Unaffordable Housing, Redux

by Joe Fitzgerald

Proposed housing construction in the city of Harrisonburg could add about 1,200 students to the Harrisonburg City Public Schools, with housing already under construction in Rockingham County possibly adding 400 more.

A quarter of the 1,600 potential students could be absorbed by the opening of Rocktown High School, leaving the city to build however many new schools it takes to educate 1,200 elementary and middle school students.

This projection is based on my using other people’s multipliers on a compilation by the invaluable Scott Rogers on HarrisonburgHousingToday.com. The housing count is Scott Rogers’; the school estimates are mine.

The multipliers in question come from Harrisonburg City Public Schools (HCPS) and from Econsult Solutions Inc. (ESI). HCPS came up with its numbers based on who lives where in the city, and ESI does it for a living. They vary, somewhat. ESI thinks a townhouse will generate .52 students and the HCPS method forecasts .45 students.

The ESI method applied to proposed housing developments in the city yields 1,186 students. The HCPS method projects 1,267. The spreadsheet is available on request, although, generally, nobody ever asks for it and, specifically, a majority of Harrisonburg City Council members have demonstrated that they don’t give a rat’s ass about these numbers.

They should. But because they won’t ask, I’ll take the initiative to explain the good news as well. Not all of the developments in the list have been approved by the city. Taking only those approved so far, not just proposed, ESI projects 688 and HCPS projects 719. The bad news is that several housing units proposed and approved in the county are already being built. As they draw college students and free up housing in the city limits, they could generate up to 400 K-12 students in the city.

The county/city student housing shift numbers and guesses are also available on request.

It is well past time for the city to declare a moratorium on the approval of new housing developments, but while the two most experienced members, Reed and Jones, have shown some restraint, the three least knowledgeable have not. But the ill-advised, ill-considered, borderline irrational approval of Bluestone Town Center only accounts for roughly half of the potential growth in HCPS.

The other half of the approved housing has come in increments, from 22 townhouses on Suter Street in one case, to 376 apartments on Peach Grove in another. Tradition says that each development is considered on its own merits, often based on council members’ personal knowledge of the developer. When you look at all the housing plans at once, they’re not individual projects, but rather a single trend.

Any way you cut it, HCPS is looking at 1,000 more students.

Joe Fitzgerald is a former mayor of Harrisonburg. This column is republished with permission from his blog, Still Not Sleeping.