Students concerned over increasing rent prices during pandemic

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic spring of 2020, rent prices have gone up 9.4% in the Boise area. For students that are living off-campus now or in the future, the rise in prices could potentially be a financial challenge. 

Currently, 81% of the students at Boise State live off-campus meaning the majority of students look for housing off campus. The median cost of a house in Boise doubled from 2013 to 2020 with the median price being over $400,000.

These prices can be difficult for students trying to pay for the cost of living and school at the same time as well as other Idaho residents struggling to pay bills.

Molly Kjerstad, a first-year mechanical engineering major, is one of many off-campus students facing this issue. 

“As a late entering college freshman, I’ve been able to notice the pricing of living change over the last four years as an adult providing for myself,” Kjerstad said. “It isn’t going to be sustainable if this trend continues.”

Joe Gamble is the managing partner of Tenant Turner, a property management agency in Boise, Idaho. Gamble attributes the rising costs of rent to the influx of renters moving in from out of state, mainly from Oregon, Washington and California. 

Gamble believes the demand for housing will allow tenants to raise costs.

“It’s just a case of supply and demand. Our demand is insanely high and our supply is incredibly low. This allows people to sell and rent their property for a crazy high rate, and if those people can take advantage of this situation then they are going to,” Gamble said.

Dr. Samia Islam, associate professor of economics at Boise State, believes the vacancy rate in Boise is realtively low.

 “A reasonable vacancy rate for a city rental market is about 5%, whereas in our area it’s between 1-2%. So, you can imagine the challenge,” Islam said. 

The pandemic is also putting people out of jobs and reducing incomes. 

“As household incomes become uncertain or decline, housing is the first thing on everyone’s mind. What happens when the eviction moratoriums expire at the end of the year?” Islam said. 

The eviction moratoriums were put in place in September 2020 to help protect people affected by COVID-19 from being evicted. The moratoriums expiring will increase the supply of medium price housing and increase the demand for cheap housing.

According to Islam, the fast turn-around time on houses going on the market to being sold is a concern as well.

“Say you want to sell your home and move to another part of town, it may not be so simple because there is uncertainty whether you will be able to find a house you can afford once you sell yours,” Islam said. 

On top of the struggle for new renters and buyers, the turn-around time is making moving risky for people that already live in the area. 

There is no guarantee that you will be able to find a place in your price range after you leave yours because of the constant housing payment growth and the sheer quantity of people looking for housing. Kjerstad has concerns about her living situation for the future.

[Photo of La Pointe, an off-campus student housing apartment building]
Photo by Mackenzie Hudson | The Arbiter

“I have thought about just buying a house. I’m 24 with a good credit score, but the problem there is that it’s hard to buy a house nowadays, especially as a first time buyer,” Kjerstad. “A lot of the houses that are going up for sale on the market are being sold within weeks of being on the market.”

Gamble sees the upward trend in renting costs plateauing since the fall of 2020 and Islam is seeing improvements being done by the city of Boise to the housing situation. 

“Now, the city is responding to the housing shortage by several new medium density housing developments, but housing construction costs in our area are relatively high which constrains the market response to a degree.”

The housing prices may not be going down, but the trend seems to be beginning to slow, according to Gamble 

The city’s plans to produce more medium-density housing is also a good sign, according to Islam He believes increasing supply to alleviate that tension would benefit all Boise residents. 

Although not much has come to fruition yet, the city has had talks about incentivising affordable housing to help the market get back to a sustainable place for middle and low income renters and buyers. This includes everything from rent control to giving bonuses to sellers that keep their prices reasonable.

“When students come back to campus after the pandemic, what sort of rental and vacancy rates will they face?” Islam said.

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