MCKELVEY: U.Va. must address expensive Charlottesville housing market

The University needs to offer more and better on-Grounds housing to students

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Although not all students live off-Grounds, there is a significant lack of appealing University housing options for students.

The Cavalier Daily staff | Cavalier Daily

The price of off-Grounds housing in Charlottesville is a large concern for students and Charlottesville residents alike. In fact, Charlottesville has one of the most expensive rental markets in Virginia, leading many to believe that the City is in the midst of its own housing crisis. Affordable housing in Charlottesville has become so scarce that there are nearly 1,600 people on waiting lists for rental assistance programs. This shortage makes it especially difficult for low-wage employees in the City to find cost-effective housing. While the City is able to intervene and help those in need of housing, the University must realize the impact of student housing on Charlottesville’s lack of affordable housing and take action. 

City officials are actively working to remedy this crisis and there have been some positive developments. The Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission will soon receive a $100,000 grant to assess how to meet Charlottesville’s specific housing needs. These funds will help in the process to build an adequate amount of housing for low-income families in the area. 

However, the Charlottesville area is still currently in need of about 3,000 housing units, the surrounding region requires around 11,000 housing options. Additionally, some estimates indicate that Charlottesville and the surrounding region will need 14,000 additional housing units by 2040. 

A lot of the difficulty in finding low-income housing stems from the influence that students have on the Charlottesville housing market. Neighborhoods that were once convenient for low-income families, such as Venable, have seen an increase in student housing in the recent past. Students who live in areas such as these subdivide the apartments which allows them to out-bid low-income families. As a result, many low-income families can no longer afford to live in these areas. In fact, Laura Goldblatt, a postdoctoral fellow in the global studies department, said that the University is a contributes to low-income housing instability and that there is insufficient on-Grounds housing for students.

Additionally, new housing complexes in Charlottesville cater to student needs, rather than the needs of those who are having difficulty finding affordable housing. Luxury housing such the Flats and the Standard offer no affordable housing units and take up space that could otherwise potentially serve the housing needs of many low-wage employees that work at the University or surrounding businesses. 

Although not all students live off-Grounds, there is a significant lack of appealing University housing options for students. The 61 percent of students that live off-Grounds is indicative of the undesirability of the housing options that the University provides. Many University housing options do not offer many of the amenities that make off-Grounds housing options more appealing. For example, many of the University housing options that offer single bedrooms require applications, such as the Lawn, the International Residential College and Brown Residential College. Single room University housing options that do not require an application, such as Copeley and Faulkner, are a thirty minute walk from Central Grounds. Alternatively, off-Grounds options feature more flexibility regarding both rooming situations and proximity to Central Grounds. 

Even though many may find off-Grounds options to be a better choice, University housing rates can still range between $6,280 and $7,580 for a nine month lease. Many comparable off-Grounds options have a similar or less expensive monthly rent, which may drive more students to dismiss University housing. Perhaps a larger and more practical selection of on-Grounds housing could help create more available housing for non-student, Charlottesville residents.

The University's new student apartments on Brandon Avenue opening in the fall of 2019 are a good step in the right direction. The complex is only about an 11-minute walk to Central Grounds and have single rooms with full-sized beds, which is extremely appealing to students who want the privacy of their own room while still living in close proximity to classes. 

The University has a major impact on the well-being of the greater Charlottesville area. Thus, it has a responsibility to make Charlottesville a better place to live for both its students and employees alike. As the City of Charlottesville continues to tackle this issue, the University must actively work to reduce their impact on the crisis. As the largest employer in the City and surrounding counties, the University has the power to do more to make Charlottesville more accessible for its low-income population. Both Charlottesville residents and students may struggle to find housing in such an expensive market, and providing more convenient University housing options may work to both relieve pressure on the housing market and ease the stressful housing search process. 

Victoria McKelvey is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at opinion@cavalierdaily.com.

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