In the past five years, apartment rent in Lawrence has increased an average of 9 percent, according to the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority.
At the same time, the cost to rent a standard, unrenovated double room in Kansas University's residence halls has skyrocketed nearly 34 percent - from $2,406 a year in 2002 to $3,224 this year.
And today, KU will ask the Kansas Board of Regents to approve another rent increase for student housing - this time, an additional 6 percent, effective next fall.
"We're still low cost," said KU housing director Diana Robertson. "When it comes to total cost, we're still below the national average."
But students may not notice how KU stacks up against its peers because they see local apartment complexes offering big discounts to get students into their unfilled units. KU remains in the lower third of Big 12 schools for room and board costs, and it is several hundred dollars below the average cost of all Midwest public schools.
However, in KU's report to the regents justifying a rate increase, KU said its occupancy rates this year are below historic levels, with several hundred beds going unused. According to KU's report, there are about 5 percent fewer students living on campus this year than last.
A cursory survey of apartment complex promotions shows managers and owners are offering a free month's rent, free DVD players and TVs, and even paying for certain utilities. Few complexes are at 100 percent occupancy.
And rents may only go lower - or vacancy rates both on and off campus may go up. Lawrence City Commission on Tuesday approved another 750-unit apartment complex just east of 31st and Iowa streets that would cater to students.
Robertson said an expanded marketing campaign was currently under way in hopes of boosting the number of students living on campus next year.
"We're still cheaper than living in an off-campus apartment," she said. "Especially when you consider what a person's time is worth for the cooking, cleaning and commuting you must do when you live off-campus."
The university is promoting its two-year fixed-rate contracts, and housing officials are traveling more often with admissions counselors to underscore to students the value of living on campus.
Not just rent
There are other costs that contribute to KU's need to increase housing rates.
Barbara Huppee, executive director of the housing authority, said that while rents have stayed fairly steady, utility costs have skyrocketed.
"No landlords pay for utilities anymore," Huppee said. "It's almost always the tenant's responsibility to pay for those bills."
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the price of natural gas has more than doubled in the past five years. And the price of electricity is up about 25 percent, according to the same statistics.
"We have to pay for all of our operations," Robertson said. "When prices go up, we have nowhere to turn other than students and their rates" to make up the higher costs.
Robertson said about a quarter of the department's budget already goes to utilities. Another 45 percent goes to personnel. Robertson said KU needs to keep rates up in order to meet inflationary adjustments to those costs.