Montana State University at Bozeman. (Provided by MSU for the Daily Montanan)
Escalating rents in Montana are putting pressure on campus housing, and both flagship universities are at or near capacity as the school year begins.
Montana State University at Bozeman said it did not find a correlation between high demand for on-campus housing and inaccessible real estate in the community, but according to the U.S. Census Bureau, median rent in the city increased by $229 from 2019 to 2022.
Missoula has also seen upward pressure on rents. As the director and creator of the University of Montana Associated Student Bear Necessities office, which opened in September 2021, Kat Cowley helps hundreds of students find basic resources, including housing.
“Historically, students have had a hard time finding housing in Missoula,” said Cowley, who experienced a housing emergency herself as a student. “There was a time in my schooling when we had another period of low vacancy rates, but we didn’t see that inflation as well. So it was difficult for students before, but it has never been so difficult.
Now UM’s residence halls are at capacity, and Cowley said 80% of his job is to direct students and even full-time faculty to rentable spaces, even providing them with listings outside of the Missoula urban area. She has avoided directing people to university accommodation all together since early June.
The Washington Post reported a national rent increase of 11.3% in April, but Montana’s major college towns saw an even more dramatic increase. Yellowstone County jumped 14.7%, Gallatin 18.6% and Missoula 18.9%.
Now, residence halls and apartments are among the cheapest options available with the increase in private ownership, but with many at capacity, students and faculty are struggling to find affordable options, at least in Missoula. and Bozeman. The situation at MSU-Billings is a little different.
In Missoula, UM housing anticipated that all students who had applied for residence halls would be in permanent places by the time school began, and all eight operating residence halls are at 100% capacity this year. One room, Knowles, is being renovated and Aber Hall was to be entirely converted into offices, but due to housing demand, four of its 11 floors are once again dormitories.
Full residence halls also mean UM has no space for campus residents to quarantine if they contract COVID-19, but UM spokesperson Dave Kuntz said the university’s COVID response team assesses the need weekly.
“We are at this point where the demand has exceeded the supply because the university is growing and we have a difficult housing situation here in the community. This has spurred an accelerated effort for the university to begin identifying how and when we can start adding more housing supply,” Kuntz said.
Kuntz said demand is so high because rental rates for college apartments are lower than most rentable spaces in Missoula, which means more upper-class men are looking for college housing than men. previous years. UM raised rental rates for university-sponsored apartments, but no more than $100 for each type of unit.
Students are also staying in academic units longer than in the past, leading to fewer vacancies.
To ease pressure going forward, UM plans to issue $60 million in bonds with $36 million budgeted for a new 200-bed residence hall, although the project does not yet have a construction schedule.
“Very urgent action is being taken to add supply to campus and develop contingency plans because we don’t want a student to continue their education because they haven’t found housing here in Missoula. “said Kuntz.
Meanwhile, Montana State University at Bozeman said it has a waiting list for 12 residence halls and 1,000 graduate student beds and family apartments each year. MSU reported that 16,841 students attended last fall and enrollment has been growing every year for more than a decade.
“There is nothing special this year in terms of waiting lists. There was a time when it was more common for students to be able to have a single room, and now it’s a very rare situation,” said MSU press office manager Michael Becker. “Today, 99% of our rooms are at full capacity. We have no direct data to tie rising housing costs in the surrounding community to demand for on-campus housing, but we have seen consistent high demand for on-campus housing for many years now.
The Board of Regents, which governs the university system, approved a 4% increase for MSU residence halls and university apartments, with rooms and meals ranging from $5,000 to $7,000 and rentals from $420 at nearly $1,000 a month. Becker said MSU has no plans to increase the number of available housing units after spending more than $100 million to increase housing inventory over the past decade and building two new residence halls that have added more than 900 available beds.
MSU has guest spaces available in most residence halls for campus visitors that Becker says could be used as quarantine spaces for COVID-19, though no concrete plans are in place.
In contrast, Montana State University—Billings has many vacancies at its two residence halls that serve their population of 4,000 students. MSUB Housing Director Josh Hulgan said COVID-19 has hit the on-campus residence particularly hard, with only about 400 students living on campus while the larger of the two residence halls can accommodate 500. This allows to book the smaller of the two residence halls for almost exclusively single rooms and for MSU-B to have plenty of quarantine space, a rarity in today’s housing climate.
MSU-B doesn’t have a large apartment complex like UM or MSU, but it does have 10 family housing apartments where it raised rent by $25 in July. Room and board with even the best accommodations don’t exceed $5,000 at MSU-B.
MSU-B Director of Communications and Marketing Maureen Brakke noted that the cost of living is cheaper in Billings than in Missoula or Bozeman and said one of the factors in the low occupancy rate in residence halls is the large population of non-traditional students. There, 40% of MSU-B students have non-traditional status, and Brakke said they have a large commuter population from Billings and surrounding areas.
“We would like to see our enrollment increase, and it would be great if we could fill our residence halls even more, but we are not actively trying to recruit students to live on campus,” Brakke said.
Cowley said she doesn’t envy being a college student struggling with inflation no matter where in the state she resides. She said she probably couldn’t stay in Missoula herself if she didn’t live with her partner who has a corporate job, and she hopes students are looking for staff like her who can understand their struggles and provide the comforts and resources that can drive them. to solutions when the university does not have places to provide them.
“I reserve a lot of space for students to feel these great feelings and get frustrated. I remember being a student and feeling like I had no outlet, I was screaming into the void,” Cowley said. “There are major issues here in the state, at UM and in the city. They all have a very harsh impact on students and staff, but we are a truly caring collective of people. We already have solutions, we just need to propose them to the right people and implement them. »
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