Wayne State students priced out of Midtown

Candice Williams
The Detroit News
Mohamed Abdou, a 29-year-old Wayne State civil engineering graduate student, lives with roommates in Hamtramck. 
When Abdou moved from Egypt to attend Wayne State, he said he wanted to live on campus, but he thought the rent was too expensive.

Detroit — The hot housing market in Midtown is squeezing out Wayne State University students who want to live near campus. 

Officials at WSU, traditionally a commuter school, say an increasing number of students want housing in the area but are finding it difficult to afford rents targeted to working professionals.

“A lot of the apartments, particularly to the south of us and east of us, serve primarily students, and their rents are going up so high because of the desirability of living in Midtown,” WSU President M. Roy Wilson told The Detroit News.

A review of available rental units throughout the Midtown shows a range of $750 a month for a studio apartment to $3,150 for a two-bedroom apartment. As of last month, the occupancy rate in the Midtown and New Center area was 98 percent, according to Midtown Detroit Inc., a nonprofit planning and development organization.

Overall, rental rates at 31 apartment complexes within a two-mile radius of the university increased by 8.5 percent from 2014 to 2016, according to a student housing market and demand study released in 2017 by the university.

Wilson said that it's difficult to quantify how many students live on or near campus. But as of this fall, 1,188 students have mailing addresses in the area's ZIP codes of 48201 and 48202, according to the university. University housing, which has 3,400 beds, has been full since 2008, according to school officials. 

During a market demand study in 2010, the university found that while it had excess demand for its dorms that demand was being absorbed in the local community, said Tim Michael, vice president for student auxiliary services and chief housing officer.

"But by 2014 when we did our second study, we found that ... the total demand was not being met," he said. "At the same time, Midtown was starting to come back, the university was participating in a program call Live Midtown where we were incentivizing people to move into town."

The rising rents are due to an increase in investment in the neighborhood following the recession and the city emerging from bankruptcy, said Susan Mosey, executive director of Midtown Detroit Inc. There has been a rent increase over the past five years, she said.

“Slowly over time, rents have been going up certainly in most parts of the neighborhood for a lot of reasons,” Mosey said. “No. 1: A lot of the rents were artificially low for a long period of time because there wasn’t a lot of investment going on. And there wasn’t a lot of amenities coming in. 

"Today, we have a lot of new restaurants and retail shops and businesses. There’s many more amenities here today. That commands higher rents. That’s part of the dynamic that we’ve been seeing over the last so many years.”

On the other hand, Mosey said, the area still has about 30 percent of affordable and mixed-income housing, but it’s not geared toward students.

“For students who don’t really qualify for affordable and who aren’t moving into dorms, who maybe can’t afford dorms or have chosen not to live in dorms, I’d say it is more of a challenge for them today to find housing in the immediate area," she said. 

Mosey said she sees the issue impacting undergraduate students the most.

“We still have many graduate students who live in Midtown, but they tend to have stipends, and they tend to be able to afford a little more in rent,” she said.

'Nothing is affordable'

Eanna McAdon, a 21-year-old senior kinesiology major, lived on or near campus for three years until she decided that she could no longer afford the rent. She moved in with her brother in Novi and now commutes to school.

"Unless you want several roommates, no, nothing is affordable," said McAdon, adding that she knows of one male student that lives with five roommates in a one-bedroom apartment. 

McAdon said at one apartment on Prentis Street, she and her two roommates, split a rent of $999 for a three-bedroom unit. It was a rental rate that one of her former roommates had because she had been a tenant for five years, she said.

When McAdon tried to return to the apartment, she said the rent had increased beyond what she could afford. McAdon said she misses living by the campus.

"It’s less convenient for me," she said of commuting from Novi. "I have to show up to classes super early to make sure I get a parking spot."

Mohamed Abdou, a 29-year-old Wayne State civil engineering graduate student, lives with roommates in Hamtramck.

When Abdou moved from Egypt to attend Wayne State, he said he wanted to live on campus, but he thought the rent was too expensive. For two years, he lived in the nearby Woodbridge neighborhood. Now he stays in a Hamtramck hostel where he pays $425 a month for a room. He says that while he likes Hamtramck, he would live on campus if prices were more affordable. 

"(Students) have to pay for the heat, for food," he said. "Students don’t have too much. They can’t work all the time. They go to school; they have loans."

Changes on campus

The university is taking some steps to alleviate the student housing issue by expanding its accommodations on campus.

The university's market demand study released in 2017 revealed that the university was heading toward an 800 to 1,000-bed shortage by 2020, Michael said. The university decided it would build the new housing.

The first phase of the $111 million Anthony Wayne Drive Apartments opened this fall, providing an additional 400 beds. The second phase will be complete in fall 2019 and bring the total to 840 beds. 

Maggie Nelson, 24, marketing Assistant, Student Auxilary Services at Wayne State, shows a second floor apartment inside the new Anthony Wayne Apartments on campus.

The university will also renovate its Chatsworth Tower Apartments, which will be complete in fall 2020. The building has about 86 rooms and 115 students. It will be gutted and converted to suite-style units that will accommodate 360 students, Michael said.

During the past several years, numerous developments also have popped up on and around campus. The former First Church of Christ, Scientist and its reading room on Cass Avenue was torn down for the Union At Midtown Apartments in 2011, which has restaurants and retail on the ground level. Units there start at $875 monthly for a studio apartment and that includes utilities.

The Auburn apartments, also on Cass Avenue, was built in 2012, replacing a surface lot and an empty brick building. On the ground floor, there are retailers including Go Sy Thai, Source Booksellers, Fresh101 Superfood Café and Cass Corridog. Residential rental rates are $900-$1,000 per month for a studio and $1,050-$1,150 per month for a one-bedroom unit. Rent includes utilities except for electricity. 

Rental rates for the Auburn apartments on Cass Avenue, built in 2012, are $900-$1,000 per month for a studio and $1,050-$1,150 per month for a one-bedroom unit.

While Wayne State University doesn’t have a housing requirement, it wants to have ample space for students that want to live on campus, Michael said.

“Our philosophy is that we want to provide a bed for anyone who wants it,” he said. “Because if it's an experience a student wants, to live on campus, have that 24/7 campus life in the middle of Detroit. We want to provide that as part of the educational experience.”

Michael said that the university's student population has shifted over the years as it draws younger, more traditional college-aged students. 

In 2018, full-time students made up nearly 70 percent of the student population, compared to 65 percent of the student population in 2013, according to university data.

In 2010, 2014 and 2016, the university rented out floors at the St. Regis Hotel on West Grand Boulevard in the New Center area to temporarily house students.

The university did not have to use the temporary housing this year after the opening of the first phase of the Anthony Wayne Drive apartments.

The newest apartment on Anthony Wayne Drive has studio, one-bedroom, two-bedroom and four-bedroom units that include a full kitchen and common space. The first floor features community rooms and there will be ground floor retail in place by the time the second phase is complete.

Rates range from $5,780 per student for a four-month semester in a studio unit to $4,555 per student sharing a four-bedroom unit. Rent includes utilities, cable and Internet. Michael said that not everyone can afford the boarding costs at the new apartment, but the additional beds free up the less expensive on-campus options for other students. 

"I would say it’s not cheap, but it's reasonable,"  said Paulina Chama Majewa, a social work graduate student. She noted that the apartments are also furnished, which helps students save money.

Majewa, 28, previously lived across the street at University Towers. Now she shares a four-bedroom unit with three roommates in the new building. She said she likes the building security. 

"I'm most excited about having a kitchen to cook for ourselves," she said. 

'A lot of new housing'

Mosey said that she’s seen an increasing number of students moving into the New Center, which sits just north of Midtown. There are about 2,500 new apartment units in the pipeline for Midtown and New Center. 

“There’s been a lot of new housing also being developed and more coming online up there that’s going to be friendly for students,” she said.

Jamie Kornosky, 22, a recent Wayne State University graduate, said she was fortunate to find a one-bedroom, garden-level apartment in the basement last year for $775 at Forest Arms on 2nd Avenue. Kornosky, who had plans to attend law school this year, said she wanted to find a unit that would provide more sunlight, but it proved difficult finding an affordable apartment.

"I couldn’t find anything for less than $1,200 for a one bedroom," she said. "I feel bad for every single student that has attempted to find an apartment. I went through it for four years. ... An affordable unit with sunlight. That's all I wanted."


Twitter: @CWilliams_DN