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Wednesday, May 31, 2023
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Alumni stories help tell the tale of ever-increasing rent at UW-Madison. 

Housing “back in the day” versus now

As renting season approaches in Madison, students are signing onto leases faster than ever before. As they consider options, one of the factors they must think about is the price of housing – a cost that has been growing continuously over time. 

The United States has experienced record levels of inflation this year, primarily as a result of economic and supply chain challenges brought on by the pandemic. Prices for U.S. consumers jumped 6.2% in October compared to a year prior, representing the highest inflation rate since 1990. Prices have risen 0.9% from September 2021 to October 2021 alone. 

Among the goods most impacted by inflation are food, gas and one that influences University of Wisconsin-Madison students firsthand during the renting season – housing. In just the past month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicated rent has increased by 0.5% from September 2021 to October 2021, with a corresponding increase in how much money the owner of a property would need to make equivalent to the cost of their ownership, called owner’s equivalent rent of residences.

Housing costs have also changed significantly throughout the 2000s. According to the Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index, the seasonally adjusted cost of housing has increased a staggering 265% since January 2000. 

This phenomenon exists on a national scale, but directly influences UW-Madison students. Alumni shared their stories with The Daily Cardinal to show how much rent has increased over the years. 

Jen McCoy, a 2005 graduate of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at UW-Madison recalls, “I paid $550 per month for a one bedroom apartment during college and that was 16 years ago.” Based on the above index, the $550 per month apartment which she rented would now cost nearly $1,100 per month from the time of her graduation in May 2005.

Chris Gitter, on the other hand, a 2020 UW-Madison graduate, told The Daily Cardinal that his rent was about $650 per month including utilities, about $100 more than McCoy’s student apartment. However, he lived in a house near Camp Randall with four other roommates.  

The increase in housing costs not only hurts Americans’ personal finances and opportunities, but also influences options regarding their living situations. More Americans, particularly students and recent graduates, have no choice but to live with several roommates, particularly in more expensive cities, in order to afford standard housing. 

McCoy recounted how the costs have only increased since her time at UW-Madison. “It was an off-campus apartment complex on the south side of Madison,” she said. ‘I also could afford to live alone – I don’t think that’s feasible anymore for students with the costs rising.”

In Madison, the average cost of rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $1,120, higher than the indexed amount, and an increase of 1% since last year. This cost peaked in mid-August, where the price for a one-bedroom apartment was $1,280 – nearly a 71% increase since November 2014. 

Mckenzie Miller, a junior at UW-Madison, pays around $600 for her own room in a house near campus. Her rent is about the same as it will be next year in a different location, but last year, she paid $380 to share a room. She had five roommates, and those that didn’t share a room paid $590 per month.

Statistics paint a bleak picture for college students as they graduate and move into the workforce. With the cost of housing at an all-time high, many would-be buyers have been shut out of the market as housing costs rise higher than incomes. Over the past decade, the median home price rose 30% while incomes have lagged behind, with a growth rate of around 11%. 

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Even more concerning is the change in home prices over the past 50 years. Since 1965, accounting for inflation, home prices have jumped 118%, while income has only grown 15%. In order to afford a home in 2021, Americans needed an average income of $144,192, while the median income sits at only $69,178. 

With the data indicating continuous year-over-year housing cost increases, alongside lagging income growth and inflation of consumer goods demanding more of Americans’ hard-earned wages, many are concerned about the stark future which could result from the continuity of these trends. While there are many different perspectives on an equitable and effective solution to make housing more affordable for everyday Americans, particularly the middle and working class, questions remain on if the larger economic trend is unsustainable.

President Biden and his administration have laid out a framework for addressing the rising costs of housing, including increasing the size of Low Income Housing Tax Credit programs, expanding subsidies for manufactured housing and stimulating affordable development through low-cost financing available through federal programs. Some experts argue that the plan’s potential impact is limited in scope and lacks sufficient policy levers to increase supply at the federal level, requiring collaboration with state governments. 

UW-Madison students or community members struggling with housing can find resources through the Tenant Resource Center, the Dean of Students Crisis Loan Program and Homeless Services Consortium of Dane County.  

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