Yale housing shortages may cause displacement in the Elm City
With more and more upperclassmen forced off campus and into select New Haven areas, many residents have been “priced out” in turn.
Yale Daily News
On-campus housing shortages at Yale have thrown the city’s rental landscape into flux, making Yalies and New Haveners both neighbors and competitors for limited living space.
This fall, hundreds of juniors traded on-campus suites for off-campus apartments, owing to insufficient housing space in several residential colleges and record enrollment numbers for the classes of 2025 and 2026. 1,357 Yalies currently live off-campus, including 35 percent of juniors. In a housing market already stretched to its limits, community members fear that this trend will drive up rent and displace long-time New Haven residents.
“We’re seeing really escalating [rental] costs, very high occupancy, so therefore low vacancy rates, and real difficulty for people to find units,” said Karen Dubois-Walton ’89, executive director of the Housing Authority of New Haven. “If a landlord can rent to somebody at a higher price point, they’re going to. And for all kinds of prejudicial kinds of stereotyping, there’s lots of reasons why a student, a Yale student in particular, might be seen as a preferable tenant, between them and a family who might be in need.”
New Haven, like Yale, is in the midst of a housing crisis. As of April, according to Jack Denning ’24, rents across the city have risen 23 percent year-over-year, and there is a 97.5 percent rental occupancy rate. In March, over 21,000 New Haven families were on waiting lists for Section 8 rent vouchers or public housing units.
Denning co-wrote a report on the relationship between Yalies’ increased migration off-campus and the current landscape of city housing for an anthropology course last semester. He described this new off-campus flux of Yalies, who must sometimes compete with local residents for limited housing space, as a process of “studentification.”
“We have these luxury apartments that are getting built,” Denning said. “When you’re competing and it’s a Yale union worker, who lives 10 streets away, or a Yale student, eventually they’re going to get priced out.”
In their report, Denning and his classmates argued that Yale has the ultimate say in which neighborhoods its off-campus students populate. Some realtors and property management companies, like the Chelsea Company and Farnam Realty Group, work extensively with Yale students and frequently advertise on the University’s Office of Off-Campus Living database. The report notes that the University has full control over which groups are allowed to advertise on their sites. The limited batch of preferred realtors, accompanied by students’ proximity and transportation needs — compounded by the Yale Shuttle only serving select neighborhoods — have created a “Yale Zone” where off-campus students primarily reside, according to Denning.
Josephine Cureton ’24, who moved into a Chelsea Company property, said she was unexpectedly “kicked off” Ezra Stiles College housing this year with five other students, despite the college’s larger physical space. Chelsea Company property manager Neil Currie told the News that this spring, he spoke with many Yale juniors who said they encountered problems with the housing lottery system and needed to look for apartments on short notice.
“I feel like we had so much uncertainty when the six of us didn’t get housing on campus,” Cureton said. “I feel like none of us have ever heard from any [Stiles] upperclassmen about this ever happening.”
Contrary to some students’ shared experiences of receiving no on-campus housing options, Yale College Director of Strategic Communications Paul McKinley claimed that “all juniors who requested housing on campus in last year’s room draws got it.” McKinley went on to explain that this year’s proportion of juniors living off-campus is a modest 3 percent uptick from previous years.
Cureton, who helped write the report with Denning and Amelia Davidson ’24, a University Editor at the News, said her new apartment building in the Dwight area feels like “an extension of Yale.” Every other resident she has met has been a fellow student, and it is a short walk away from campus and her sorority house.
Meanwhile, Currie said that both students and local residents live in all eleven of the Chelsea Company’s properties near campus. He added that the city’s rental companies “treat everyone in New Haven equally” in accordance with the Fair Housing Act. He explained that the only difference between rent applications for students and local residents is that students, who usually do not hold full-time jobs, must show proof of attendance, while locals must show proof of employment through mediums like pay stubs. Cureton sent the company photocopies of her Yale ID and degree audit before she was granted a lease.
Housing activist Karen Dubois-Walton noted that it used to be a “rarity” to move off campus as an undergraduate. She expressed her concern about the impact that current trends will have on community and connection among students.
On a city level, a “decades-long underproduction of units” has created an extreme pressure situation for New Haven residents and students trying to find housing, she said, particularly in neighborhoods closer to campus such as Dwight, the Hill, Wooster Square and East Rock. Denning additionally named these areas as parts of the “Yale Zone.”
“I think we’re seeing sort of the spread of Yale students and displacement of New Haven residents in those neighborhoods,” said Eli Sabin ’22, who serves as the Ward 7 East Rock alder. “If the University is growing with its student population, also hiring new people … it can’t be at the expense of people who’ve lived here a long time.”
Sabin said that many lifelong New Haven residents have had to move out of downtown neighborhoods to find cheaper housing options in West Haven, East Haven or Hamden.
Amidst the high demand for housing in New Haven, exacerbated by the growth of Yale’s student body, many have proposed ways to change this unsustainable status quo.
Drawing from his research, Denning suggested several solutions to the Yale housing shortage that may alleviate the burden on the city. He emphasized the importance of adding stops to the Yale Shuttle outside of the “Yale Zone” so that students live in more areas.
“The Yale Shuttle route was actually a really, really big factor in creating wealth disparities,” Denning noted. “If the Shuttle went up Whalley, or in any other directions, that would spread the housing search burden out wider.”
Denning also proposed building more on-campus housing, but Sabin argued that this may not be the best path forward. Most University-affiliated buildings are currently tax-exempt — to get a “whole bunch more non-taxable housing” would only worsen the property tax burden on New Haven residents, while also limiting city funding for public schools and other social services, he said.
He instead advocated for a “balance,” where some expansion of University dormitories is coupled with the development of new housing — both market-rate and affordable — in the city itself.
In turn, Denning argued that the University must keep its larger admitted class sizes in mind before taking action on housing. Such action could entail increasing payments to the city and contributing more to its overall revenue. Working with the city, Dubois-Walton said, Yale should invest in affordable housing and support urban design that accommodates current growth.
Ward 2 Alder Frank E. Douglass, Jr., whose district includes much of the Dwight neighborhood, said that price gouging by developers was to blame for the city’s housing crisis, harming both New Haven residents and lower-income Yale students.
“I don’t think we want to blame it on the students,” Douglass said. “It definitely goes deeper than the students. … I guess it’s more expensive to stay on campus. So, you know, I feel for them just as well as I feel for the residents in New Haven. This is a national crisis; it’s not a local crisis.”
Dubois-Walton said that students should consider housing options in all areas of the city, focusing on “taking some of the pressure off” of the overburdened neighborhoods like Dwight and East Rock that are often the first choice for Yalies’ short-term rentals.
Yale’s two newest residential colleges, Pauli Murray and Benjamin Franklin, began housing students in 2017.
Correction, Sept. 29: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Cureton only needed to provide her Yale ID to obtain a lease. This story was updated to include that she also sent the Currie Company a copy of her degree audit.