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Andrew Burget

Signs advertise apartments for rent on College Street.

Rising rent costs put students’ health at risk

October 12, 2021

For upperclassmen, fall semester in Burlington is marked by competitive apartment hunting, but this year’s frenzy may pose extra challenges due to low vacancies and high prices.

After years of gradual rent increases across Burlington, a reappraisal of property values in the city will result in higher property taxes for some property owners and in turn, may further impact what renters owe their landlords. These changes may have a myriad of impacts for student renters.

In 2018, the Burlington’s Office of the City Assessor began conducting the Citywide Reappraisal project to determine the fair market values of properties across the city. The results were distributed to owners April 8, 2021. 

The last reappraisal was conducted in 2005, and since then property valuations have varied greatly, requiring the city to conduct this project per the guidelines of the Vermont Tax Department, according to the Burlington City website.

For some students, rent increases come as a surprise. Junior Garrett Safran said he felt surprised to learn his rent would increase if he resigned his lease. 

“My landlord explained to me that since Vermont property taxes and monthly property management payments are increasing, he would have to increase our rent,” Safran said. 

Jessica Hyman, director of the Fair Housing Project at Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity, said that even before the reappraisal, housing costs in Burlington have been increasing due to an extremely low vacancy rate.

She said there are not enough rental properties in Burlington to accommodate the population, even at affordable rates. An affordable rent cost is no more than 30% of a person’s income, Hyman said.  

“There isn’t enough housing and it enables landlords to be selective in who they rent to,” Hyman said. “Sometimes students are at an advantage because they can pay slightly higher rents than others in the community, but some students are facing the same problems [as low-income individuals or families].” 

With an already flooded rental market, UVM admitted two of the largest classes in the University’s history, according to an Aug. 25 email from UVM President Suresh Garimella.

Community development and applied economics professor Joshua Farley specializes in ecological economics. He said this increase in the student population will create a higher demand for housing but does little to incentivize property developers to build more housing.

“Any time UVM increases enrollment, landlords can raise costs a lot,” Farley said. “We’ve shifted the demand for housing outward, and people will demand it at any price. When rents go up in Burlington, more buildings don’t appear.”

Many financially independent students work jobs in their spare time to pay for their living expenses, and increased costs may require these students to work longer hours.

According to David Robothom’s 2012 report in Education + Training Journal, some of the consequences for students who work are spending less time doing leisure activities, doing less of their schoolwork and experiencing fatigue. 

Katie Wessles is a social worker in the South Burlington school district. She said that burnout is a feeling of exhaustion or resentment that is provoked by prolonged periods of stress.

“If someone is working long hours and those hours are not improving their quality of life, that could be a stressor for them that could lead to burnout,” she said.

Junior Robert Buhrmeister that rising costs of living will lead to over-working an impact students’ mental well-being.

“This is just an added stress that is going to make college harder for students,” Buhrmeister said. “I know some who are in charge of their rent now and that’s a real issue that is constantly on their minds.” 

Graduate student Lindsay Paquette said despite working full time, she still has to take out extra student loans to cover her monthly expenses and she is still concerned about her academic performance. 

“My work schedule has affected my ability to meet with classmates for group projects, it makes me feel like an unreliable classmate,” she said. “My program adviser told me students [in my program] who have off campus jobs usually end up on academic probation.” 

On top of adding stress to students’ social and academic lives, increasing housing costs can also worsen food insecurity, or the lack of access to reliable and sufficient food quantities.

Food insecurity at UVM is not a new issue.

According to a Jan. 29 2019 Cynic article, two 2017 studies conducted by a UVM food insecurity working group found 17-25% of undergraduate students don’t have reliable access to food.

Nicole Reilly, former UVM dietician and current UVM dining sustainability & campus partnership manager, said the increase in rent costs may heighten food insecurity among UVM students, especially when coupled with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Latest research from the UVM Office of Student and Community Relations does align with [increases in food insecurity caused by the pandemic],” Reilly said. “The most recent data showed that 30% of students were experiencing food insecurity, so we are definitely seeing increases.” 

Working students may lack access to the healthy diet needed to sustain a learning brain, Reilly said. 

With the increased student population putting more pressure on an already strained rental market, Hyman said UVM should take action.

“The University has a responsibility to do more than they are doing and find more housing solutions for students,” she said. “There are many opportunities through their business partnerships and land ownership. It is definitely going to get worse in the next couple years.”

The UVM Office of Student and Community Relations is intended to assist students with moving off-campus. The office did not respond to the Cynic’s request for comment.

 

Resources: 

Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity (CVOEO) Housing Assistance: Call (802) 863-6248 ext. 4 for more information or to set up an appointment. (Chittenden County)

Fair Housing Project of CVOEO: Call (800) 278-7971.

Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Department of Fair Housing & Equal Opportunity: (802) 951-6290

UVM Food Insecurity Resources: go.uvm.edu/foodhelp

UVM Rally Cat Cupboard: IG & FB @rallycatscupboard 

3Squares VT (snap benefits): Call 1-800-479-6151 for questions or assistance

Vermont Gas Assistance: Call 1-800-755-0516 for questions or assistance

Burlington Electric Bed Temporary Energy Assistance Program: (802) 865-7300

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