn’t been a campaign in my time,” Gosey said. “I would like to start a campaign within legislative affairs on affordable housing.”
Brooke Evans, a UW student recently featured in a New York Times article about college homelessness, was disappointed in Tuesday’s panel for not recognizing student housing efforts outside of ASM.
“I was bummed that the community didn’t hear our side,” Evans said. “ASM might not have done much recently, but students are working on it.”
UPDATE: This article has been updated to include that the discussion was presented by The Capital Times.