WARTEL: Oppose Jaffray Woodriff’s vision for Charlottesville

The University’s biggest benefactor is attempting to remake Charlottesville in his image

op-walsh-wartel

Jaffray Woodriff, leader of the Quantitative Foundation and CEO of Quantitative Investment Management, is a graduate of the University.

Riley Walsh | Cavalier Daily

In the days before the University formally revealed its $120 million School of Data Science, Jim Ryan promised an announcement that would transform the way the University could serve the “commonwealth, nation and world.” While I don’t intend to relitigate the particular wastefulness of this donation, something covered in a separate article, there was a notable absence in who would be impacted — Charlottesville. In fact, the consequences of the donor’s presence in Charlottesville is glossed over in this particular news. However, drawing from a recent article, and other actions, the presence of billionaire hedge-fund manager Jaffray Woodriff in Charlottesville should worry the community immensely.  

Woodriff isn’t shy about his intentions to turn Charlottesville into a tech hub. His donation to the University is something he’s been explicit about being a ploy to get more tech entrepreneurs recruited into one of his other ventures, a office building in downtown Charlottesville called CODE  or the Center of Developing Entrepreneurs. This opportunistic use of money tracks with his previous donations, such as a $12 million donation for a squash facility, a sport he has a personal interest in. Given that he generally invests a massive amount of money into things that also benefit him, it’s hard to look at his projects as anything but an attempt to rebuild Charlottesville in his own vision. 

This vision has already meant the destruction of local institutions such as the downtown ice rink, a music venue known for rap and metal concerts, as well as Escafe, a community space for Charlottesville’s LGBTQ community. This shouldn’t be surprising. Because billionaire’s extreme wealth gives them the power to flout local democracy, oftentimes the actions they take alter communities purely for profit. Woodriff replacing important community spaces is just a preface to even broader, more devastating remodeling.

The impact of Woodriff’s goal to build a pipeline of the University’s students to Charlottesville entrepreneurs would be a dramatic transformation of the City. Already Charlottesville faces a housing crisis that threatens to further displace working-class communities. Woodriff wants to reproduce a Charlottesville full of a variety of Jaffray Woodriffs, a goal that has been described aptly as a threat. One only has to look at how other cities have fared after massive tech “booms” to see what Woodriff’s vision would mean. The crucial question that has to be asked when these booms happen is “who’s benefiting?” 

Already many Charlottesville residents are rent burdened, meaning they pay between 30 percent to 50 percent of their income towards rent. A so-called tech boom would only benefit the wealthiest residents, or those who own homes. If Woodriff gets his vision of Charlottesville, it could become essentially a gated community, where only wealthy homeowners can live here. That would mean not just the destruction of community centers in the city but also a increase in displacement that pushed more and more people into Albemarle County. It’s not hard to see how Charlottesville could become a dystopian city of wealthy residents where all the working-class and poor workers live on the outer edge in Albemarle and only come into the city to do work for the wealthy residents. This is not a future that we should accept.

It’s crucial now to be pushing for an increased effort from the city and the University to keep housing affordable. Already groups like the Charlottesville Low-Income Housing Coalition have fought for and won greater investment from the city for affordable housing. Additionally, candidates for city council like Michael Payne have been on the frontlines organizing affordable housing and have important ideas for long term sustainability of the City. There are even actions that the Hinton Avenue United Methodist Church in Belmont has taken to push for rezoning to allow more housing. These all show that residents have the power to push for housing policy in Charlottesville that works for working-class people.

The University is also liable for the housing crisis and should be pushed to be part of the solution. For decades, the lack of student housing has contributed to displacement of Charlottesville residents, allowing luxury apartment buildings to pop up without any care for the people of Charlottesville. Considering that U.Va. is accepting the donation for a school meant to be a pipeline for Woodriff, it would be unacceptable for the University to not take considerable financial actions to stem the costs of gentrification in Charlottesville.

Jake Wartel is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at opinion@cavalierdaily.com

related stories