A car drives down South University street. High rise student apartment complexes are in the background.
Keith Melong/Daily. Buy this photo.

When I first moved to Ann Arbor, I knew it wasn’t a cheap place to live. Just last week, I was told that my rent will be going up next year. Now, I have to consider whether I should renew my lease or go through the overwhelming process of finding a new place to live. This is the same stressful situation that many other University of Michigan students face every year. Should they live in a high-rise or a house? On North Campus or Central Campus? Near the Big House or the Diag? How do they find a place they can afford?  

According to Rent.com, the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Ann Arbor is $1,992, nearly double the average in East Lansing, home of Michigan State University, standing at $987. With both universities reporting similar enrollment numbers, there is high demand for housing in both places. Rent in Ann Arbor is absurdly high. Similarly, only 27% of students at the University of Michigan live on campus, but at Michigan State University, 43% of students are able to live on campus. This is because the University of Michigan does not have nearly enough on campus housing for its growing population. 

In an interview with The Michigan Daily, LSA sophomore Simone Fletcher described her struggle to find affordable housing in Ann Arbor.

“I have noticed a big problem with housing costs in Ann Arbor,” Fletcher said. “I’ve already started my search for homes for next year and I’ve noticed that they’re significantly more expensive than even just last year.”

The University is not unfamiliar with this housing issue. In fact, it’s a driving force for the new residential building that will be built on Elbel Field and provide 2,300 more beds for students. However, this building will not be ready to house students until 2025. Adding more dorms is a step in the right direction, but it’s a long term project and even with 2,300 more beds, Ann Arbor will need more housing. Many community members have posed various solutions to this issue at the state and university level. However, students need a fast solution to rising housing costs: rent control and stabilization in Ann Arbor.

Many people are unfamiliar with the difference between rent control and stabilization. Rent control is a limit on the price of rental units placed by the government. Rent stabilization is when the government caps how much rent can increase by. These two changes would be particularly useful in Ann Arbor. There are problems with rental prices that are far too high to begin with and yearly rent increases. The city first needs to impose rent control to lower the prices on Ann Arbor rentals, and then utilize rent stabilization to manage rent increases citywide. 

Using rent control and stabilization to solve cost-based issues in the Ann Arbor housing market has been discussed before. The largest barrier to actually implementing these measures is that rent control was outlawed in Michigan, placing this ban in 1988 because a few cities were moving towards making local rent control laws. This means that the state government needs to overturn this ban to allow the city of Ann Arbor and other local governments to make the decision to keep housing affordable.

Rent control also boasts a plethora of benefits. It can make power between landlords and tenants more equal, advance housing stability and prevent unjust eviction crises. 

Research on policies in areas such as San Francisco and New York City found that rent control did decrease rent. Studies also found that rent control decreases tenant turnover in controlled units. Additionally, housing stability is linked to positive mental and physical health outcomes. However, rent control has a bit of a bad reputation. The Urban Institute, a social and economic policy think tank, explains that this reputation can be attributed to an economic focus on models rather than actual case studies where the impacts of rent control are observed.

The effects of rent control on the broader market has often depended on location, but its goal of creating housing stability and lower rent has been a success. In Ann Arbor, it comes down to the simple fact that there isn’t enough housing and someone always loses out. Without rent control, it is those who have less money that lose out. 

Beyond the general benefits of rent control and stabilization, Ann Arbor has specific dynamics that make the city a unique place for these policies to thrive. With enrollment at the Ann Arbor campus reaching 52,065 students, it’s no surprise that a housing shortage coupled with the need for students to live a short distance from campus has caused landlords to raise prices. Landlords continue to raise the cost of rent knowing that after freshman year, students are not guaranteed a dorm. This forces students to look to the off-campus housing market in order to keep going to school. For Ann Arbor specifically, many of the people living in the downtown area are students. With the schedule of a full-time student, it is nearly impossible to also work full time. This means that for students who don’t get much financial support from outside sources, paying for expensive Ann Arbor rent on their own simply isn’t viable. 

So, ask yourself, can you afford another rent increase in Ann Arbor? Plenty of students at the University of Michigan cannot. Affordable housing is a necessity for students and it should not be so difficult to find in Ann Arbor. It is time that U-M students demand change. The state and local governments need to work together to repeal the rent control ban and implement rent control and stabilization in Ann Arbor.

Mackenzie Kilano is an Opinion Columnist who writes about student life, culture, and politics. She can be reached at mkilano@umich.edu.