Rent Too High in Charlottesville

A new study by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, “Rental Housing for America’s Poor Families: Farther Out of Reach Than Ever,” says that somebody earning minimum wage in Charlottesville would have to work 104 hours to be housed comfortably. Working full-time, $13.33/hour is the required income level to do so. 48% of the renting population in Charlottesville are therefore living in homes that are priced beyond the standard 30% of the household income. “Housed comfortably,” though subjective, means a simple two-bedroom rental unit for the purpose of this report. Elizabeth Nelson has the story in today’s Daily Progress.

26 thoughts on “Rent Too High in Charlottesville”

  1. Unless there’s a whole bunch of unfilled apartments somewhere that I don’t know about, you can’t really call the rental rates "too high." Sure, it’s more than some can afford, and it makes things a bit tight for others (myself included), but prices are set at the level that the market will bear. If the rates were really "too high" there would be a fairly large exodus of renters from the area, as folks went to surrounding localities in search of cheaper housing, at which point, presumably, new apartment construction would slow down and the prices of existing apartments would come down.

  2. I think you are forgetting that the supply of rental units has been deliberately limited by local governments that control how land is used. There would be a greater supply of rental units and more competition for renters (lower rents) if the city and county governments allowed enough land to be zoned for apartments and duplexes. In 1991 the city changed the zoning on over 5,000 properties from zoning that would allow duplexes and apartments to zoning that allowed only single-family homes.

    Many renters cannot move and must pay higher rents because they also work here and can’t or don’t want to find jobs elsewhere. Even so, many renters are moving further into rural areas as they look for a better deal. A good friend of mine just moved another 20 miles out because he couldn’t afford anything decent closer in to Charlottesville.

  3. Why is this the case when we have a city council that has been, for the most part, pro-living wage and supportive of the low-income community? Is all that talk just for show? Why don’t they change the zoning laws to accomodate more renters?

  4. Unless there’s a whole bunch of unfilled apartments somewhere that I don’t know about, you can’t really call the rental rates “too high.”

    From a purely supply-and-demand perspective, you’re quite right. But there are obviously considerations beyond that. It could also be argued that AZT and other anti-AIDS/HIV drugs are also priced appropriately, even though there’s a global movement to lower the cost, particularly for third-world countries. Pharmaceutical companies say that obviously the price is just fine, because business is great. Economically, they’re right. Practically, of course, it’s no secret that they’re dead wrong.

  5. How many primary earners for families earn minimum wage, anyway? Is every high school kid who bags groceries at Kroger’s entitled to enough money to afford a two-bedroom apartment? Has anyone involved in this study ever heard of roommates, of two-income families, of getting a little education if you want to get ahead in life?

    I started my first job making $3.35 an hour; I guess according to the living wage folks I was exploited and oppressed. Three diplomas later I’m doing a little better for myself, because I had the motivation to better my position in life and didn’t expect someone else to take responsibility for me or pay me more than my labor was worth.

    – Bruce

  6. Has anyone involved in this study ever heard of roommates, of two-income families…?

    2 * 5.15 = 10.30
    10.30 < 13.33
    I started my first job making $3.35 an hour; I guess according to the living wage folks I was exploited and oppressed. Three diplomas later I’m doing a little better for myself, because I had the motivation to better my position in life and didn’t expect someone else to take responsibility for me or pay me more than my labor was worth.

    I wonder if your labor was actually worth $3.35, or if you were simply paid that because it was the minimum amount that you could be paid per hour from 1981 – 1989. I must also wonder how well you would have done in life if your pay at that time had been set determined by pure economic force, rather than by government policy?

    By the way, in 1981, $3.35 was worth $5.78 in today’s dollars, or 12% more than the current minimum wage.

  7. A tiny one bedroom apartment in boston goes for about $2000/mo

    At $5.15, thats about 100 hours a week. Certainly an impossible task.

    I just sold my house in charlottesville, my "cost of living" (read: bills) totalled about $2000/mo. I made way more than what you quote as a living wage, and I was solving financial problems by living on white bread and water. Enjoy your waterless rent-rape boys… I’m not playing anymore. I’m gonna take my little red wagon and go home.

    What has been said in this thread is true, when rent and real estate prices are too high, the actual economy shifts, and the prices fall. The economy and the "markets" do NOT equate, and it takes time for one to fall into place behind the other. Just wait, your real estate taxes are about to go down :)


  8. that’s a pretty cville-centric way of looking at it. this is a national study.

    i can tell you for certain when i moved here i was slapped with a serious case of sticker shock. i came from a metro area where it was WAY easier to find a good job and i paid less in rent to live in a good part of town than i pay to live skirting the industrial area here.

    i don’t have the knowledge to attempt an explanation, but exodus or not, the rent here is very steep. i’d contest that there’s just nowhere to go.. if you work in cville, but don’t want to pay cville rent, where exactly do you go that is practical? it’s an awkward size of town, too small to provide many jobs that justify a commute. spinning your wheels is the easy thing to do here.

    i think it would be nice to see charlottesville grow up instead of out… it’s already sprawling.

  9. Cities and counties all over the country use zoning and other land use controls to try and limit or reduce the amount of rental housing for one main reason: renters cost too much. They usually pay less in taxes than the amount of money that is spent by the government on services, particularly schools. A renter may live in a small unit that doesn’t generate much property tax and they may also have children each of which cost $12,000.00 annually to educate. An owner will probably pay much higher taxes and they may not even send their children to public schools.

    They also may not do a lot of shopping or eating out so they don’t produce much sales tax revenue. Concern over the bottom line is part of the reason that Charlottesville has tried to reduce the number of renters.

    There are also the fact that UVa is growing and more and more students are living in the city. The ratio of renters to owners in Charlottesville has changed dramatically over the years. Many single family homes in neighborhoods all over town have been turned into student rentals. Problems with students lifestyles angered many and the City Council decided that "neighborhood preservation" (for homeowners) had to be a priority. Working renters and student renters are really part of the same marketplace. When the City Council tried to reduce the conversion rate of single family homes to rental units they helped drive up all rents, not just the students.

  10. Rent here is a bit too high. Do you know how embarassing it is to be married but still have to rely on a roommate to cover rent and utilities? We also share a car so when looking for a new place we have to see if its close to the bus line. There aren’t many nice inexpensive places that are. Sure, we could live in a dump but I’m not willing to live in a place that looks like its falling apart. And friends in the mortage biz keep telling me that we could buy a house and pay less.

    Now, we know that our screwups in our yuoung adulthood haven’t helped – credit cards in college and the like, but we both make a little over $10/hr and we’re struggling. And when I’ve lived in a place for five years, is it really fair to increase the rent $1000 (it was a 5 bedroom place) when absolutely NO improvements or general maintenace was done? The gutters were never cleaned, trees were resting on the roof, bamboo took over the backyard – we killed what we could but every morning there was more. When the upstairs showers’ internal piping deteriorated and came crashing down into a bedroom, is it fair to ask what we did? Ask the plumber! He’s the one who said the plastic piping shouldn’t have been used!

    Sorry, got a little carried away there. Back to the subject at hand. Hubby and I both really like C-ville and we can’t complain about our jobs too much. But, if prices keeps increasing as they have and wages stay relatively the same, we’ll be packing up and moving. Which would leave you with more water. ;)

  11. By the standards used in this report, I am not housed comfortably *and* I can’t afford my rent (more than 30% of my income).

    I didn’t know I was in such bad shape!

  12. >> And friends in the mortage biz keep telling me

    >> that we could buy a house and pay less.

    so what’s preventing you from buying? be one of the folks that sticks around and maybe you’ll get a good deal when real estate texes drop. enough other folks will leave so you’ll still have water.

  13. It’s not just rent – real estate in general is priced much higher than what they "should" be. In fact, I find everything is more expensive in Cville.

    In many other areas of the country with higher real estate/rental costs, salaries are often higher. The fact is that many companies are in Cville for the perceived "wonderfulness" of living here, coupled with the relatively cheap labor. They think that’s it’s so great here that people will work for less.

    Unfourtunately, that seems to be 100% accurate. I consider myself to have a pretty good job, and our household income is SUPPOSEDLY well above the county median. Still, we found it very difficult to pay $1100+ per month rents for a three bedroom apt. in a "nice" neighborhood, and even harder to find an affordable house when we finally bought one.

    We were actually going to relocate before the job market went south.

    Additionally, everything seems a little more expensive in Cville than Richmond, Waynesboro, or Fredericksburg. Often, I find I pay a 5-10% premium over retail prices in Richmond for everything from groceries to computer games. I jokeingly call it the "Cville Tax."

    I suspect that a lot of the higher prices come from a lack of competition in many retail circles, as for many items there are only one or two sources. I’d a love a Home Depot to compete with Lowes. :)

    University students that live 10 to an apartment and share the rent also serves to drive up rental costs as well. There is no incentive for landlords to offer affordable housing when the market conditions dictate otherwise.

  14. It’s no coincidence that the county seems to limit development to over priced homes in "exclusive" subdivisions. Think about it – higher cost homes pay more property tax, and the property taxes are one of the staples of the county coffers.

    It almost seems that the County wants to drive lower income families out of the county. If they really cared, they could offer some tax-break incentive for a developer to develop some lower cost housing. I am not aware of any such program at this time.

    But lets be practical. Higher prices means more taxes you can collect. With "upper" class families, there are fewer needs that county needs to address, since crime, etc. is statistically lower with wealthier families. Or that’s the perception anyway. If you were a county official, which would you rather have – Forest Lakes or Garret Square?

  15. Good point. Traditionally, renters are not seen as having any equity in the community. They are often seen as transients who are not willing to make a long term investment in making the county a better place to live.

    We rented for the longest time, and I always felt a little looked down upon, even though my rent was more than many mortgages!

    Working Renters vs. Student Renters is almost an unfair battle, and the Working Renters are losing in this town. Those us us who didn’t split the rent 5 ways paid the price.

    Perhaps if landlords charged "per person" … but then again there is no incentive to do so when the current model works for them.

    As a side note – want a good example of how high real estate costs are? Just look at the homes owned by and the cars driven by realtors. It’s unreal. The realtors, of coruse, are partly to blame. They are like stock analysts who "talk up" the market. I’ve seen it.

    A realtor in Forest Lakes told me that I should be willing to pay a mortgage of any amount in this town, because once I was "IN" I was "IN" and could look forward to ripping off the next guy with my home when I sell. What a winderful incentive to live here, eh?

  16. What’s preventing people from buying is that the homes for purchase suffer from the same problem as the rent. A detaached, single family home in most any subdivision will run you $200,000 or more. Even many of the duplexes are going for $150,000+ (some over $200k, believe it or not, for a duplex!)

    Most people need 20% down. This equates to a comfy $30,000+ down payment on your new duplex.

    Do the math – if you made $20 an hour in your household, how much could you save each month towards your house? $100? $200? Let say you were able to pay CVille rents and still save $400 a month. It would take over 6 years to save the money.

    But wait – there’s more. In these six years, the $150,000 home you were saving for is now $190,000! Oops … I guess just a few more years.

    Some people can get FHA and VA loans that help a lot. Some can’t. The fact of the matter is that real estate has gone up in price SO MUCH around here, that for many families it’s impossible to save money for a house.

    It’s great once you own one, because you’re "IN" – but let’s face it, another reason landlords can charge so much for rent is that many familes with "good" incomes simply can’t buy a house in this area, and need somewhere to live. Paying the mortgage is not the only issue, it closing and the down payment.

    A new development of town homes in Cville went up about a year ago, starting at $140,000 each. In just two or three months, they were clocking in at $170,000. This is beyond many people’s ability to keep up.

  17. The same goes for college, every year the price goes up, there are students out there packing $200,000 worth of debt. You come out learning its better to be the university than the student. It’s sort of like the lottery, it teaches you not to be a sucker.

    As soon as I could get an FHA loan for a house, I bought one. Without that I would have had no chance. When I sold it, I sold it to someone else getting an FHA loan. Coincidence? I think not.

  18. "I’d a love a Home Depot to compete with Lowes. :)"

    I never thought I’d hear myself saying this, but I too would lovea Home Depot (or SOMETHING) to compete with Lowe’s. Have had some terrible experiences with their service! The only thing I can figure is they just don’t care!

  19. A friend of mine priced chain link fence at Lowe’s in Charlottesville and the one near Richmond (Short Pump ?). The cost was so much lower at the Richmond store that he bought the fencing there. He asked the clerk why the price was so much lower and the clerk told him it was because there was a Home Depot nearby.

    For service and a wide selection of hardware you can’t beat Martin Hardware on Preston Avenue. Unlike Lowe’s you can buy one washer or bolt or whatever instead of a package of five. The clerks are also pretty knowledgable and quick to help.

  20. OK – we’re a little off topic, but I’ll add another example – I bought some software at a local shop and asked the cashier why it was $10 more in Charlottesville than in Richmond. His answer: "Where else are you going to buy it around here?"

    To all those who scream at us when we shop in Richmond and Fredericksburg that should "shop locally" I say this – I’d LOVE to. Give me some variety and some choices and I promise to do just that.

  21. So the logic is that as long as a family can scrape up the cash and make the payment, it’s not too high? In this job market it’s not quite so easy for people to just pack up and leave town, even when they want to.

    I think the real reason that rents are so high is mainly the University. The large numbers of students who live off campus splt rents among several people, raising the overall threshhold for that landlords can charge. Unfourtunately, this also raise the rents of the people who live in Cville.

    It amazes me that real estate can be so high and salaries so low. I have worked for four companies in Charlottesville, and all but my current employer paid considerably lower than the national average for my trade, and it was not just me either. Fourtunately, I was able to find a job that paid pretty fairly, but even then our first house was difficult. Thanks to our VA loan, we were able to get in with a low down payment, otherwise it never would have happened.

    Normally, salaries reflect the cost of living. For some odd reason, that rule just does not apply in this town.

  22. Sure the sudents have a big impact on the market. They represent a significant part of the demand side of the equation. All one has to do is look at how high rents are close to UVa. Students also are frequently able to pay high rents. But lets say the supply of land zoned for duplexes and apartments was unlimited and landlords could turn any property into a multi-family unit. Competition for tenants, including students, would create lower rents. The local market for duplexes and apartments is not only unlimited it has been strangled by local elected officials responding to their homeowning constituents who don’t want any renters in their neighborhoods or poor kids in "their" schools. If you don’t believe it just go take a look at the tapes of the City Council public hearings on the R1-A downzoning. Because the government can’t stop people from renting out their property this strategy isn’t perfect. City Council and the Board of Supervisors can prevent property owners from building duplexes and apartments or converting single family units into multi-family units. The government cannot require that a particular house be owner occupied…yet. Converting a single family OWNER occupied home into a single family RENTAL unit is very lucrative in Charlottesville because of the demand, much of which comes from UVa students. From what I see around town it looks like the conversion of single family owner occupied homes to rental units is increasing.

    Here’s something I found on the Millenial Housing Commissions page:

    As noted in the Kemp Commission report, exclusionary zoning continues to limit housing.

    Exclusionary zoning, the practice of limiting entry into local housing markets by lower income and particular ethnic populations continues to be a barrier to housing affordability. This can be accomplished by requiring lower densities than the market would produce or even by outrightly prohibiting low-income housing such as apartment units. One frequently occurring practice is the prohibition on lower cost housing types, such as manufactured housing and modular housing. Some of the most notable exclusionary zoning problems are in the Boston and New York metropolitan areas, which are among the nationís least affordable markets.

  23. I made half the national average for my job. Employers know you aren’t going to be snatched up by another company across town. I already know everyone in cville who is even capable of hiring me. And they know it.

    The problem is charlottesville has plenty of money, but not enough know-how. We dont produce any viable goods or services. Overhead is lower here, so you’d think we could beat out big city companies, if we could just get GOOD AT SOMETHING. I’m sick of working for employers who rent their own homes and cant balance their checkbooks. Can we get a company that isnt micro-managed please? Pwetty pwese? I almost liked working for fake-investor-bilking-fronts better. Still no viable goods or services, but at least we had "smart" money behind it.

  24. What you want is largely dependant on your point of view, I guess. If you are a renter, then your angry that you can’t rent nice apartments or nice homes for a decent price.

    If your an owner, you don’t want transient renters in your neighborhood, as rental properties are usually no as well taken care of, decreasing the property values in your neighborhood.

    I was a renter, now an owner. And also it’s hipcritiacal, that’s exactly how I feel, as I spend a lot of money making my property better, while the rental home down the street looks horrible.

    What can we do?


    I am willing to bet that your mommy and daddy did!

    Maybe some people don’t have that luxury, and have to WORK to get ahead.

  26. Maybe City Council should step up to the plate, and pay their employees a little better than just trying to "keep up" with Greene County and other surrounding areas!

    It is an outrage that a City employe pays $ 450 a month for a family to have health care, on their horrible salary!


    They need to get their heads out of whole foods and realize that not everyone lives in their little fantasy world!

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