Planning for Affordability: Special Districts

photo credit: Billy Hathorn

A recent article by Charlottesville Tomorrow featured a major housing issue for college towns: where to put students.  Students are willing to live about anywhere, so long as it’s within walking distance to campus (or well-serviced by transit).  This means they are also willing to pay a wide variety of rents for housing.

This can be a challenge for neighborhoods.  As owners recognize the guaranteed student housing market, many change or convert their properties to meet this demand.  This can be good for students and landlords alike.  But it also puts pressure on neighborhoods who want to remain homeowners.  The City of Charlottesville came up with a plan in 2001 to address this issue.  Here’s Neighborhood Development Services Director Jim Tolbert (from the article):

“When I first got here in 1999, I kept going to meetings and heard about pressure on neighborhoods from students moving in. […] One of the things we thought we would do to correct that is permit development of higher-density housing in areas within walking distance to the university.”

The creation of special zones allows developers to create higher density project by-right (meaning that they don’t have to seek special permitting to comply with the zoning code).  In Charlottesville, this encouraged developers to create student housing near the University – and the market has responded accordingly (as Cville residents can attest – think JPA & Emmet).

So what about affordability?  Certainly these new student housing projects aren’t cheap.  What’s important is these developments take pressure of the local housing market, which could be good for area residents.  There’s a good housing stock of affordable units in Charlottesville, but they aren’t readily available to non-students, unless they’re willing to accept a 3-month summer lease… which can, and does, happen.

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