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UNC on-campus housing costs continue to rise each year

Hinton-James entrance students walking
Students enter Hinton James Residence Hall on Sept. 20, 2023. Photo Courtesy of Matt Bertram/Carolina Housing.

With 46 residence halls and apartments across campus, the University houses over 8,500 undergraduate and graduate students each year. Residence halls have increased in price over the years, largely due to maintenance, operating and utility costs.

Here is everything you need to know about the price of living on UNC's campus. 

Housing costs 

The price of a double occupancy room has increased by $490 since the 2021-22 academic year. For the 2023-24 year, a double occupancy room costs $7,366. 

Despite a rise in price, this amount is less than much off-campus housing. According to the Carolina Housing website, the annual cost of living off-campus averages from $8,712 to over $19,000. Carolina Housing requires students to sign a nine-month lease, compared to the traditional 12-month off-campus contract.

Allan Blattner, executive director of Carolina Housing, said it is the University’s responsibility to find ways to provide affordable housing to as many students as possible. 

“We have rates that pay attention to affordability, but also allow us to do those things that are still important to students in terms of the building renovations and in terms of making sure we have adequate staff to provide the right level of support,” he said. 

Blattner said keeping residence halls as “modern as possible” contributes to price increases. 

For example, Old East is the University’s first residence hall and building, constructed in 1793. But other residence halls – including Avery, Parker and Teague residence halls on mid-campus – were constructed in 1958 or later. 

Since many of the University’s residence halls are older, Blattner said a variety of resources are needed to keep them up-to-date, including replacing elevators and air conditioning units. In addition to maintenance, utility costs and staffing expenses like hiring resident advisers account for a large part of the budget. 

“We have to make a budget and set a rate that allows us to make sure we can pay our bills and continue to operate,” he said.

Rising costs and implications 

The pandemic has also contributed to the increased cost of housing off campus, which has created challenges in maintaining low-cost housing for students

Similar post-pandemic price increases happened on campus. Blattner said that, before the pandemic, the University did not raise costs more than two percent per year. Since 2021, he said housing costs have increased by three to five percent annually.

“That has to do with the same inflation that's affecting all of us,” he said “All of our bills went up — ordering light bulbs and ordering mattresses — we've seen 20 percent increases.” 

Emily Holt, affordable housing manager for the Town of Chapel Hill, said development costs have increased substantially since the pandemic. 

“If you’re lucky you saw a 30 percent increase — I think there were people who saw well over a 50 percent increase,” she said.

Despite the rising costs of development, Blattner said housing operations try not to raise costs more than five percent each year. 

“We try and make sure that the rate we propose is responsible in terms of covering those expenses, but we’re not padding the rate to cover things that aren’t critically important,” he said. 

Differing costs across UNC System 

Blattner said each campus in the UNC System operates at different rates depending on its housing market. Since Chapel Hill has one of the more “expensive housing markets,” there is variability in costs, he said. 

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The price of labor, materials and what renovations each campus decides to implement contribute to the variability in housing costs across the UNC System, Blattner said. He said the Board of Governors approves a housing budget for the System each year, but that the University is mindful of how much they can increase costs for students. 

Next steps 

Although UNC provides housing at lower costs than most off-campus apartments, not all students are guaranteed on-campus housing. 

For fall 2023, approximately 600 students were on the waitlist for on-campus housing, but all of these students either received a room assignment or self-canceled their contract, UNC Media Relations in an email statement. Media Relations also said Carolina Housing usually incurs a waitlist in November that resolves itself by late spring.

Corey Liles, planning manager for the Town of Chapel Hill, said new construction is dependent on a variety of factors. 

“As the limited land supply becomes more developed, the obvious places to build more housing becomes scarcer,” he said.

Despite the demand for housing, Blattner said there are no plans to create more residence halls right now. 

“We have to carefully make sure that we don’t overbuild in a way that is to students’ detriment,” he said. “Right now we feel although this year we were tight, we’ve got about the right number of beds.”

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