It is no secret that America is languishing under an ill-governed housing crisis — COVID-19 revealed the abuse of lax renters laws across the country. Yet in spite of inflation, towns like Binghamton witness diminishing safety and cleanliness. Student housing is one example in the macrocosm of real estate corruption that exhibits how landlords take direct advantage of people who are in need of time-dependent housing while not returning the value at which they demand. Without stringent rent-control laws, landlords will continue to use the less fortunate as their personal piggy bank, relying on the destitution of others not aware of the intricate American financial system.
Ever since the 1970s, rent has increased faster than median income rates. Now, as of 2023, the typical American is “rent-burdened,” a term meaning that “30 percent of the median [United States] income is required to pay the average rent.” In Binghamton, we see similar patterns, with a 26–30 percent increase for 1-2 bedroom places and the median rent price rising over $1,000 from August to September in 2023. If you are currently living off-campus, this may not come as a surprise, as tours and rent-signing events have come into full swing. Evidently, landlords seem to recognize when most leases are signed and increase prices as a result. You may even be watching as your apartment, which hasn’t increased much in value, becomes hundreds of dollars more expensive. Thus, it has become common for students to search for housing a full year in advance to avoid inflation. Plenty of student housing monopolies also use scare tactics in order to get current tenants to resign as quickly as possible, saying that tenants only have a few days or weeks left before rent prices increase yet again, so they need to sign ASAP, locking them into another year of high rent before they get the chance to look anywhere else.
Despite shady price increases and the frequency of the “landlord special” — shortcutted ways landlords will ‘fix’ issues around a property to keep costs low and profits high —landlords on #propertytok are trying to garner sympathy — James Coupland, for example, says that landlords are also being affected by interest rates and regulations. This is despite the fact that investment properties are exactly that — investments that come with risks and are not created to be an endless money geyser for those who have the ability to pay the upfront costs. Regardless, landlords in California throw parties to celebrate the legal reinstatement of evictions, and real estate agents discuss the lack of appreciation in Binghamton properties despite annual increases in rent.
“Binghamton does not appreciate,” Binghamton and Ithaca real estate agent Stephanie Jacobson comments on “Bigger Pockets,” an investment advice forum. “Like, at all. We joke that it’s recession-proof because the Depression never ended. Ha! Your [cash flow] will be much higher than other markets, but you’ll sell the property for what you bought it for seven years from now.” In other words, due to poverty rates in the area (ha?), Binghamton properties do not naturally rise in value like properties in more ‘valuable’ areas, so the money comes from utilizing the forever flourishing student market to make more money each year.
Despite this yearly pattern, Binghamton hasn’t boasted higher safety or cleanliness statistics. Binghamton’s crime index has been unsteadily on the rise since 2007, and the city is famously “peppered with hundreds of vacant properties” as a result of decreasing population sizes since the 1950s. These facts indicate that prices increase because landlords recognize there is simply nowhere else Binghamton University students can live, giving them a guaranteed steep return on their investments and a yearly turnover in residents that aren’t around long enough to complain about community quality. Not to mention, these manipulations that drown university students in debt also funnel locals into markets that outpace median income and into the growing homelessness epidemic.
It is these abuses that illuminate one fact — America needs federal rent control. Currently, landlords in states like New Jersey “are free to increase rent at whatever rate they deem appropriate.” Last year, New York’s Rent Guideline Board set a 3.25 percent limit for one-year leases and a 5 percent limit for two-year leases, despite the fact that the median household income decreased by 2.3 percent. Organizations in Binghamton such as The Stakeholders of Broome County and their university-centric group, The UniverCITY Tenants Union, who advocate for housing justice and the Binghampton Community Land Trust, which acquires blighted housing to keep the area affordable for long-time residents, are the best local defense against landlords who take advantage of the student housing market. These are the organizations that need to be supported and expanded throughout the country. Otherwise, the United States will continue to see rising eviction and poverty rates despite decreasing community safety and cleanliness, as well as an increase in student debt as young people scramble to try and house themselves around the school that is already demanding thousands of arbitrary dollars for a piece of paper that is only depreciating in value.
Emily Vega is a senior majoring in English.