College of William and Mary professor Dr. Sarah Stafford briefed Planning Commission on trends in the city’s owner-occupied and rental home markets, and groups in the city that could see their housing needs change in the coming years.
Stafford, who teaches economics, public policy and law at the college, was commissioned in May to prepare the assessment for the Williamsburg Area Association of Realtors. She has also conducted a similar study for James City County in 2015.
She began with a look at the city’s stock of homes, and how the numbers have changed since 1990. Generally, her study found that most homes in the city were single-family detached residences, and two-thirds were found to be over 40 years old according to data from the American Community Survey, which she said is much older than average home ages in James City or Upper York counties.
When comparing the homes versus rentals, Stafford said the number of owner-occupied homes has increased by 70 percent since 1990, while the number of rental homes in the city has remained largely stagnant. The cost of rent has also increased significantly over time, she said, with the majority of rental homes now starting at $1,000 per month.
Jeffrey Klee, the Planning Commission’s 1st vice-chair, said the stability in prices for owner-occupied homes versus the increase in rental prices was striking.
“There seems to be a huge pressure on the rental market where there isn’t on the conventional real estate market,” Klee said. “In that same period, the increase in the number of William and Mary students while we haven’t increased the supply of rental units, so it seems pretty apparent that there’s a causal relationship here, there’s more demand but with no increase in supply, the prices go up.”
William and Mary students were one demographic that Stafford said have seen their housing needs change over the years, with a significant increase to the student population but a slower increase in on-campus housing options. According to the study, 500 additional beds have been added to on-campus housing since 1997, but the total number of students has increased by 1,400, meaning around 900 additional students are in need of off-campus housing.
She said the student population has generally made it harder to find rental homes in the area surrounding the university, but prices are not dramatically higher than in other parts of the city. Stafford said that prices for rentals in the Northeast area of the city are around $175 cheaper than near the College, while prices in the Northwest part of Williamsburg are more expensive.
Finally, she discussed the lack of affordable housing options in the city for low-income families. Stafford defined affordable housing as costing less than 30 percent of a household’s income, with residents spending more than that on housing being classified as cost-burdened. She found there’s almost no housing options in the city that would be affordable for very-low income households who earn an annual income of less than $20,000.
“We do have programs to help people with housing, but we just don’t have as much housing assistance as there’s a need for,” she said. “Particularly in that very low income group, people are struggling to have housing that meets their needs.”
While some city residents who earn less than $20,000 annually are students who don’t have to pay out of pocket for housing, Stafford estimates there are at least 400 families in the area who fit the definition of being very-low income.
For a two-bedroom apartment costing $1,150 per month, Stafford found a minimum-wage earning family would have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet.
“You’d have to have the equivalent of three and a half full-time minimum wage workers, so either you have three and a half people in your family all working full-time, or more likely, you have people who are working more than full-time to be able to afford a two-bedroom unit that they could house their children in,” Stafford said.
Williamsburg’s population is expected to grow to 17,372 by 2030, and to 18,882 by 2040 according to the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, but Stafford said it would be important to focus on affordable housing and senior housing based on the report’s findings.
“We have the ability to meet the housing demand of anybody who would move to Williamsburg as projected, but of course, we have to think about the right type of housing to put in,” said Stafford.
Planning Commission will hold a community forum on housing on Wednesday, September 12 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Council Chambers of the Stryker Center.
Arriaza can be reached at 757-790-9313 or on Twitter @rodrigoarriaza0.