The Impact of the University of Virginia on the Affordable Housing Crisis in Charlottesville, Virginia; Actor-Network Theory Analysis of Charlottesville Housing

Fruehwirth, Ryan, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Klotz, Leidy, EN-Eng Sys and Environment, University of Virginia
Baritaud, Catherine, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia

Wealth in the City of Charlottesville is alarmingly concentrated – the University of Virginia owns over $4.35 billion in land while nearly 25 percent of the population cannot afford decent, safe housing. The following technical report assesses the impact that the University of Virginia has on Charlottesville’s local affordable housing crisis. A UVA-sponsored Payment in Lieu of Taxes program is proposed as a possible way to expand on the University’s current housing initiative and mitigate the housing crisis for extremely and very low-income residents. The tightly-coupled STS research involves applying an Actor-Network Theory framework to Charlottesville’s affordable housing network in an effort to better map the influence of UVA.
In 2020, President Ryan established the goal to support the development of 1,000 to 1,500 affordable housing units on land owned by the University or the UVA Foundation within ten years. Albeit a step in the right direction, this promise raises legitimate questions regarding the long-term affordability of these units. The construction of new buildings, unless targeted specifically for extremely and very low-income residents, risks inducing greater demand and intensifying the housing crisis. Therefore, alternative solutions are needed that seek to preserve the affordability of existing housing rather than attempting to out-build the problem.
One such solution is a Payment of Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) program in which UVA would donate a portion of their forgone property taxes back to the City of Charlottesville. By virtue of being a non-profit institution, the University of Virginia avoids paying an estimated $36.56 million in property taxes to the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County. Directing just 10 percent of this amount to the Charlottesville Supplemental Rental Assistance Program (CSRAP) would allow the University to provide housing vouchers for approximately 284 extremely and very low-income households in the greater Charlottesville area. Not only would this have an immediate and significant impact for these residents, but it could most importantly be done in conjunction with UVA’s affordable housing initiative.
Charlottesville’s affordable housing network is a profoundly intricate socio-technical system involving hundreds of stakeholders that interact in a myriad of ways. The STS research seeks to uncover this network by closely examining the relations that the University of Virginia has with other actors in the network. More specifically, how does the University of Virginia impact the affordable housing crisis, and to what extent should they be held responsible for mitigating the crisis? Both extensive research of existing literature and interviews of over twenty stakeholders were used to answer this question and reach an informed conclusion. Furthermore, Actor-Network Theory (ANT), a framework of analysis that places all human, non-human, and/or conceptual actors at the same level of importance in a dynamic network of relationships, was used to grasp the social complexity of the local affordable housing market.
By forcing students to reside in privately-owned off-campus housing, having a monopoly on the local real estate market, and not paying property taxes on the majority of their holdings, UVA plays such an integral role in Charlottesville’s local housing trends that they cannot remain idle. UVA should strongly consider implementing a Payment in Lieu of Taxes program directed specifically towards the Charlottesville Supplemental Rental Assistance Program that can alleviate extremely and very low-income families in Charlottesville from being evicted.
Thousands of local households are desperately searching for alternative solutions to pay their rent every month. With a deep understanding of the intricate social links in Charlottesville’s housing network and a genuine appreciation that this is not, nor will it ever be, a purely technical problem, engineers and the University of Virginia have the power to truly alleviate the affordable housing crisis in Charlottesville.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Actor-Network Theory, Affordable Housing, University of Virginia, Payment in Lieu of Taxes, Charlottesville

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering
Technical Advisor: Leidy Klotz
STS Advisor: Catherine Baritaud
Technical Team Members: Catherine Bunn, Emma Graham, Alexander Partridge

All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
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