With the Twin Cities’ vacancy rate hovering around one-half percent — the lowest it’s ever been, students seeking a roof for their heads have little to choose from. The average one-bedroom rent is currently $670, according to Apartment Search, and is unlikely to fall anytime soon. Landlords and landladies in and around the University’s campuses have few incentives to either lower rent or make their apartments and houses more livable.
For the past month, reporters and editors at The Minnesota Daily have been investigating the effects the housing crisis has had on the University community. An obvious result from their investigations is that we are in a property owner’s market. From an economic perspective, there is a limited supply and an insatiable demand for housing near the University. Students often have little choice but to live in a dilapidated house with a landlord who is either sluggish or unconcerned about making basic repairs.
Daily reporter Todd Milbourn wrote an article for today’s paper that featured a student who witnessed his ceiling fan plummet to the floor — just several feet away from him — and had the cupboard above his sink collapse. After several calls and a letter, both the fan and the cupboard remain broken and have never been replaced. Instead, the student was told his rent will rise $175 in September because of a new owner.
In some cases, however, landlords around the University have little choice but to rent their rooms for prices higher than market averages. Property taxes in Stadium Village and Dinkytown are usually above average metro rates because of their proximity to a large university. When property tax rates are re-assessed, they often go up, spurring rent increases throughout nearby neighborhoods.
Still, landlords have no one to blame when they do not respond to renter complaints in a timely manner, if at all. Students often complain of calling numerous times to a landlord without receiving a reply. Refrigerators and air conditioners sometimes remain broken for days before someone is sent to fix or replace them.
But little will improve unless students paying too much for a shabby little house or apartment actively seek solutions. A letter to the editor submitted to the Daily last week recommended that reporters look into an apartment building possibility that was overlooked by University administrators several years ago. A Daily editor suggested we investigate the matter. Besides lawyers and housing authorities, newspapers can help solve housing difficulties by exposing poor living conditions and illegal activities. The Daily’s housing series would not be possible without the assistance of many sources who decided to speak out about their past and present housing problems.
The gigantic housing complexes springing up around campus are not viable solutions to the shortage. The amenities they offer — like fitness centers and study space — are not worth the high rents for students without much income. If University officials supported more affordable housing projects, perhaps students would cringe a little less when they hear their tuition is rising once again.