Charlottesville Population Plummets

The census just released their 2004 population updates, and Charlottesville’s looking quite a bit smaller than it was a few years ago. In April 2000, the city had 40,099 people — by July of 2004, that dropped 8.7% of 36,605. The World Class City™’s loss of 3,494 souls may have fled outward — Albemarle County expanded by 5.4% in the same period, increasing from 84,186 to 88,726, an addition of 4,540 people. (3,494 ex-Charlottesvillians, 1,046 New Jersey refugees?) John Yellig’s got the skinny in the Progress.

The Census Bureau hasn’t updated their website just yet, but last year’s Charlottesville data can be found there. As always, the surrounding counties are growing, too — Greene, Louisa, Orange, Nelson, Madison and Nelson all expanded, some significantly.

With the home prices in C’ville having risen 88% between ’00 and ’04 (the median has gone from $116k to $218k), presumably it’s the lower and middle classes being driven outward, but Albemarle sales prices have shot up, too. Do we abandon Charlottesville to the free market, running the risk of becoming Virginia’s Detroit? Or do we take this as a sign that all is not well in our fair city and figure out what the solution is?

10 thoughts on “Charlottesville Population Plummets”

  1. I have to admit that I’m not particularly surprised by this. Hell, even I live out in the county now — I’m preparing to move my voter registration to my fiancee’s place, where we’ll probably live for at least the next year or so, out in the Southwest Mountains on 20 North, just outside of town. What I want to know, though, is who will be left in Charlottesville. Is this white flight? By virtue of the services provided, will C’ville become Central Virginia’s ghetto? Or does the rapid development along Garrett and Cherry foretell, instead, that it will become expensive enough that only the wealthy can afford to live there?

    I get the sense that we’re teetering between the two possibilities right now, and if there’s a clear path to a happy medium, I don’t see what it is.

  2. Really I have a hard time believing this drastic drop in population. Only a couple months ago the Weldon Cooper was saying that they had an INCREASE of 200 residents and they were cautioning that it too early to tell if it was a trend. Here is the URL to that Progress report:

    This new report released is probably correct in its general trend. All this tells us is that perhaps the city is poorly managed. The school systems have a stigma attached to them, the traffic is becoming worse by the day with the council REFUSING to make any progress on road projects, rent and housing is sky high without any of the benefits of the county, and all the retail centers are in the county. Quite frankly Charlottesville is becoming irrelevant to the area. Albemarle is becoming just as urban with better services and quality of life.
    If this does nothing else, hopefully it will teach city residents to elect some council members who arent so status quo.

  3. If the city schools are truly inferior, why do families from outside the city limits pay to enroll their kids there? Or is that a trend that is reversing itself? I’ve always wondered about that … being willing to pay money to send your kids to the city public schools.

    The city is stuck, like many cities before it. It is struggling to provide the infrastructure that urbanites desire, without the citizens to pay for it. People complain about a lack of public transportation, but no one will build it until they can make money from it. That’s capitalism, and it’s the economic theory we adopted long ago. It has its pluses and minuses, and arguably it’s the best idea yet. But it’s not going to make the city livable until it can turn a profit. If the government pays for it, taxes need to cover it. Or we continue with deficit spending.

    From my point of view, there is little reason to live in the city v. the counties. There are few areas to live in the city that give you a true urban experience … being a pedestrian and surviving as a pedestrian. Get far away from the downtown mall, and you are in a subdivision, with a car, paying more for real estate and taxes than you would in Albemarle. And what does it gain you? This is just my opinion, but if you want to live in a city, where you walk to buy groceries or catch public transportation to work, your options are limited in Charlottesville.

    So people move to the counties, where they pay less in taxes, get a big house, and live happily ever after.

    Here is what I can’t figure out: why haven’t we, as a society, learned how to deal with this? And I don’t mean just the city. Why can’t Greene County figure out how to control its population while bringing in commerce to increase the tax base and properly pay for infrastructure improvements, rather than borrowing money, going deeper into debt, and raising taxes (the real estate tax was raised 5 cents each of the last two years … 10 cents in two years!) to pay for it? Haven’t countless cities and counties across the US already gone through what Charlottesville is going through, and what Greene is going through, and what Albemarle is going through, etc.? Haven’t people made mistakes, done some things right, and shared the knowledge? Can’t Loudoun County explain to Greene how to avoid its pitfalls? Loudoun fought off commercial development for decades (“Don’t Fairfax Loudoun” the bumperstickers used to say … I love verbing) while letting familes move in. Result: nearly bankrupt. Why do these same patterns repeat themselves across the nation, even in our own state, and yet a few years down the road the next burgeoning city or county makes the same mistakes?

  4. While I’m still waiting for the real estate bubble to pop… with the current cost of real estate in the city I’m of the opinion that Charlottesville will be the residential location of the affluent with those of lesser means moving to the “outer rings” of the area/region (as I already do).

    I cannot imagine all the current home owners just standing idly by as their real estate values plummet to make way for the other alternative that Waldo hypothisizes (sp?). And if there is a sudden sell off of real estate then we can all look to those real estate developers who purchased large amounts of housing in the city converting them to rental investments, with the added benefit of directing how many thousands (?) to what ever development it was that they were currently pushing.

    Additionally I have to wonder if the loss of 3.5 thousand people can really be considered a “Plummet.” I still don’t understand how a town this size can manage to support all the commercial real estate that exists in this market.

    As for the happy medium.. When I was growing up in Charlottesville, it was already becoming a city striated (sp?) by financial status with the wealthy becoming more wealthy and the middle class joining the poor.

    Since I’ve returned it doesn’t really look like anything has changed. Except for perhaps a few more buildings.

  5. I do recall that the Census Bureau badly screwed up the ’00 figures. I think they said that the population had grown to 45k by accidentally counting a bunch of UVa kids as being in the city, rather than the county. They issued an adjusted figure a few months later, down at 40k.

    So there is some quite-recent history to demonstrate their fallibility; the figure could, in fact, be wrong.

  6. Is this a sign of the leveling off of population in the area? I know Greene County dropped out of the top 10 fastest growing counties in the state and even Fluvanna dropped in its ranking. Lake Monticello is almost built out so what will happen to population growth there once that happens? Is there evidence to suggest that people are becoming more attracted to “real” cities? The suburbs of Washington are booming as are the suburbs in Richmond.
    Then again, I have heard on NBC29 that the population of Greene is supposed to double within 10 years thanks to the new subdivisions already approved. Then there is Albemarle, which I think is headed towards growth rates that will exceed the past. I can think of two (possibly three) subdivisions on Rio alone: Glenwood Station, Belvedre Station, and there is some land next to Pen Park that developers have been eying. Then there is Hollymead Town Center that will have a residential component, North Pointe (aka Forest Lakes Junior), subdivisions continue to pop up in Western Albemarle in the Crozet area, Pantops is becoming the new 29 North, and development is begining to creep down route 20 South.
    So I guess to answer my own questions I would probably say that this is just a soft spot in growth. I exepect to see some huge upward trends in growth rates especially in Albemarle and Greene. But thats just my prediction.

  7. I too have lived here all my life; this is not particular surprising, and, in keeping with my school system comments, is a function of demographic distortions. In a very real sense, Everything from Airport Rd. down to the merging of Avon extended and 20S, and from Ednam Forrest to the 64/250 interchange on Pantops is the Charlottesville Metropolitan Area. Most visitors to our area would probably be surprised to see where the official boundaries are. The funny demographic shifts noted by the census are very much the results of the distorted picture given by just considering the changes inside the formal boundaries, rather than the metropolitan area as a whole, which is growing, and is the market that won the award.

    I was most struck by the median home pricing numbers, because I think they offer a very skewed picture of the situation as well. I wonder if someone from CAAR can shed some light with the average cost of residental housing per square foot. I think the city is more expensive than the county, largely because we have such a lousy road system that people will pay a premium to live close in, in order to at least cut down on the commuter time. I moved “into” the city from the “county” (Four Seasons) eight years ago for exactly this reason. As long as we have the lousy road system, the larger single family housing in Charlottesville will continue to outprice similar sized housing in the county and gentrification of lower-income neighborhoods will continue.

    White flight, such as it is, has been going on for a very long time, and I don’t think it’s white flight in the classic sense: Airman’s point is right on – the city schools draw far more tuition paying students from the outlying counties than the other way around. CHS is something of a magnet school for AP and Fine Arts students. The biggest reason people are moving to the county is not that there is a lot of abandoned housing stock in town as people flee the urban blight – it’s that the type of housing stock people want is not available or too expensive in the city.

    Part of what makes it too expensive is again what Airman said: paying higher taxes without necessarily receiving more services you actually use. Our city spends a lot of money; a lot of it subsidizes services which the county gets a free ride on. Parks & Recreation leaps to mind. Special Education services in the city schools is another. Fire & Rescue has been an issue off and on over the years. Then there’s all the stuff people would never pay for if it turned into fee-for-service type programs, while the services we actually all do use, like garbage collection, are slowing becoming ‘private’, since they are fee-for-service. I know this isn’t supposed to be a budget rant, but a final example: the new Citilink software program: a horrendously expensive boondoggle nobody would tolerate if it were a separate budget item is being financed by hiding it in the price of city utilities (gas, water & sewer) – it’s a hidden tax. The real reason the emergency water rates didn’t drop? The city found an unexpected revenue source. I wouldn’t move to get away from this, and don’t know anyone who would, but I’m sure people weigh that as a factor in looking at a new house.

    The main reason the city numbers are dropping, I’d guess, is the conversion of single family housing into rental properties. I don’t think there are actually fewer people living in town, but they aren’t permanent residents. Even comparitively expensive neighborhoods (say, Lewis Mountain) are seeing significant renter/student intrusion, vs. owner-occupied. JPA, Fry’s Springs, Venable and Belmont are getting the same.

    If the city hadn’t stupidly agreed to the revenue sharing/no-annexation deal in the late 70s, MANY of our problems, including the racial tensions and income gap wouldn’t be there. We would not have effective one-party rule, and the city would have more centrist politics (instead of the county-city right vs. city-city left), and probably be much better off. I for one actually held my breath in hope a few years ago when reversion talk reached a fever pitch. Sadly it dissapated. It’s time for many/most of the city and county core services to be merged: schools, fire, rescue, Parks & Rec, police and planning.

  8. Real estate bubble to pop — that’s an opportunity. When assesments were falling in the ’50s and ’60s in Cville, you know what happened, right? Working class families were buying huge historic fixer-uppers in bad neighborhoods. But urban renewal and public housing came to Cville for the first time effectively perpetuating the social class structure being undermined by the civil rights struggle. While individual properties can decline in value, modern cities do not allow neighborhoods or sections of town to devalue. The penalty for lower values — transfer of the property to someone with more money to invest in the property…after taxpayer funded demolition, of course.

    Population loss — the bigger question is how can a city’s population remain steady for four decades while so many people have moved here. White flight? What about black flight? All those Jefferson School alumni who came to speak out when the school was closed…they used to live in Cville, right? Is finding a cheaper place in the suburbs the only reason people move? The glut of vacant residential and commercial space is testiment that people are still moving away but fewer are moving here.

    “If the city hadn’t stupidly agreed to the revenue sharing/no-annexation deal in the late 70s, MANY of our problems, including the racial tensions and income gap wouldn’t be there.” — cville_libertarian.

    If I wanted to live in the city, why would I move to the county? The most basic security we have is that the government will be stable. I shouldn’t wake up one day and find that my tax rate has jumped 30 or 40 cents per 100 dollars of assessed value overnight. Why would any locality encourage investment and wealth building if that wealth could disappear from the jurisdiction’s revenue source whenever a neighboring locality wants that money?

    The only way to save Charlottesville is to restore the free market here. Knowing that the government can, has and does transfer real estate from one person to another without due process is the definition of a state-controlled economy, which is the opposite of a free market. Government doesn’t have to steal everybody’s property, just one ill-gained parcel and everybody knows it’s just a matter of time til they come for your house. How many people must be exempted from paying taxes (nonprofit) or from following other laws before we no longer have equality under law?

    The fact that so few young people know that due process is the ONLY legitimate way government in America can take property for transfer illustrates the decline in educational excellence. Until we accept these fundamental truths, things will get worse. Why invest time and money in a beautiful house if there’s no foundation for it to rest upon?

  9. I can’t really speak to the urban renewal takings; I was born in 1967 (here) and was too young to be aware of what was happening or had already happened. As I understand the history of Vinegar Hill from the dribs and drabs I’ve picked up from various sources, it was truly terrible. Every citizen has a right to due process and equal protection of the laws; I agree more people ought to know about this as part of their civic education.

    The question you asked about why more and more people moved here and still we had no increase in population is the same one posed by the census: the answer is, they moved to the area, not Charlottesville proper. Many people who live in the county, live in places like Carrsbrook, Four Seasons, Northfields, Forest Lakes, Hollymead, Mill Creek, Lake Reynovia, Peacock Hill, Squirrel Ridge, etc., which sure don’t look like cow pastures and dirt roads. Those neighborhoods are very much typical suburban, and aside from the housing stock and commute time, no different from Rose Hill Drive, Rugby Hills, Greenbrier, Johnson Village, etc. I think people move there because you get a bigger house for your money.

  10. PS – in my first response, I didn’t make it clear: I don’t think c’ville has a lot of urban blight to flee. I think people look at some neighborhoods (eg, fifeville or 10th & Hardy) and think it’s blight. There are a lot of good people who live in those neighborhoods – owner occupants, with a stake in their neighborhoods, who care for their properties and neighbors.

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