Daily survey exhibits student socioeconomic concerns in housing
The Michigan Daily administered a survey to 1,000 randomly selected respondents at the University of Michigan campus. There were 100 respondents, representative of all off-campus neighborhoods as delineated by Beyond the Diag. The following article includes data collected in this survey, particularly regarding the relationship between socioeconomic status and housing location.
For Kinesiology sophomore Paige Willian, the matter of procuring off-campus housing was a decision shaped by recommendations from her peers rather than monthly rent — yet, after having lived in her apartment for a couple of months, she said she now strongly believes housing is segregated by students’ financial situations.
“Looking for housing last year, I was fortunate enough to not worry too much about the price of my living situation,” she said. “I chose my apartment building through recommendations from older students I knew that were older than me who do happen to be of similar socioeconomic status to myself. This year I definitely see that this results in segregation of housing by how much students can afford.”
According to the housing cost survey administered by The Daily over the past two weeks, 85 percent of survey respondents believe housing in Ann Arbor is segregated by income level. 26 percent of the respondents come from families making over $220,000 annually, while the second largest percentage was the 22 percent of respondents from families making $120,000 to $150,000 annually. Less than 11 percent of respondents come from families making less than $60,000 per year.
In 2016, Michigan's median household income was $52,492 — a stark contrast to the median household income of $154,000 for University of Michigan students. Additionally, 9.3 percent of students’ families make upwards of $630,000 per year.
Willian further noted housing is segregated by student preferences, rather than solely by family income. She emphasized how athletes often choose to live by their practice facilities, most commonly in the Yost neighborhood, rather than other neighborhoods off-campus.
“I would also say housing is definitely segregated by where students prefer to live in addition to what they can afford,” she said. “To my understanding, many of the athletes live closer to where their practices are held. I live on South U near Central Campus, in a location that is close to my classes. I don’t really have to go near the sports complexes besides for on game day so I wouldn’t like to live too far away from Central. I also chose this location because there are many other apartment complexes in a close vicinity and a lot of the friends I made last year live in this area too.”
Engineering junior Siddharth Ramesh further supported this, stating though Ann Arbor certainly has an issue with expensive housing, he believes housing is expensive across the map — rather than segregated by certain neighborhoods.
“When I first started the search for a place off campus I was astonished by how expensive every place was. I would say that yes, housing off campus is segregated by price, but I think the primary factor is proximity to campus,” he said. “Apartments and houses closer to campus are a lot more expensive, apartments especially, and then they get cheaper as you go farther out.”
Ramesh said his hunt for housing was based around his own personal preferences, as he knew he would be paying a large amount for monthly rent regardless of location.
“Once I reconciled myself with the fact that I was going to be paying close to $1,000 per month for housing, I think my primary factors in determining where to live was how far the house was from where I studied plus from where my roommates studied plus area of common spaces plus food options near by,” he said.
The median rate for rent in Ann Arbor increased 14 percent from 2010 to 2015, reaching $1,075 per month — even as the amount of high-density housing has jumped by 32 percent — according to the U.S. Census Bureau. However, this data is for the entire city and may not be reflective of the cost of housing for students specifically, most of which are clustered downtown.
In fact, the survey showed the average monthly rent of respondents to be approximately $772.
Rather than living in a neighborhood after freshman year, many students choose to instead live in one of the numerous luxury apartments scattered across Ann Arbor, such as Landmark or Foundry Lofts. However, with monthly rates going for upwards of $1,000 per person, depending on the size of the apartment, these apartments only cater to a certain percentage of the student body. As developers constructed these high-rises in the center of the city, they touted the benefits of bringing an influx of wealth to the area. Furthermore, they initially believed the construction of such buildings would cause rental prices for houses further from campus to drop — a phenomenon that has not yet been proven.
In an interview with the Ann Arbor News in 2012, local commercial real estate agent Peter Allen said though the apartments are expensive, the average University student can afford to pay for convenience and extra amenities.
"The profile of students can afford these super ammenized, very convenient locations," he said.
However, as the average monthly rent for off-campus housing continues to rise, students are sometimes forced to live outside of Ann Arbor in order to combat high costs. Multiple students have noted the much cheaper housing available in cities bordering Ann Arbor, such as Ypsilanti and Pittsfield.
In an earlier interview with The Daily, Music, Theatre & Dance senior Mackenzie Larrance described the reasoning behind her decision to commute every day from Ypsilanti.
“I decided to live outside of Ann Arbor for two reasons: I had a car, and it was less expensive,” she said. “I’m also in a serious relationship where my boyfriend and I have been dating for almost 5 years. He and I can't afford an apartment in downtown Ann Arbor without getting a full-time job. It's also difficult finding other couples like ourselves who would want to split the costs of living.”
LSA sophomore Syd Warner expressed frustration at having to pay rent twice as high as her ex-boyfriend, a student at Eastern Michigan University, as well as at the issues associated with segregating housing by income.
“(Housing) is in my opinion 100 percent separated into socioeconomic status, and yes this is a problem because then people are limited to resources based on those housings, for example. poorer areas have worse schools,” she said.
Public Policy senior Nadine Jawad, CSG Vice President, has spent her University career advocating for increasing affordable student housing, and a priority of her position is to continue to drive housing initiatives throughout this year. She outlined several of these initiatives, including a guide detailing various ways to cut down the cost of living on campus, as well as a project intended to make study materials accessible for all.
“During our work last year, we heard similar anecdotes and there is data all over the place supporting this finding. Many reports in 2015 and 2016 showed that Ann Arbor was the eighth most segregated city based off socioeconomic status,” she said. “We have focused a majority of our efforts thinking about pragmatic ways to support students financially on campus. This month we will be rolling out a campus savings guide that provides hundreds of tips about ways to save money and cut costs on living expenses on campus. We have also worked on various other projects, including a project by representative Yara Gayar, through which CSG will be partnering with various study locations to provide free calculator rentals for students who cannot bear the cost of expensive graphing calculators.”
Jawad emphasized the fact that though CSG cannot negate the rising costs of a complex market system, the group can work to increase affordability, as well as eliminate barriers to resource equity among students, whenever possible.
“While we cannot in one year solve an entire market of house prices increasing, we can work strenuously with the University to cut costs wherever possible,” she said. “(CSG) Chief of Staff A.J. Ashman has been working really hard on textbook affordability advocacy for example. Any place that can cut costs and eliminate a barrier to students equitably accessing education is a win in our book.”