To many incoming students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, concerns include moving away from home, enrolling in classes and discovering career paths. However, recent trends in Madison have made student housing a significantly more stressful ordeal.
The start of the 2022-23 academic year marked, yet again, a record-breaking number of new students. The university welcomed 8,600 new freshmen — on top of 1,600 transfer students. The largest number of new students in UW-Madison history put a conceivable strain on the limited university housing options.
As many returning students have grown accustomed to, leasing apartments in Madison starts early. Some apartments are already filled, with many others nearing capacity. The big surprise of the 2023-24 leasing year, however, is the immense price upsurge adopted by nearly every Madison campus-area apartment complex. Some apartments have increased by around 20%, adding hundreds more onto student costs.
Finding an affordable apartment in the Madison area is becoming increasingly difficult. A one bedroom apartment in Madison costs $2,508 more than the national average per annum, a sobering reality in a town where the minimum wage matches the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour.
The issue is largely based on supply and demand. As more students continue to flood the university and its surrounding area, the market becomes tighter and prices continue to rise. Another issue is the limited space for development. The city of Madison sits between the two lakes of Mendota and Monona, constraining housing development to the east and west exclusively.
Regardless of the causes, one effect is clear: UW-Madison students will continue to bear the burden.
With each passing year, incoming freshmen and other students relying on university housing services have been given fewer options and more incentives to live off-campus.
The housing crisis surpasses not receiving an offer from your preferred dorm. There is increasing worry among students that they will have to live in less than ideal situations or be forced into finding off-campus housing.
As class sizes continue to grow, UW-Madison has struggled to accommodate students in on-campus housing.
Last year, the university increased its usage of triples and quads throughout numerous dorms like Witte, Ogg, Smith, Dejope and Kronshage among others. It also expanded into the Lowell Center, an event facility previously used as a campus hotel, to accommodate the hundreds of more students seeking campus housing. This year was no exception.
The Lowell Center continues to house over 300 residents, and triples and quads — and even sextuples — dominate several buildings’ floor plans.
Additionally, returning housing residents received multiple offers to cancel their contracts. In May, returning residents received emails encouraging them to break their contracts and find housing off-campus. Students were offered a refund on their advance payment if they canceled their contracts. The first 300 students to cancel were also offered a free dining meal plan valued at $3800.
In June, returning University Housing residents were offered further incentives to vacate their assigned rooms. If returning residents could find off-campus housing, they could cancel their housing contracts and receive $5000 in credit applied to their student accounts. Another incentive offered was the opportunity to move to a two-bedroom apartment in Eagle Heights instead, where residents could stay rent-free and parking-inclusive for the academic year. Both incentive packages also included five free dining hall meals a week.
When rolling out the new set of incentives in June, UW Housing cited concerns about expanded spaces not meeting demands, and a lack of sufficient cancellations in May. Despite these capacity concerns, there is no plan currently to develop new housing facilities. Every 10 years the university develops a master campus plan, which University Housing follows, so no new information is expected on residence hall construction until 2025.
Mifflin, Camp Randall and the “Sophomore Slums”
Housing trends in the campus area of late have put low to middle income students under pressure. Past reporting by the Cardinal has shown how challenging it can be for students to find adequate housing. Whether it is the high rent, or the inability to join leases with friends who can afford more expensive housing, some students have limited options.
A rise in rent for students that find themselves in these situations can be devastating.
There is also the issue of a lack of options. A large number of students in the low to middle income bracket find themselves living in neighborhoods colloquially referred to as “sophomore slums.” While the neighborhoods included in this moniker are not slumlike by any means, they provide a very different experience compared to luxury apartment complexes found in central campus locations. Properties in this region are old, and new developments in the campus area tend to prioritize luxury apartments. Apartments that the average student simply cannot afford.
This leaves students trapped in a situation where they cannot really look for better alternatives even when the rent rises, creating an environment where predatory property management can take advantage of students.
Housing trends in the campus area have also affected residents of luxury apartments. There is now increased competition for these apartments — the high density, fully furnished, off-campus living spaces of UW-Madison. Most often, when people say “luxury apartments,” they refer to the James and Greystar-owned Hub. A wider view would also include options such as the Waterfront, Lucky, the Statesider and Ovation.
Luxury apartments like the Hub and the James paint a picture of prestige. As to be expected, these apartments come with an incredible price tag. High-end luxury apartments cost students hundreds more per month in rent than smaller scale campus duplexes. Yet, year after year, thousands of students and their families accept to pay the price.
The 2023-24 price uptick was a big shock to many. According to current James residents Jack Loebbaka and Max Stamer, their same lease will cost around $1,680 more next year. The Hub took to more aggressive price upsurges, with apartment prices increasing by around 20%. Students in the Hub are set to pay around $2,800 more annually.
No features or amenities in these apartments have been upgraded — just the price.
Yet, management among these buildings is far from impressive. The Hub in particular loves to keep their residents anxious, with new residents entering a literal housing lottery for a space. The Hub’s housing lottery opens late in the calendar year, meaning students risk it all for a spot in the Hub. Without fail, the portal to the Hub’s lottery crashes each year, with staff unable to assist students until the site is fixed hours later.
Newly leasing students have to accept whatever lease they are offered at the risk of losing their $300 deposit. This often means students accept bunk bed style apartments, crammed in a miniscule room meant to fit one.
These apartments also nickel and dime their residents whenever possible. The Hub and the James both charge 12 monthly installments coinciding with the 12 months of the year. Nevertheless, leasing terms are a little over 11 months, meaning students are contracted to pay for an additional month. Not to mention, utilities are not included in rent prices.
Further, move-in-day for both the Hub and the James entails lines wrapped around the corner and elevators filled to the brim. In consideration, the Hub offers their residence an early move-in option. Moving in a mere 6 days early for the ridiculous price of $400.
So why do so many students pay the price? These apartments hold appeal due to their social elements and prestige. Thousands of students reside in these complexes, making them pivotal points of social interaction. The Hub houses 313 apartments and the James houses 350 apartments. Occupancy ranges from one to seven residents per apartment. Moreover, like a brand, these apartments have name recognition and ideal campus locations that draw in students “as the place to be.”
Without another option for students, Greystar can and will get away with these price increases at the expense of students and their families’ wallets.
A new ten story luxury facility, called Oliv Spaces or “Hub 2” as commonly described by students, is also set to open in the summer of 2024 on the block surrounded by State, Johnson, Gorham and Broom Streets.
Owned by Core Spaces LLC, this mixed-use building will host approximately 1,100 beds. How will rent fare at this brand new apartment complex as rent prices continue to increase at other properties?
While Madison’s housing epidemic has caused undue stress for current students on-campus, incoming transfer students have been affected even more — but rather silently. With another large incoming freshman class for the 2022-23 academic year, on-campus housing, which many transfer students rely on, was filled to the brim with freshmen.
Instead of having both on-campus and off-campus housing options, transfer students were forced to rely on the off-campus housing pool. As it is a common theme for UW-Madison students to find housing as early as the end of September, transfer students are often late to the party and left out to dry.
Current students are undeniably facing a shock from this uptick in living, yet within the next few years, these prices will simply be the new normal. The implications of this truth are set to impact the lives of students and the university at large.
What is the university’s promise to students if there is simply not enough availability to meet all students' needs? Given that one of the perks to UW-Madison is Wisconsin’s low cost of living, will these new rent prices deter new students from enrolling entirely?
The answers to these questions will be discovered in time, but for now, we implore current students to recognize the changing housing market within our campus community.
Understanding and speaking out against this issue is our only hope to ensure affordable housing reaches policy agendas.