Out of the dorms and into the street, off-campus housing in surrounding neighborhoods is a popular choice for a majority of the students.
Mifflin, Camp Randall and the “Sophomore Slums” are a few of the iconic off-campus areas surrounding UW-Madison. These neighborhoods are made up by houses, apartments and townhouses. Come for the cheap rent, stay for the tailgates.
But does the name “Sophomore Slums” really fit the neighborhood?
Student housing just south of campus in the College Court, Spring Street, Greenbush and Vilas neighborhoods has long been affectionately referred to as the “sophomore slums.” To many students, the low-rise apartments and older homes in the area are a step below offerings near University Avenue, State Street and Langdon Street, where high-end apartments and spacious houses are far more common.
“It’s a funny name, but I wouldn’t refer to it as a slum,” said Kayleigh Westmore, a sophomore who lives in the Greenbush neighborhood. “It’s just more of a basic neighborhood [and] there’s a lot of upperclassmen who live around here, renting out whole houses.”
“I wouldn’t say that it’s derogatory, but I’d certainly say it’s an exaggeration,” said Noah Fellinger, a sophomore living on Fahrenbrook Court. “I’ve seen places elsewhere in areas outside the ‘sophomore slums’ that are much worse for much higher rent.”
Westmore and Fellinger’s views are shared by most other residents, many of whom cite location as one of the biggest appeals. The neighborhood has a high walkability score compared to the rest of Madison, and key locations such as Engineering Hall, Bascom Hill, the Nicholas Recreation Center and Union South are within a 20-minute walk.
Another major housing consideration for students is affordability. According to a 2020 UW-Madison Geography Department study, affordability is “very” or “extremely” important to 60.4% of student renters. Most students define “affordable” as anywhere from $500-$749, but with the median off-campus price per bedroom at $938.23 per month, balancing price with quality and proximity to campus is challenging.
Apartments and houses meeting the “affordable” definition of under $750 per bedroom are far more common in the sophomore slums, with some rents as low as $450 for students who choose to share a room.
And as renting season begins in Madison, students are signing onto leases faster than ever before. As they consider options, one of the factors they must think about is the price of housing – a cost that has been growing continuously over time. Among the goods most impacted by inflation are food, gas and one that influences UW-Madison students firsthand during the renting season – housing.
Jen McCoy, a 2005 graduate of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at UW-Madison recalls, “I paid $550 per month for a one-bedroom apartment during college and that was 16 years ago.” Based on the above index, the $550 per month apartment which she rented would now cost nearly $1,100 per month from the time of her graduation in May 2005.
Chris Gitter, on the other hand, a 2020 UW-Madison graduate, stated that his rent was about $650 per month including utilities, about $100 more than McCoy’s student apartment. However, he lived in a house near Camp Randall with four other roommates.
The increase in housing costs not only hurts Americans’ personal finances and opportunities, but also influences options regarding their living situations. More Americans, particularly students and recent graduates, have no choice but to live with several roommates, particularly in more expensive cities, in order to afford standard housing.
UW-Madison students and campus community members struggling with housing can find resources through the Tenant Resource Center, Dean of Students Crisis Loan Program and Homeless Services Consortium of Dane County.
Ultimately, this rise in costs may be pushing some students even farther off campus.
Students like Aaron Martin, a junior, and Justin Moore, a senior, represent a growing segment of UW-Madison students inching into residential neighborhoods for cheaper and often better quality housing.
Both students pointed out that while they get higher-quality and higher-value housing in the neighborhoods extending past UW-Madison’s campus. However, Associate editor Samantha Henschel reported that they also experience barriers to involvement in campus life.
“Very few of the houses close to me are college students,” Martin said. “I think it’s all older couples or young families with children. We have to be more conscious of what we’re doing, like not having people over super late, not being loud… it’s [completely different] from living on campus.”
“I think the biggest drawback to living here is just the [lack of] college atmosphere,” he continued. “Nothing really goes on around here.”
Still, commuting to classes is often a good fit for many students. Moore never looked for an apartment near campus because he knew it wouldn’t suit his needs. The residential area that he lives in is closer to his classes in the engineering building and the UW Hospital, where his roommate, a pharmacology student, spends most of his time.
“We definitely get a different living experience being there,” said Moore. “I don’t think we ever interact with the families living around us, but we overall have to be more conscious of the fact that there are families and fewer college students living around us.”