A lifeless surface offered as a natural bounty.

A farcical scene found behind a small-town mixed-use apartment. Bordering the Wisconsin River, this untended plot appeared no stranger to abandonment. Cars of apartment visitors were parked outside of the scene, but the only recent signs of use this “beach” showed was a small brush and refuse pile. The complete absence of upkeep and appeal perfectly explained the forsaken plot, but gave no excuse for elevating it to a beach, private or otherwise.

To me, this scene characterizes the anti-consumer practices of landlords and anti-buyer trends of the larger realty market that have plagued the area since COVID. Since the pandemic began, low housing availability and outsized demand throughout the country pushed housing prices beyond affordability long before high interest rates and high inflation drove prices further:

This was especially true for Dane County, an area with considerable appeal for its general opportunities in science and technology, cultural offerings, liberal inclination, and proximity to Chicago and Milwaukee. Since the pandemic, tactics such as making offers without seeing the property, making excess down payments or offers above the asking price, forgoing inspections, repairs, and other contingencies, or even the indignity of writing “love letters” to compliment the seller’s home became commonplace and expected:

These practices have somewhat cooled in the area, but current prices are expected to form a new baseline rather than continue to fall. This added and unnecessary difficulty for any prospective home buyer also affects local renters, who are currently facing an average rental price in the mid $1,400 range. In my personal experience renting within Dane County, there isn’t a meaningful price drop for single-bedroom, low square-footage, poor amenity rentals.

The Madison community understandably rallies behind increased housing development to ease buying and rental costs, but the mass of soulless and ugly apartment complexes I’ve seen spread across the Madison area seem to do nothing to offset prices. If anything, they seem to induce demand for more people to seek property in the area, further-increasing housing costs. Whether or not that’s the case, it’s an absolute fact that each new development destroys natural habitat for decades. My work Homeless was created in response to a local prairie destroyed for a hideous apartment complex.

Worst of all, those seeking the benefits of Dane County without its absurd housing costs don’t find much refuge in nearby counties, where this photo was taken. Ultimately, this unsustainable cycle of housing priced as a luxury must come to an end, but landlords and realtors won’t do anything to lessen their takeaway. If anything, they’ll continue to advocate property value far beyond its actual worth, extract far more than they’re owed, and push those struggling for a home further from that dream.

Mamiya C330 Professional S
Mamiya-Sekor 55mm f/4.5
Ilford Delta – ISO 100 – 6×6