The lack of truly affordable housing for homeless families has been brought to the forefront as real estate and rent prices have soared for the last several years.

This April and May, a difficult time financially for prospective renters across the U.S., was particularly challenging in Madison. A recent article in the Cap Times revealed that the rise in housing prices was greater in Madison than in any of the other biggest housing markets in the nation.

As a result, people who are staying in shelters, on the streets or with other families but seeking a more permanent place are at a loss. The problem, as Madison Metropolitan School District homeless resource teacher Jani Koester explained, is not simply a lack of affordable housing.

“There’s different levels of affordable housing, and in the middle is what’s most available in our community, but what we need is affordable housing for at the bottom,” Koester said.

Koester also pointed out a different problem some homeless families are facing: “There are just some disparities within our own community about who’s offering housing and how (families) can access it,” she explained. “When you have one apartment that’s available and 15 people apply for that apartment, landlords really can be choosy about who they put into that apartment. And race and income have a big part in who they choose.”

When looking on, a popular site to find apartments, condos and houses, only 15 apartment units for rent under $600 a month were available in the greater Madison area.

While Koester explained that many homeless adults work multiple jobs in order to provide for their families, the average one-bedroom Madison apartment rent of over $1,000 would still be far out of reach for many. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, someone would need to work a full-time job paying a minimum of $21/hour to afford such an apartment.

As the number of homeless Madisonians increases, the question of housing will only become more pressing, but solutions are not out of reach.

In recent years, there have been new apartments built around Madison. Most, like The Standard at 1894 East Washington Ave., are exorbitantly priced (The Standard’s rent for a one-bedroom runs at nearly $2,000 a month), well out of the range for families with low income. However, Koester sees a possible usage for these newly built properties. She explained that while the building would primarily be at the originally listed prices, one or two floors could be dedicated to housing that is extremely affordable.

Many of these luxury-type apartment buildings are going up around the city, so one or two floors across multiple buildings could make a difference in getting some families off the streets and into safe, permanent locations.

In addition to dedicating certain parts of condo buildings to affordable housing, there are other resources for finding accessible housing and other services in the Madison area. Programs like Briarpatch Youth Services, The Road Home and Porchlight, Inc. provide a myriad of services to homeless youth and their families such as helping them find shelter, food, transportation, employment services and counseling.

With the combination of potential new housing options and many services for local families, there is hope for the people in Madison seeking shelter, Koester said. Better, more financially accessible housing would be a massive step in the right direction.

Koester puts it plainly: “Housing is what’s going to alleviate homelessness.”

This article was written as part of the Youth Press Corps 2023 journalism camp.