The Cavalier Daily
Serving the University Community Since 1890

City fights to keep local homeowners

(This is the first in a three part series about Charlottesville's efforts to attract middle-income residents.)

Charlottesville officials are worried that too many single-family homes are being converted into rental units for students, driving away middle-income residents who are a valuable asset to the city.

The past 10 years have shown a slight decline in owner-occupied homes in Charlottesville -- this despite an overall increase in the total housing units.

In an effort to keep its permanent residents, City Council has been trying to improve residential parking near the University and give residents other incentives to stay in the city.

The problem begins as single family homes in areas near Grounds get bought up quickly by landlords, who convert them into rental property for students, Charlottesville Vice Mayor Meredith Richards said.

"We have lost a lot of home ownership," Richards said.

Landlords who rent apartments to students can pay more than market value for available homes -- more than middle-income residents can pay. This creates a problem for the local real estate market, City Councilman David Toscano said.

The city is well aware of "the market pressure students exert on the cost of housing," Toscano said.

Now families tend to look elsewhere for homes, many moving into Albemarle County, he said.

"People are leaving because they couldn't find a house," Charlottesville Mayor Virginia Daugherty said.

In 1990, Charlottesville had 6,794 owner-occupied residential units -- 42 percent of the city's housing -- and 9,215 rental units, Charlottesville School's Assistant Superintendent Ron Hutchinson said.

By 1998, owner-occupied units dropped to 38 percent, said Satyendra Huja, Charlottesville director of strategic planning.

Over this eight year span, the total number of units increased only 9 percent. The number of rental units increased 17 percent and owner-occupied units dropped by 3 percent.

With the loss of single family homes, Charlottesville schools face problems.

"We're losing children out of our school system," Daugherty said.

Schools will see a demographic shift over time as a larger portion of the students come from lower income families, Toscano said.

The city has seen a steady 4 percent drop in school enrollment since 1987 and projects an 8 percent drop in the next 10 years, Hutchinson said.

But Richard Spurzem, member of the Blue Ridge Apartment Council Board of Landlords, said the drop in the number of owner-occupied homes is minor.

The problem is "not very significant," Spurzem said, saying there has been no mass exodus to the county.

But the city still is trying to make efforts to keep its residents here.

Council is trying to establish incentives to get residents to upgrade their home rather than move, Richards said. Council also wants to reconvert some rental units back to single family homes and make parking easier for city residents.

Residents at University Circle had difficulty finding parking at their homes because students would park there for class, Daugherty said.

"That's why we started the 24-hour permit parking," she said.

Council instituted 24-hour permit parking at U-Circle last month, and is considering including additional neighborhoods.

Spreading permit parking will be considered sometime in the next six months, Toscano said, in part due to the success at U-Circle.

"The residents love it," he said. "We haven't heard any complaints from students."

The Lewis Mountain Road neighborhood may be the next candidate for permit parking, he added.

Increasing University housing also has been suggested as a solution to Charlottesville's problem.

Spurzem said the University is not building its share of dorms, creating a market for additional apartments.

The Department of Neighborhood Planning and Development Services made recommendations to the city and the University in 1997 requesting more on-Grounds housing and for the University to take a more active roll in off-grounds housing.

Leonard Sandridge, executive vice president and chief financial officer, said the University has plans to build additional upper-class on-Grounds housing. Construction is slated to begin in two years.

Student Council College Rep. Justin C. Pfeiffer agreed more on-Grounds housing would help, but there has not been much communication from the city regarding housing or parking.

There has been "little interaction between city administration and University administration," Pfeiffer said.