Students drive real estate
Rental housing a big business in Charlottesville
by Andrew Shurtleff
students drive the local rental market, generating profit
for some, but making housing less affordable for others.
Maybe it’s not so
strange to find an apartment building in Charlottesville that
offers free parking, a washer/dryer combo and a swimming pool.
But a 24-hour fitness center? A free shuttle to University Grounds?
A tanning bed?
Those are some of the “resort-style amenities” that
Eagle’s Landing Apartments and Sterling University Place
(address: 100 Wahoo Way) are dangling to entice University students
seeking off-Grounds housing.
“There are lots of buildings going up that are specifically
[intended] for student housing — it’s market-driven
… and typical of any college community,” said Missy
Creasey, neighborhood planner for the city of Charlottesville.
Sterling and Eagle’s Landing, which opened this fall, are
recent additions to the rental housing market in the Charlottesville
metropolitan area. The local market for student housing dates
to the 1930s, when Miss Betty Cocke and Miss Betty Booker ran
two rooming houses for U.Va. students on University Avenue.
Rental housing in Charlottesville is big business — and
getting bigger — driven in large part by growing demand
from University students.
Of the nearly 19,200 students enrolled at the University of Virginia,
only 3,000 or so first-year students are required to live on Grounds.
With the University Housing Division supplying a total of only
6,700 units, more than 12,500 students seek rental housing in
metro Charlottesville every year.
“There’s a false assumption that the continued building
of on-Grounds housing means a continual rise in student demand”
for on-Grounds housing, said Mark Doherty, U.Va. chief housing
officer. “Despite new additions, such as the International
Residential College, there has been no surge in student demand
for on-Grounds living. The reality is that students move off Grounds
as part of their general education, as an expression of independence
and for better social situations.”
Charlottesville offers a total of more than 18,000 rental units,
according to the 2000 census. Almost 10,000 of these are renter-occupied,
about 7,000 are owner-occupied and another 1,120 buildings are
either vacant or used as public housing. By that reckoning, U.Va.
students occupy nearly two-thirds of Charlottesville’s available
rental housing, Creasy said.
Demand for off-Grounds student housing in Charlottesville, especially
apartments within walking distance of the University, began to
climb sharply in 1970, when women were first admitted as undergraduates
to the College. With this influx of new students, enrollment jumped
by more than 4,300 between 1970 and 1975.
With the near doubling of enrollment at the University over the
past 30 years, the demand for student housing has grown apace.
For many local rental-property managers, collegiate customers
have become the driving force behind their businesses.
Wade Tremblay, general manager of Wade Apartments, refers to University
students as the “engine of the community,” thanks
to their purchases of food and other goods, as well as services
for their apartments, townhouses and houses. Wade Apartments employs
up to 25 people, and other rental companies provide jobs for many
But even as the student renters generate income for the apartment
owners; employment for local residents in administration and accounting,
maintenance and grounds keeping; and business- and property-tax
revenues for the city, there is a downside to this powerful market
force, city officials note. Strong student demand exerts upward
pressure on the market, raising average rents and making it difficult
for some families to find affordable housing.
“U.Va. students are considered top-end residents in the
city,” said Roosevelt Barbour, acting city assessor for
the Charlottesville City Manager’s Office. “Students
dictate the high-end rent of the city, … and when the top
end goes up, it causes the lower end to go up. If a family rents
a home, it’s impacted by what students pay.”
The pressure is unlikely to ease anytime soon. The State Council
of Higher Education for Virginia estimated earlier this year that
more than 60,000 new students are expected to enroll at colleges
and universities in Virginia by 2010. At U.Va., graduate and undergraduate
enrollment for the 2007-08 school year is expected to reach 19,655,
an increase of 450 students over the fall of 2002, according to
The student rental housing market affects the character of city
neighborhoods close to the University. Most of the city’s
landlords are private investors or professional management companies
that acquire old buildings or build new developments. The Jefferson
Park Avenue neighborhood is 90-percent investor-owned, as is the
section of the Venable neighborhood lying inside Rugby Road, Grady
Avenue and 13th Street, according to city records.
And in established neighborhoods with a heavy presence of rental
property leased to students, friction between student renters
and their neighbors is not uncommon. Some property managers say
they meet regularly with the JPA and Venable neighborhood associations
to keep on top of neighbors’ concerns. Keith Woodard, owner
of Woodard Properties, said students are "generally at least
conscious of the need to be good citizens," and are expected
to be respectful of their neighbors.
The University, through its Office of Community Relations, has
been working to improve relations between students living off
Grounds and their neighbors. The Community Relations Office, directed
by Ida Lee Wootten, recently created “The Off-Grounds Living
Guide,” a pamphlet that explains city ordinances and regulations
relating to neighborhood living, as well as outlining the penalties
"We’re giving students the information they need to
be responsible neighbors," said Wootten, whose office also
hands out refrigerator magnets to neighborhood associations with
phone numbers to call to report rowdy fraternity parties, illegally
parked cars or improperly disposed trash.
From older neighborhoods that have seen houses divided into apartments
and renovated, to spanking new developments of apartment complexes
designed with student renters in mind, the demand for off-Grounds
housing by U.Va. students is a powerful economic force in metro
Charlottesville’s rental housing market.
“There’s no question that students contribute a lot
to the local economy,” said Woodard.