The greatest expense for graduate employees is housing. If you’re struggling to pay rent or find affordable housing, you are not alone. It’s no secret that living in Boulder and the surrounding areas is expensive. In 2015, Boulder was ranked the 3rd most expensive college town by Realtor.com 1. While Relator’s claim is based on sale price of homes, renting an apartment or a room in the Boulder area is also incredibly difficult on a graduate employee budget.
Rental Costs in Boulder
Below is a quick breakdown of average rental costs in the City of Boulder and a comparison of how these costs line up with graduate employee income.
|1 Bed||2 Bed, 1 Bath||2 Bed, 2 Bath|
|$ 1,572.39||$ 1,593.36||$ 2,321.40|
Even without additional mandatory expenses such as utilities, food, transportation, and course materials, most graduate employees still spend substantially more on rent than 30 percent of their income — the threshold above which the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development considers "cost burdened" and at risk of "difficulty affording necessities such as food, clothing, transportation and medical care." This guideline generally fits with the CU Money Sense 2 website that recommends the 50/30/20 rule, where necessary expenses should not exceed 50% of your income, personal expenses should not exceed 30%, and 20% of your income should go towards savings. These “budget smart” recommendations, however, are unfeasible for graduate employees. It is common that we already pay more than 50% of their salary solely on rent, before adding other necessary expenses.
|Percent Appointment||Monthly Salary||% monthly income going towards rent 3|
It’s Not Getting Better
In fact, it’s getting worse. Rental price trends indicate that the gap between graduate employee income and housing costs has grown substantially in the past 5 years, and shows no sign of slowing down. The Colorado Constitution prohibits rent control laws. Such laws would prohibit landlords from increasing the rent as much as they want each time a lease ends. As can be seen in the chart below, the percent increase in rent year to year is often MUCH greater than the stipend increase graduate employees receive.
|2 Bed, 1 Bath||898||905||960||1,031||1,100||1,185||1,330||1,386|
|2 Bed, 2 Bath||1,102||1,154||1,182||1,267||1,404||1,501||1,680||1,682|
As can be seen, in the past 5 years (AY 2011-2012 to AY 2016-2017) the average monthly rent of a 2 bedroom-1 bathroom unit has gone up by 44%. Comparatively, graduate employee pay increases have only gone up 21% since 2011. As such, living in the Boulder area has become increasingly difficult for graduate employees. While rent prices continue to rise in the Boulder area, graduate employee stipends have not kept pace.
Boulder’s Classist Zoning
Because the disparity between our pay and rent is so great, it is uncommon that a graduate employee can afford to rent an apartment alone. This situation forces graduate employees to seek out shared living arrangements or roommates. In order to offset high housing costs, many graduate employees choose to share their home with three or more roommates. This arrangement is typically illegal, as the City of Boulder zoning bans more than three unrelated people from sharing the majority of homes. We are the poor class of people targeted by that law. Consequently, a large portion of our fellow workers experience the looming threat of eviction. Contact us if your occupancy comes under scrutiny so that we can connect you with legal advice.
Don't live in Boulder, they said...
When voicing concerns about skyrocketing rental costs, a common refrain graduate employees hear is “Don't live in Boulder”. This response fails to recognize two fundamental realities; (1) rental prices are on the rise throughout the Denver Metro area, and (2) relocating outside of Boulder adds additional expenses and travel time to and from campus. Living outside of Boulder also adds the stress of being further removed from the health services provided at Wardenburg health center, among other inconveniences. For graduate employees without cars, options for housing outside of Boulder are additionally limited to places with bus-line access. The table below shows exactly how expensive housing is in the Denver Metro area:
|Rent: 2 Bed 1 Bath||Split 2 Ways||% monthly income|
This table shows there are very few areas where the CU Boulder recommended 50/30/20 rule would apply, even at a 50% appointment, since rent is not the only necessary expense. There are even fewer areas where the 30% rule would work. Graduate employees at lower appointments are at an even greater disadvantage when trying to house themselves.
Graduate employee pay has not kept pace with the rising housing costs in the Boulder and Denver Metro areas. All housing has gone up in price, not just in Boulder. In order for graduate employees to be able to afford to live reasonably, an adjustment must be made to our stipends to match housing prices in the area.