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Rental unit shortage has Milwaukee residents struggling to find places to live

For Rent sign
Posted at 4:47 PM, Jun 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-15 19:42:07-04

MILWAUKEE — A hot housing market along with the lingering effects of the pandemic are making “For Rent” signs harder and harder to find in Milwaukee.

Dawn Jesko and her husband are on the hunt for a place to live.

“We are on a waiting list for two of the apartments right now,” said Jesko.

For Rent sign
For Rent sign in downtown Milwaukee off Kilburn Avenue.

Right before the pandemic, Jesko and her husband sold their home in Oak Creek and temporarily moved to their cabin in northern Wisconsin to work remotely. But now Jesko needs to be back in Milwaukee for her job. Their plan was to rent an apartment. They started the search at the end of 2020, but delayed signing on anything, thinking they had time.

“Unfortunately most apartments aren’t available until November, December. Or the price of the apartments, the same one we looked at six months ago, eight months ago, have increased in price anywhere from $100 to $300 a month,” said Jesko.

A national rent report from the online marketplace Apartment List found that in just the last month, the average rent price went up 1.4 percent in Milwaukee. It increased by 3.4 percent over the last year. The median price of a one-bedroom apartment in the city is now $778. It is $956 for a two-bedroom.

Jim Cefalu is the sales director at My Dwelling, which specializes in leasing and property management. He said this is unlike anything he has seen in more than a decade in rentals.

Jim Cefalu
Jim Cefalu is the sales director at My Dwelling in Milwaukee.

“I have not remembered any similar situations like this on the rental side where, if it is turn-key ready, it is going to rent right away. There is probably going to be multiple people interested. And I can remember when we would have 50-60 units at any available time and now our inventory is depleted,” said Cefalu.

The Apartment Association of Southeastern Wisconsin says there is more demand and less inventory in the market right now. In a statement they said:

The weather is warm and that's when most people want to move, so the demand is greater. Some landlords are waiting out the eviction moratorium to put places up for rent. Some landlords have seen their properties go up in value, and rather than rent them out, it's more profitable to sell. Some landlords have increased security deposits or put up tighter requirements for applicants. They don't want to get stuck with a tenant who will abuse the eviction moratorium. There's no punishment for tenants who commit perjury on the CDC declaration and at least one court commissioner has pushed for tenants to commit perjury. The lopsided nature of the moratorium has some landlords being overly cautious. For smaller landlords, this is their source of income. This is their retirement.”
A For Rent sign is shown outside of a property in San Francisco, Sunday, June 21, 2020. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

“Some of the rental units in multi-unit apartment buildings still have inventory. But as far as single-family homes, condominiums, townhouses, those are pretty quick to go,” said Cefalu.

Until things open up, Jesko says she will have to make the drive to Milwaukee from her cabin during the week and stay with friends and family.

“We’ll have to wait it out,” said Jesko.

Cefalu says if you are struggling to find a place, a good time to check is at the end of the month. That is when people usually give notice to their landlords that they are moving out.

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