Wisconsin tenants see higher rent, but what is driving up costs?

Pay more or be pushed out. Tenants are seeing increased rent in Milwaukee – and across the country. So what is driving up the costs?

An apartment at 55th and Burnham in Milwaukee is one of Jim Miller's few vacant units. When new renters move in, they will pay more for the apartment than the last tenants. 

"When it goes vacant, that’s when we’ll increase it the most, to align it with what the marketplace is," Miller said.

Jim Miller

According to realtor.com, median rent for the Milwaukee, Waukesha, and West Allis areas is up nearly 13% compared to this time last year. 

Rent for a two-bedroom apartment is up the most – nearly 16%. The median monthly rent in our area is now $1,550. One reason is the return to pre-COVID business.

"Prior to COVID, we were definitely in an increasing rent marketplace. I think that a lot of us paused that for COVID," Miller said.

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The hot housing market is also keeping first-time home buyers in apartments. Right now in Milwaukee, it costs 25% less to rent than to make monthly payments on a starter home.

"I saw an opportunity to sell my home and make a profit, so I did," said Mike Testa with Ogden and Company.

Testa is now renting in one of his company's buildings. 

Despite Element84 opening in West Allis mid-pandemic, demand for units is super high – despite market rent increases.

"They've certainly been increasing across the board whether it’s downtown or in the suburbs," Testa said.

Mike Testa

Also pushing up rent is the high cost of new home construction – and more demand for apartments in places like Bay View, Walker's Point, St. Francis, and Wauwatosa. Plus, more out-of-state corporate landlords are buying up properties. 

But while new renters move in, others are being pushed out.

"They've been paying $800 a month in their current places for the last four, five, six years – and all of a sudden their landlord is seeing this opportunity to raise their rent to $950, $1000 a month," Testa said.

"Tenants who are applying for assistance are still being told that your rent is going to go up," said Shawanna Lindenberg of Community Advocates. 

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Community Advocates disperses rent assistance – and said it is a hardship for tenants already struggling with inflation. 

"We're not necessarily seeing where property owners are making repairs or modifications or updates to these properties to make them better," Lindenberg said. 

Miller updated his latest unit before putting it back on the market. It is now $850 a month from $795.

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