Tax reform might just save the American dream in Charlottesville

By simply extending our tax laws to cover more of our neighbors, we can keep low-income and minority families living in their homes and preserve Charlottesville’s important and unique identity. 

June 1, 2023 10:41 am

The Saunders-Monticello Boardwalk Trail near Charlottesville. (Marco Sanchez/ The Piedmont Environmental Council)

By Anand Colaco, Nathaniel Doty, Nadia Gallimore, Naad Kundu and Shea Miller Novello


What is the state of the American dream when people can no longer afford the very home they own? For residents of many Charlottesville neighborhoods, gentrification and rising property values have dimmed the bright vision of homeownership.

Charlottesville must expand its current property tax relief program to shield marginalized and low-income communities from displacement, preserve the city’s distinct character and prevent the erosion of its cultural fabric. 

Charlottesville’s housing history – from Vinegar Hill to Fifeville – is fraught with racial  discrimination, making it imperative to protect the area’s low-income communities and communities of color. Increased housing prices and property taxes are in the process of writing yet another dark chapter, pricing out families from their homes. According to a 2020 Stanford University study, gentrification like that currently seen in Charlottesville disproportionately affects minority communities, “in ways that exacerbate neighborhood inequality by race and class.” A progressive tax relief program would mitigate these effects by preventing the displacement of longstanding homeowners. 

Despite its darker history, Charlottesville also has a great diversity and cultural identity that ought to be celebrated and preserved. Approximately 54% of the residents in Charlottesville that would qualify for the newly implemented tax relief policy are Black. While some argue that gentrification of historically Black neighborhoods would desegregate the area, it in fact only decreases diversity in Charlottesville as a whole by pushing Black residents out of town. New businesses and developments catering to incoming residents at the expense of the existing community cement this cultural loss. By simply extending our tax laws to cover more of our neighbors, we can keep low-income and minority families living in their homes and preserve Charlottesville’s important and unique identity. 

While gentrification brings investment into communities in the form of tax dollars and new businesses, it also brings instability to neighborhoods. More investment may increase home values, but at the cost of rapidly rising property taxes that those on a fixed income may not be able to pay. Ultimately, efforts to ‘revitalize’ neighborhoods can do more harm than good for longtime residents. 

Not only does expanding the current tax relief program protect the most vulnerable members of our community, but it also makes good financial sense, too. In a report written by the Charlottesville Low-Income Housing Coalition they note that, “In 2019, some 43 percent of Black, 40 percent of Hispanic, and 32 percent of Asian households spent more than 30 percent of their incomes on housing, compared with 25 percent of white households.” This policy promotes economic stability by encouraging homeownership, enabling our neighbors to save and spend money in the local area, and creating the type of generational wealth that ensures a sustainable future for the city. The alternative, forcing people out of Charlottesville, will only harm our economy.

Not often do you hear college students discussing the finer points of tax policy, but Charlottesville and the state of Virginia are important to us and require us to look far and wide for solutions. Tax reform is not a silver bullet to fix the displacement crisis in our community, but it is one of a suite of tools the city ought to consider. Charlottesville residents can raise the issues of gentrification and displacement during city council work sessions and advocate for the expansion of the current elderly and disabled property tax relief to everyone who falls within the income range. The issue may be multifaceted and complex, but one thing is clear: our community must stand united to stop the displacement of our neighbors and ensure a sustainable future for our city.

Anand Colaco, Nathaniel Doty, Nadia Gallimore, Naad Kundu, and Shea Novello are students at the University of Virginia.

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