Maggie Grether, Contributing Photographer

Students across Yale’s graduate and professional schools are being pushed to live off campus following the University’s announcement that Helen Hadley Hall, a 205-student graduate dormitory, will close this summer.

But with rising New Haven rent prices, students and Elm City residents are struggling to find affordable and adequate housing.

“I have, over the six years of my [doctorate], lived in four different places down in New Haven,” Evan Cudone GRD ’20 ’23 told the News. “And I’ve had pretty considerable issues at all four places that made finding the housing, affording the housing and then just generally living there a little more difficult than I think it should be.”

Graduate students living off campus must hunt for housing in a tight market. New Haven is in an affordable housing crisis: between June 2018 and June 2022, the average rent in New Haven County increased 28 percent. According to census data, the rental vacancy rate in New Haven is currently at 3.8 percent — an increase from last year, where vacancy plummeted to 1.4 percent, but still lower than the 4.5 percent vacancy across the state.

According to Alex Rich GRD ’27, Graduate and Professional Student Senate advocacy chair, an estimated 86 percent of Yale graduate and professional students live off campus, with the greatest proportion of students living in the East Rock and Downtown neighborhoods. 

Cudone, who conducted research about New Haven housing costs as part of his Executive Board Fellow Project for the senate last year, told the News that on-campus options are not viable for many graduate students. Graduate students with families, for example, may find dorm-style living untenable.

He added that off-campus housing comes with its own challenges. In his research, Cudone focused on the monopolization of the housing market in New Haven and the relationship between University housing stipends and off-campus rents. 

“I think the primary finding is that the school has been responding to the cost of living increases in New Haven by increasing the stipend for graduate students, which I think is a reasonable response,” Cudone said. “However, all the data that the senate collects on this consistently shows that the housing prices adjust to those increased stipends.”

In a 2023 survey conducted by the Graduate and Professional Student Senate, 33.3 percent of the 523 students surveyed disagreed that they could find “housing that is affordable.” Additionally, 29.7 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “I have chosen housing that doesn’t meet my needs (e.g., space, amenity, distance from campus, whether or not sharing) as a result of financial strain.”

This issue has also been outlined in the GPSS Strategic Plan, a report that guides the senate’s priorities. 

In the strategic plan, the Graduate and Professional Student Senate called on the University to expand its subsidized housing efforts and “combat the price gouging property owners place on student renters and other New Haven residents.” According to the senate’s 2023 survey, 83 percent of graduate students found their current housing through a non-Yale source. 

The strategic plan states that “many graduate and professional students at Yale are subject to the symptoms (increasing costs, absentee landlords) of this increasingly monopolized renters housing market. For students living off stipends, this acts to decrease their quality of living as the cost of renting continues to outpace the growth of the stipend.”

The Yale Graduate Housing office declined to comment on the matter. 

With residential college housing unequipped to handle increasing class sizes, Yale students have increasingly turned to off-campus housing, prompting concerns that affluent Yale students may outbid and displace New Haveners. 

Concerns about accommodating Yale’s growing student body came to the fore last spring, when an unprecedented 72 percent of admitted students in the Yale College class of 2027 opted to matriculate. The large class size prompted Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan to send an email encouraging students to delay enrollment. 

According to Kate Marie, associate director of graduate housing, her office provides Yalies looking for off-campus housing with a database of information on “properties for rent or sale in the New Haven area, landlord ratings, maps of New Haven and the Yale Campus, and links to additional resources.”

In a February announcement, the University also noted efforts by Yale Graduate Housing and University Properties to create more apartment-style options for graduate students.

The Graduate and Professional Student Senate has also called on Yale to increase affordable transportation options for students living farther from campus. Alex Rich pointed to the fact that students driving to campus must pay parking fees, recently reinstated to full price last July. The senate has also advocated for the University to supply graduate students with U-PASS CT cards, which cover all fees for Connecticut buses and trains.

Rich said that she lives in Westville, where she was able to find more affordable housing. However, she noted, there is no Yale shuttle between her rental unit and her lab.

“When parking rates were reinstated, I was often stressed about my ability to get to campus,” Rich wrote in a statement to the News. 

She added that she took the city bus every day until the city reinstated bus fares last April after a year of free rides.

Cudone noted, however, that while the affordable housing issue creates problems for students, New Haven residents are most affected.

“It seems like graduate students specifically are the most profitable demographic in New Haven for landlords to lease to,” Cudone said. “They generally come from more affluent backgrounds. They have the disposable income that Yale gives them with our very competitive stipend compared to other universities. And [landlords] adjust their prices to match that.”

According to Data Haven’s 2023 Community Wellbeing Index Report, 50 percent of New Haven renters are cost-burdened, meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their monthly income on housing. 

According to Karen DuBois-Walton ’89, executive director of the New Haven Housing Authority, Yale holds enormous sway in the New Haven housing market by providing jobs, admitting students and offering housing to students and faculty. DuBois-Walton told the News that the University’s actions regarding student housing, including “admitting more students than they know they have on-campus housing for,” have contributed to increased demand for housing in New Haven. 

DuBois-Walton explained that demand in the housing market has increased due to a recent influx of new residents brought upon by expanding job opportunities within the city. Additionally, household size has generally decreased, particularly among students living off campus. 

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, it became increasingly common for former roommates to live separately from one another. 

“What might have been a two- … or three-person household breaks apart, and rather than taking up one unit in the housing market, it’s taking up two or three units in the market,” DuBois-Walton said. 

This phenomenon increased demand for housing within the city, further contributing to rising rent prices. DuBois-Walton also identified the University’s actions to incentivize students to live off campus as another factor that led rent prices to increase.

Additionally, the routes followed by the Yale Shuttle indirectly encourage students to populate specific areas of the city. “They incentivize people to move in particular neighborhoods because that’s where the Yale shuttle will easily move people around,” DuBois-Walton explained. This phenomenon concentrates student populations and city residents in particular neighborhoods within the city, such as East Rock, leading rent prices to rise within those areas.

Although various new housing-related projects are still underway in the city — including plans for residential construction at Long Wharf, as well as efforts to convert the Days Inn Hotel into a shelter for unhoused people this winter — DuBois-Walton explained that these efforts have not been enough to meet the rising demand for housing in the city. 

Other efforts to address the affordable housing crisis have included city steps to strengthen the Fair Rent Commission, an organization meant to eliminate excessive rental increases on tenants in the city, as well as building a new below-market housing registry to facilitate the process of finding and accessing affordable housing.

DuBois-Walton suggested that to remedy the growing issue, Yale should take greater steps in contributing to housing development within the city. She discussed the Yale Homebuyer Program, an initiative by which the University subsidizes home purchases for employees in New Haven, as an example. Last fall, the program allocated over $35 million in funding to help employees purchase homes in the city, greatly contributing to development efforts.

Yale might be able to become a “multi-family housing developer” by concentrating more funds into the Homebuyer Program, DuBois-Walton told the News. This action would help boost supply in the city’s housing market.

DuBois-Walton emphasized the importance of making housing in the city affordable for people at a wide range of income levels. She explained that throughout New Haven’s history, the city has served as a “welcoming haven” to immigrants while also doubling as a bustling university town.

“These are the pieces of who we are, and what we want to do is figure out the ways that we can grow New Haven such that it can accommodate all of the wonderful people that want to call New Haven home,” she said.

In June 2022, the average rent in New Haven County was $1,953 per month.

Esma Okutan is the graduate schools reporter for the News. Originally from Istanbul, Turkey, she is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards studying economics.
Maggie Grether covers housing and homelessness for city desk. Originally from Pasadena, California, she is a sophomore in Ezra Stiles college.
Natasha Khazzam covers housing and homelessness for city desk. She previously covered climate and the environment. Originally from Great Neck, New York, she is a sophomore in Davenport College majoring in history and English.