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Friday, December 03, 2021
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A wave of college students moving further off-campus is changing the composition of residential neighborhoods. 

A market of tradeoffs: Student housing pushes into residential areas as university faces expansion

Aaron Martin and Justin Moore have little in common, except for one thing: Neither of them knows their neighbors. 

With elementary, middle and high schools scattered within a five-mile range of the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, families surround the campus area in neighborhoods like Shorewood Hills and Vilas Park.

As the University of Wisconsin-Madison welcomed its largest freshman class in fall 2021 and navigated a residence hall overflow due to the increasing amount of freshman students — all while the campus renting season gets shorter and more expensive — students like Martin, a junior, and Moore, a senior, represent a growing segment of UW-Madison students inching into residential neighborhoods for cheaper and often better quality housing. 

As Martin and Moore thought about their housing choices, one phrase came to mind: Trade-offs. 

Both students pointed out that while they get higher-quality and higher-value housing in the neighborhoods extending past UW-Madison’s campus, they also experience barriers to involvement in campus life. 

Martin moved into an apartment closer to campus for his sophomore year, while Moore immediately moved into a house near a residential neighborhood over a mile from central campus. 

For Martin, the choice to break the apartment lease he had already signed on and move farther away, about a 25-minute walk from many of his classes and a 20-minute walk from work, wasn’t easy. 

However, his friend's uncle offered them the opportunity to rent out a new development in the Vilas neighborhood. Martin would get his own room, and though it was more expensive, he wouldn’t have to pay any additional fees, like parking or utilities.  

“We had initially signed a lease for less money, but then our friend’s uncle approached us about living in a place that he had bought. The lease itself is shorter, and since I graduate in May, I won’t need to worry about paying for something that I’m not using in the summer,” said Martin. 

Martin was also put off by the idea of an apartment after an experience he had his junior year when issues in his apartment weren’t taken care of by his large property manager for a while. 

While Martin feels the benefits of living farther away are worth it – a spacious room that he doesn’t have to share, minimal to no maintenance issues and having a more personable property manager, he knows that his living style has changed because of the people he lives around.

“Very few of the houses close to me are college students,” he said. “I think it's all older couples or young families with children. We have to be more conscious of what we’re doing, like not having people over super late, not being loud… it’s [completely different] from living on campus.” 

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“I think the biggest drawback to living here is just the [lack of] college atmosphere,” said Martin. “Nothing really goes on around here.”

Moore has been living at the same address for the past three years. Like Martin, he moved farther away from the traditional nightlife and social scene to be in a quieter, cheaper area. Though he doesn’t regret his decision, he knows his living choice has created hurdles to interacting with other college students. 

“There’s a slightly bigger barrier to being able to go towards campus, especially the State Street area,” said Moore, “If we want to go out, we might need to walk a little farther or spend money on an Uber [...] but overall, we’re pretty happy with the place we have.”

He never looked for an on-campus apartment because he knew it wouldn’t suit his needs. The residential area that he lives in is closer to his classes in the engineering building and the UW Hospital, where his roommate, a pharmacology student, spends most of his time.  

“We definitely get a different living experience being there,” said Moore. “I don’t think we ever interact with the families living around us, but we overall have to be more conscious of the fact that there are families and fewer college students living around us.”

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