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The housing market is going crazy. The median listing price is now $375,000, up over 8 percent since January. In some markets, housing prices have jumped by over 50 percent since 2017.

The news is full of stories of bidding wars, all-cash offers, forgone inspections and dashed housing dreams.

What does this latest housing crunch mean for higher ed? What is the relationship between the housing market and the labor market for faculty and staff?

One of the challenges in answering these questions is data. What we know about the relationship between academic employment and housing is mostly from news stories and anecdotes.

A Google search revealed several stories (here, here, here, here and here) -- but very little in the way of aggregated data or numerical trends.

As the son of a housing demographer and as someone who started his academic career doing some housing research (with my dad), I’m fascinated by the interplay between housing and academia.

As with most of my fascinations, curiosity tips over into nosiness. Please try not to be offended if I quiz you about your housing story. Questions I’ve been known to ask include:

  • How close to campus are you living?
  • Why did you decide to buy or rent where you did?
  • How close to campus are you?
  • Where would you have liked to have lived?
  • How are you able to manage housing costs on an academic salary?
  • What role do you think housing costs will play in influencing your future academic work decisions?
  • Does the possibility of remote academic work change how you think and act concerning housing?

Piecing together a bunch of conversations related to home buying, I’m becoming ever more convinced that higher ed is in the midst of an invisible housing crisis.

Everyone in academia that I speak with who is either contemplating or navigating a move talks about the challenges of finding an affordable home.

The dream of living a reasonable distance from campus seems to be receding for many. Long commutes seem to be more common -- perhaps a trend made more palatable by what will likely be a growing acceptance of mixing on-campus and remote work.

What I also hear from friends, colleagues and acquaintances in academia is housing stress. Faculty and staff wages are largely stagnant, while housing costs are dramatically increasing.

The housing situation is infinitely more challenging for contingent faculty, grad students and others without a reliable professional wage.

In the U.S., housing is rapidly becoming a luxury good. What is new, I suspect, is that significant chunks of professors and staff will be priced out of homeownership.

Nor does it appear that colleges and universities have prioritized affordable housing for faculty and staff. University-owned housing is scarce. Some schools offer mortgage assistance programs, but these benefits are nowhere near universal. (And from what I can see, they are declining.)

An invisible faculty/staff housing crisis is only a hypothesis. If you know of research to test this hypothesis, please let me know.

What’s going on with your housing situation?

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