Initially moving to Ann Arbor in August of 2021, I was blind to the inner workings of the housing market. As a freshman living in the dorms, I didn’t have to worry about finding off-campus housing. For just one month, I lived blissfully ignorant of the mess that is Ann Arbor housing — that is, until I began to search for the following year’s housing in October.
Every apartment complex my roommates and I had toured that fall was either grossly expensive or suspiciously adamant that we sign right at that moment by threatening to raise prices soon. Going through the same situation again this past school year — with the prices even higher this time — I can safely say that the housing market in Ann Arbor is just getting worse.
There has been a recent skyrocket in Ann Arbor housing prices, making it very unaffordable for a large number of students to find off-campus housing. This issue is exacerbated by the limited on-campus housing options that the University of Michigan has to offer its undergraduate students. This posits a difficult decision before U-M students: do they splurge on the expensive high-rise apartment or fight for a dorm spot in a residential building?
Housing prices have risen nationally, but the average rent cost in Ann Arbor is significantly higher than other comparable college towns. Average cost of rent in East Lansing, home of Michigan State University, is $1,469 per month, whereas the average cost of rent here in Ann Arbor is $1,933 per month (depending on various factors). These prices are up 20% from last year. That means if your already highly-priced house cost $1,350 per month, it now costs $1,620 per month, excluding utilities and parking.
Unfortunately, for safer housing options like high-rise apartments, the rent is even higher, with even a studio option costing up to $2,500 per month. Though these apartments are significantly nicer than the average college house, they’re still significantly marked up in price in comparison to similar quality complexes in other college towns. For example, Landmark in East Lansing offers a 3 bed, 2 bath floor plan for $1,049 per month, whereas the same floor plan in Ann Arbor at a similar-quality complex — with one more bathroom — is $1,799 per month.
Along with the ridiculously priced rent, there are also issues that arise with crooked behavior by landlords and management companies taking advantage of students. Not only does this force college students to make rash housing decisions, it also pressures students into signing a lease prematurely out of fear that they won’t find housing elsewhere. Additionally, these instances seemingly go against the city of Ann Arbor’s recently amended Early Leasing Ordinance. The ordinance was meant to stop this sort of pressure from happening, but this hasn’t occurred in practice. Regardless of if this behavior is against the rules or not, it is surely calculated to get students to sign a lease and, consequently, pay rent.
This year, my roommates and I felt pressured into signing a lease at one of the high rises here on campus, a building which I will not name. Because of the pressure to sign, we ended up in a situation where I could not live with one of my roommates due to health concerns with their animal, which resulted in me having to fight to break the lease. Unfortunately, my case is not unique — there are many people who have had to deal with situations like these, situations where high-rise apartments have failed their residents. In an article by The Michigan Daily from earlier this year, Hub Ann Arbor resident Anna Wang stated that there were random fees charged to her unannounced, including an increased parking fee without notice. This should never be the case, especially with exponentially high rent.
Health concerns are also relevant. In 2020, the Ann Arbor Observer reported that about 30,000 students live off-campus at the University, with many of them left unsatisfied with their living situation. Multiple students complained about mold in their residences, which can cause a slew of health issues. Rising Music, Theatre & Dance junior Ty Altomari stated that his apartment had “a rodent infestation” that was not initially addressed by maintenance. I have also heard stories from friends about their houses or apartments having rodent and insect issues, and appliances that consistently break with no one coming to fix them. According to Chapter 105 of the Ann Arbor Code of Ordinance, the minimum space and facilities requirement requires a living space to be “dry and free of mold.” The allegations in the Observer piece could be considered a violation of this ordinance by these landlords. With the lack of accountability for the landlords, situations like these are all too familiar for students.
Even with its greedy landlords and iffy housing regulations, Ann Arbor remains an amazing place to live. We are very lucky here at the University of Michigan to have such a great college-town atmosphere combined with a mini “big city” just a few blocks away, as Ann Arbor has been voted the “best place to live” in America. However, this experience should not be clouded by greed within the housing market — it’s just not fair to students trying to get their education. Ann Arbor needs to do better for its residents.
Katie Maraldo is an Opinion Columnist from Grosse Pointe, Mich. She writes about politics, gender inequities, Ann Arbor lifestyle, etc. She can be reached at email@example.com.