By Ashlyn Webb, University of Georgia

Georgia Chambers, a University of Georgia student, and her roommates are searching for housing for the 2020-2021 school year, nearly nine months in advance of their move-in date.

Chambers and her roommates are searching early because of the limited amount of housing that fits their budget close enough to campus to be practical for them. Several students confront such a search each academic year because affordable housing in Athens is in short supply, especially closer to the campus.

Chambers moved off campus her sophomore year and has since lived at two different apartment complexes. Her share of the first apartment was about $430 a month. The second apartment, which was closer to campus, cost her $540 a month.

This year, Chambers and her roommates started looking at apartments downtown.

“I’ve always wanted to live downtown for the convenience and the location, but all of those are easily $850 per person a month,” she said.

The median rent in Athens between 2013 and 2017 was $815 a month, according to 2018 U.S. Census estimates. A study by the Georgia Initiative for Community Housing found a 23 percent increase in rent in Athens since 2012.

Sharon Liggett, operation coordinator for the University of Georgia Archway partnership, took part in the GICH study. She says a key reason why Athens is seeing rent rise is because of simple supply and demand.

“There is not enough housing that is cost affordable in Athens,” Liggett said. “College towns tend to have this problem. It all has to do with proximity to campus.”

Chambers said their apartment search has quickly become frustrating since they haven’t been able to find housing that fits their budget.

“It’s aggravating when you look at the situation the affordable housing problem has put college students in,” Chambers said. “Apartment owners know we don’t have much of a choice when it comes to housing. They’re able to rack up that price.”

However, Chambers said she knows if she and her roommates live downtown, they would be paying for location. This is because living closer to campus would eliminate costs for transportation and parking. University of Georgia students typically pay between $200 to $400 per academic year for parking.

Liggett says she advises students looking for housing to make a list of what they want to prioritize. An example of that is proximity to campus or downtown.

“It’s all an individual decision. It depends on if somebody feels like they need to be within 4 minutes of campus or whether they’re okay being 20 minutes away,” Liggett said.

Liggett also advises students to look at how much they make each year and also consider what, if any, financial assistance they receive from their family. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) advises that an individual spend 30 percent or less of their income towards housing.

Chambers said the affordable housing shortage has put students in a bind financially, and often times, students are forced to spend more than the 30 percent standard to find the housing they want.

“College students have to pay for a lot. The last thing any college student wants to do is budget in more money each year for rent when you’re paying tuition,” Chambers said.

Liggett says the 30 percent is recommended, but individuals also must consider other bills they have to pay.

“It also depends on what your other debt load looks like now. Do you have a car? Do you have college payments? College loan payments?” Liggett said.

Therefore, Liggett says individuals should personally evaluate how much they can spend towards housing. In many cases, students who have other payments may need to allocate less than 30 percent towards housing.

Ashlyn Webb is a journalism major in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.