While the People’s Republic of Charlottesville grapples with mandatory parking (see previous post), the People’s Republic of Blacksburg is wrestling with the problem of privately developed student housing. Apparently, too many developers want in on the opportunities created by expanding enrollment at Virginia Tech. Town Council voted 7 to 0 recently, according to the Roanoke Times, “to be more selective whenever it receives requests for student housing projects.”
We commonly hear how the private sector is uninterested in building affordable housing. Yet in Blacksburg we see local government dampening developer enthusiasm for meeting the demand for student housing (much of which, I assume, falls under the rubric of “affordable.”) It is not clear whom Town Council sees as picking up the slack.
“It is extremely lucrative to build purpose-built student housing. It’s so lucrative that people will come in with these very large plans,” said Mayor Leslie Hager-Smith. “We have people expressing interest monthly.”
The problem is Town Council doesn’t necessarily want developers to build where the developers want to build. The town’s comprehensive plan has designated certain areas — such as a district called “Downtown Northwest” — as conducive to dense and upscale student housing. The recent student-housing resolution also called for redevelopment of older housing units in “student-oriented areas of town where supporting infrastructure is already available and fewer lifestyle conflicts with adjacent neighborhoods are likely to occur.” But those pesky developers keep coming up with other proposals.
In other parts of the state, the “affordable housing” is often entangled with the issue of race. Opposition to affordable housing is widely assumed to be motivated in part by an animus toward blacks and minorities. That’s not the case in Blacksburg, where the student body is 2/3 white and, it’s safe to say, the academical village of Virginia Tech skews to the liberal/progressive side of the ideological spectrum. For some inexplicable reason, though, Blacksburg residents owning houses in quiet neighborhoods of single-family dwellings don’t like living in proximity to large numbers of students. I suspect they also find housing and landscaping built to fit a price range that students can afford to be architecturally bland and unattractive.
I’m not saying there are easy answers here. I don’t envy Town Council members who, caught between a rock and a hard place, are trying to sort through the competing interests at stake. But perhaps we can dispense with the idea that the private sector isn’t interested in building affordable housing. The real problem is that neighbors — and the officials they elect — don’t like the developers’ proposals.There are currently no comments highlighted.