APP Spotlight: Affordable Housing for UVa Workers

With all of the commotion surrounding the Living Wage Campaign at UVa, I think it is just the right moment to discuss my Advanced Policy Project with the Charlottesville Coalition for Housing Opportunity (CHO) and University and Community for Racial Equality (UCARE).

I have been tasked to look into the Charlottesville rental market, and to find out how the University and City of Charlottesville can work together to make more affordable housing options available for low-income Charlottesville residents and UVA workers, because the majority of renters in Charlottesville pay too large a percentage of their income on housing.

The US Department of Housing and Urban Development recommends that a person, or family, pay no more than 30 percent of their income on housing. According to the US Census, 54.9 percent of renters in the City of Charlottesville are cost-burdened, and of those people, 77 percent pay more than 35 percent of their income.

CHO cites that in order to afford median rent in Charlottesville, a person or family must make $30,000 a year or around $14 per hour. But my rent, of $1,210 a month (split between me and my roommate) times 12 months, equals about half of that income.

So why are Charlottesville residents so cost-burdened?

The biggest reason is that the student population takes up a large percentage of the private rental market. During the 2010-2011 school year, roughly 30 percent of students lived in dorms. If students occupy rental units at an average of 2.5 students per unit, then there are 4,678 units, or 45 percent of rental units left for residents of Charlottesville to rent. Residents must compete with each other for these remaining units, and with students for the units closest to grounds.

In addition to taking up the majority of the market, students can be charged differently than single families. My rent, $1,210 for a two-bedroom apartment, is around 50 percent of a single family’s income if they make $30,000 a year. Landlords do this because they know that students can split the cost with roommates and have additional income from parents or grants.

But imagine a situation where a family would rent the same unit that students would. In a four-bedroom house, each student can conceivably pay around $700 per month in rent, or $2,800 for the entire unit. This rent would be astronomical for a single family, and is a primary reason landlords prefer to rent to students.

But why should UVA care?

A better Charlottesville means a better UVA. If a large percentage of the Charlottesville population is cost-burdened, then UVA also notices. It’s not hard to find people struggling to make ends meet in Charlottesville.

But more than this, the number of Charlottesville commuters is enormous. In 2000, more than 20,000 people commuted to the city to work. UVA spends a large percentage of its budget on parking and transportation, continually expands its parking lots and garages, and increases the supply of bus routes in order to accommodate the many workers that commute.

Hospital workers who do not live in Charlottesville drive from Albemarle, Fluvanna, Louisa and Greene Counties to park in the University Hall parking lots, and then take a shuttle to the parking lot. Parking and catching the bus can add up to 40 minutes to a person’s commute. If these workers lived in Charlottesville, because they could afford to, they could catch the Charlottesville Area Transportation bus and ride it directly to the hospital in less than 20 minutes.

Housing encompasses more elements of a person’s life than just being a physical place to eat and sleep. Housing policy is a point of struggle, but it can also be a huge opportunity to strengthen relations between the University and Charlottesville Community. There are many benefits to be gained from living in diverse communities. The hostility between town and gown can be minimized if all persons in Charlottesville could live together, in close proximity, and work together to solve residents’ housing burden.

Post by Kristen Sweaney (Acc. ’12)

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