From the Editor’s Desk: What will bring young people back? Not this
Published 10:22 pm Monday, September 4, 2023
“What will bring young people back here?” Now, I might not be the best person to be asked that question. As several wonderful friends have pointed out, after my birthday last week, I can no longer say I’m in my 30s or even right at 40. Apparently, that means I’m middle… nope, I can’t even type that out.
Anyway, I keep hearing that question come up in Buckingham, Cumberland, Farmville and Prince Edward meetings. It’s not just here. Everywhere from Charlotte County to Henry County down at the border wants the answer as well. What will bring young people back? And by young people, we’re talking about anyone over 18 who currently lives elsewhere. And sure, there are dozens of ideas being thrown out. Some people say there needs to be more stuff to do, or at least a spotlight, letting kids know what’s available. Some say they need more restaurant options, greenway trails and the like. Others say young people will return if things like metallic mining is banned (yes, we’re talking about Buckingham here). But all of that misses the point, I would argue.
Let me ask you one question. Let’s say all of the college graduates from this area want to move back to Farmville, back to Dillwyn or Cumberland. Where would they move back to? A big part of venturing out in your 20s is freedom, so they’re not rushing back to live with mom and dad. They want to be on their own. Let me be clearer: where could a fresh-out-of-college student afford to live in this area? Now you have to understand, college graduates aren’t immediately landing big jobs with large salaries. Nope, most of them are starting at the bottom of a company and working their way up. That means starting with a smaller salary.
‘All this other stuff’
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This is what we all seem to miss the most. In most of my discussions with people about housing, I keep running into the same thing. “Kids could afford what’s out there now just fine,” they say, “if only they cut back on all this other stuff.”
Ah, see you’re assuming these college graduates get paid enough to cover “other stuff”. That’s not exactly true. When I pointed out that the average entry level salary in Virginia, as of Aug. 1, is $16.61 an hour, people scoffed. “That’s plenty,” they would say. “You know, I bought my house on a salary not much more than that,” others add.
And there it is. Prices now aren’t the same as they were in the 80s and 90s, but some of us are determined to act as if nothing has changed. When discussions happen, many people are going into it with the idea things are the same as when they bought their first house, or if some things have changed, it’s nothing a little belt tightening can’t fix. But there’s a limit to how much you can cut back and even then, the numbers don’t always add up.
In 1990, an average home in the United States cost $122,900. In 2000, that had bumped up to $169,000. By 2010, you were looking at an average cost of $221,900. That’s all according to the Zillow Home Value Index. Just to use a local example, the median price of a home sold in Farmville was $257,500 in July of this year, up 3.4% from 2022.
Considering some adults in their 30s and 40s struggle to afford homes in the mid-200s, why are we expecting something different out of recent college graduates?
Let’s talk about renting
And those numbers don’t really deal with the issue, because it’s rare a fresh out of college adult has enough saved up to buy their first home. It’s also rare that they’re ready to put down roots. That’s why, as much as some homeowners hate the idea, a key to bringing in young adults is offering affordable places to rent.
And here’s where the pitchforks come out. “Affordable housing” doesn’t have to be a dirty word and yet so often in our local discussions, it is. If you want to bring in a younger age group, then you have to be realistic about what kind of housing and what price point that age group can afford.
If a person adds up the power bill, the water bill, the food bill and rent, only to find very little left over, it’s going to be hard selling them on moving into your community. And yes, you do have to take all these other things into account. If the power company asks the state for and receives permission to do another rate hike, it impacts how much these younger residents can spend.
And I’m talking about former students living off of Ramen noodles in a tiny one bedroom apartment. They’re not going out every night. They’re not blowing money at every turn. They cut the air condition off and only run the power when necessary. A housing market that includes rents younger adults realistically could afford is a big step toward bringing them back. That goes for someone 20, 25 or even 30, a person who is saving up for that home purchase. Even if you have everything possible they could want, from activities to shops and restaurants, if they can’t afford to live in your area, they’re not coming.
BRIAN CARLTON is the editor for The Farmville Herald and Farmville Newsmedia, LLC. He can be reached at Brian.Carlton@FarmvilleHerald.com.