Finding a roof to sleep under and paying tuition present the ultimate struggles for college students. Some University of Montana students are finding creative solutions to save money. The Missoula housing market is notoriously difficult to find housing and even harder to find an affordable rent.
Almost half of Missoula renters spent more than 30 percent of their income on housing, according to the annual housing report released by the Missoula Organization of Realtors. It reported that rent increased by an average of 2.7 percent in 2015.
Two February Craigslist ads advertised backyard tents with stoves for cheap rent. One of the advertisers who was renting a tarp for $200 said rent was too expensive in Missoula.
Nicholas Gilbert, a senior at the UM, lived in his van on the outskirts of campus to save money in 2011, his first year at school.
“It was like tailgating 24/7,” Gilbert said of living in the maroon and silver Chevy Conversion.
Though Gilbert saved money, it was difficult to live out of a van. It was hard to bring girls home, and the colder months of January and December left him freezing despite mountains of wool blankets, sleeping bags and a warm puppy to sleep with.
Living in the van was very public, Gilbert said. He would hear people talking about the van while he was sleeping, and at one point someone tried to break in, rattling the door handles.
There were some positives to van life. He performed better as a student because he spent most nights in the library until it closed and then walked back to his van to sleep.
Gilbert now lives in an apartment but said he misses the van. It takes more time to maintain and enjoy the luxuries of a home. He feels like he is wasting money because he spends so much time working that he almost lives out of the art building.
ASUM Off-Campus Renter Center Director Mary O’Malley, said it is shocking how cutthroat the Missoula housing market is, even with the sharp decline in the University’s enrollment. She said students only represent one third of the renting population in Missoula. When students apply for a place they compete against established adults with long rental histories and good credit.
“The vacancy rate would likely have to increase significantly to slow or reverse the rise in rental prices,” the Missoula Organization of Realtors Report says. The report said that the vacancy rate in 2015 is three percent lower than the national rate.
This tight housing market often leads to less than ideal roommate situations. O’Malley helps many students who stay too long in a bad situation for fear of not finding new housing.
Staying in a bad situation with a landlord or roommates is “terrible for the mental health of a student,” O’Malley said.
She suggests coming into the Renter Center before searching for a rental so students are aware of their renter rights.
“You can always get cheaper, but it comes at a cost,” she said.
Nico Matallana lived in a Knowles Hall study lounge for the last two weeks of his freshman year. He moved out of his dorm room after encountering roommate issues. He was bike touring home after school ended, and the empty study lounge cabinets fit all his bike gear perfectly.
He slept on the porch above the Oval, by the river and behind sheds in his sleeping bag. Matallana said he embraced living in the study lounge as a perfect transition from school to being on the road.
“Take these potential transition periods as an opportunity to explore a new lifestyle,” Matallana said.