The Cavalier Daily
Serving the University Community Since 1890

BRUNMAN: PILOT will steer us in the right direction as a community

As Charlottesville continues to struggle with an affordable housing crisis, the University has a responsibility to respond and repay its community.

<p>In short, the University can transform itself from a mere shareholder in the community to an active stakeholder in the Charlottesville environment. &nbsp;</p>

In short, the University can transform itself from a mere shareholder in the community to an active stakeholder in the Charlottesville environment.  

As the Charlottesville City Council elections approach, Council member Michael Payne and City Council candidate Natalie Oschrin have endorsed a PILOT Program for the University. The PILOT Program –– which stands for Payment in Lieu of Taxes — calls for the University to pay at least $10 million annually to the City of Charlottesville in funds that would be directed towards affordable housing and public school projects. The University’s Student Council voted 22-1-1 in favor of the PILOT program last February, which Payne initially proposed. With city support apparent, with student action evident and with a proposal in place — the University should act now to initiate a PILOT program.

University President Jim Ryan’s Great and Good plan pledges to be a “strong partner and a good neighbor” to our Charlottesville family, yet when it comes to addressing the pernicious consequences our presence has, the University is all too often nowhere to be found. There are times when we act as one community, and then there are times when the University tries to disconnect itself from the city it was built in — having made this commitment to Charlottesville, we have a responsibility as an institution to follow through.

A prime example of an issue that the University’s presence has only exacerbated is the ongoing affordable housing crisis in Charlottesville. Charlottesville housing prices have risen 9.3 percent in the last year alone, with even heavier harm for historically marginalized communities — for Black residents, for example, the average price of a home is now almost 13 times their average annual income. The University’s impact on this problem is obvious — their purchasing of land inflates its price and lessens the supply of land left for affordable housing. Additionally, the University does not have to pay property taxes on this land, which would amount to roughly $15 million a year — meaning that the University reaps the benefits of this city while others pay the costs. 

By voluntarily engaging in a program of giving back to Charlottesville and providing funds for initiatives that address the housing and education crises, the University can provide positive aid to redress the negative effects of its actions. In short, it can transform itself from a mere shareholder in the community to an active stakeholder in the Charlottesville environment. 

Such action would not be without precedent. Harvard has been engaged in a PILOT program since 2012, and Yale will be increasing their funding for New Haven, Conn. to $23 million by 2027. Nor would it be majorly impactful to the University’s overall budget — the $10 million proposed makes up less than 0.2 percent of the 2023-24 budget. But where it would mean limited sacrifice for the University, it would engender immense benefit for Charlottesville, where just $7.3 million has been allocated for affordable housing in 2023. 

Critics will argue, not without evidence, that the University’s mere presence already benefits Charlottesville. And yes, among other things, employment rises and the service industries get a boom from the University’s presence — my father has learned this year that the hunt for a hotel room on Family Weekend is real. But many of those who benefit from these services — those who own the hotels or run the businesses — are not the same people who are hurt by the University’s actions here. 

Arguably, the allocation of wealth from the University’s presence further exacerbates the wealth divide in Charlottesville.  Those already rich profit, but those individuals who have been historically disenfranchised by the University's exclusionary attitudes and by the city’s unjust housing policies do not. Additionally, true reciprocity is not made up of these unintentional positive externalities — it is made up of focused, purposive action. The fact that the University happens to have some beneficial effects on Charlottesville is not enough to satisfy its commitment to be a good neighbor to this community nor to offset our impacts on this city.

Though the University may already be engaged in some efforts toward contributing to affordable housing, these programs largely center around students here and treat Charlottesville residents as an afterthought. But the PILOT program would change this reality. In fact, it would likely even have a positive effect on current and future University students — the funding for affordable housing would help present students as they look for off-Grounds housing, and the funding for public schools would improve the education of Charlottesville residents who may become future University students. With PILOT, we would ensure both abundant aid to Charlottesville residents, and sufficient supplement for any University students currently being left behind. 

The University is often labeled a “Public Ivy," and with good reason. But with our success comes responsibility — a responsibility that Harvard and Yale have realized, and which it is now time that we do too. We have a duty to go beyond just our presence and to fulfill that promise of the Great and Good plan — to be a partner, a neighbor and a steward in Charlottesville. The PILOT program will enable us to act in accordance with the University's commitment to being an agent for good in the Charlottesville community. After all, a neighbor that is great and good would never turn a blind eye to their community’s struggles.

Wylie Brunman is a Viewpoint Writer who writes about Politics. He is also a member of Student Council. His views do not represent Student Council or The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at


Latest Podcast

From her love of Taylor Swift to a late-night Yik Yak post, Olivia Beam describes how Swifties at U.Va. was born. In this week's episode, Olivia details the thin line Swifties at U.Va. successfully walk to share their love of Taylor Swift while also fostering an inclusive and welcoming community.