What’s behind rising rent costs in La Crosse County and nationwide?

UW-La Crosse professor and landlord helps clarify affordable housing problems and potential solutions

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) — Rent rose nationally by half a percent last month. It sounds small, but it is the fastest pace in about 20 years, according to the Consumer Price Index.

Rent prices can tell a story about the health of a community’s economy. A photogenic community exists between the bluffs and Mississippi River.

“I love living in La Crosse,” said Adam Hoffer, assistant economics professor at UW-La Crosse.

People also can picture the nation’s current economy in the La Crosse valley.

“We’ve seen rent prices increase from around 2 to 3 percent, which doesn’t sound like a lot but it adds up pretty quickly,” Hoffer said.

Inflation is above 5% — a mark where economists pay attention, Hoffer said.

“What that means is that prices are rising really fast,” he said.

Wages rose too, but not at consistent levels across all professions. Stagnant wages tighten financial stress on people when rent rises.

“It’s gonna be harder and harder to make all of the payments,” Hoffer said.

Between 2019 and 2020, the income for full-time workers increased by 6.9%. In the meantime, since January of this year, one metric found rent nationwide spiked 16%.

Sometimes the housing available doesn’t meet the needs of the working population. Hoffer would know. He is a landlord himself, and he says renters need more options.

“It’s not always easy to build that.”

Building code regulations can make investing in rentals expensive. Hoffer said investors also face pushback from neighborhood associations where nimbyism exists.

“It’s not a popular idea. A lot of this is us dealing with ourselves,” Hoffer said.

“Not in my backyard.”

It’s hard to find new places because La Crosse is sandwiched inside this valley. Hoffer provided an example of why building codes can make renovations expensive.

He tried to turn a building into an affordable option, but the cost of a sprinkler system alone cost more than the building itself. He said he couldn’t afford to do that. A recent La Crosse housing study showed 37 percent of households citywide reported having a cost burden.

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